September 11, 2001 marked a catastrophic change in American society. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon have had a ripple effect, spreading to the entire world and terrifying thousands of people. Following these attacks, world populations were devastated and governments faced a never-before seen need to make laws governing this new form of terror. Countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, and Canada have passed anti-terrorism legislations that define “terrorism” and how to respond and prevent such attacks. Though these new anti-terrorism laws may aim to combat terrorism, they also infringe on rights of certain individuals. The sweeping powers now granted to authorities while investigating terrorist activities will lead to numerous violations of international human rights codes, ultimately resulting in the alienation of specific groups of people. It ends with the question of security of state versus the rights of individuals.
Leading the way for new anti-terrorism laws, the United States has passed legislations to deter and punish terrorist acts domestically, as well as around the world. The USA Patriot Act 2001 (H.R.3162) for example, has amended the “federal criminal code to authorize the interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications for the production of evidence of specified … terrorism offenses,” (H.R.3162 par. 2). Like the United States, the United Kingdom has passed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, a new and stricter anti-terrorism law in response to the 9/11 attacks as well as the bombings on July 7 and July 21, 2005 in London. Part Ten of this act deals with police powers in the U.K. and it includes areas of identification of suspects, search and seizures, jurisdiction of Ministry of Defense Police and transport police. The U.S.A and the U.K. have officially opened the path for other nations to pass their anti- terrorism laws.
Canada, following in the footsteps of the U.S.A. and U.K., has taken tough anti-terrorism measures by introducing and passing the Anti-Terrorism Act. Under this Act, “terrorist activity” is defined as an action that takes place within or outside of Canada that is an offence under one of ten UN anti-terrorism conventions or is an act that threatens public or national security. The law “provides clear guidance to police, prosecutors, the courts and the public on what constitutes a terrorist group or activity while protecting the lawful activities of legitimate political or lobby organizations,” ( Highlights par. 6). The Act makes it an offence to be involved with terrorist activities in any way and illegal to knowingly conceal a terrorist. It is now easier for the police to freeze and seize terrorists' assets and use electronic surveillance to monitor their activities. With a shift in police powers, electronic surveillance is no longer seen as a last resort.
In order to enforce such a strict law, the Anti- Terrorism Act has granted authorities “sweeping powers to act on suspected acts of terrorism,” (“Canadian Security”). Highlights of the Act include allowing suspected terrorists to be detained for up to three days without being charged, permitting judges to compel witnesses to give evidence, and allowing preventative arrests. (“Canadian Security”). Preventative arrest provisions allow the police to “bring a suspected terrorist before a judge, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a terrorist activity will be carried out” (Annual par. 3). The term “reasonable grounds” indicates that it is up to the discretion of the police to decide whether or not a person is a suspect and needs to be arrested or detained. Often, this power of arresting and detaining is abused, as seen in the Maher Arar case. Maher Arar, a Canadian, was detained while transferring flights in New York. Believed to be linked to the Al Qaeda, he was mistakenly labeled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as an “Islamic extremist” and was sent to Syria and jailed for nearly a year in the infamous Palestine Branch without being charged. Arar has been wronged by Canada, as it ran its own “extraordinary rendition” by willingly participating in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) schemes of shipping suspects of terrorism to countries that practice torture. Adopting such a practice means that the Canadian government can get foreign governments to do its “dirty work,” (Harper A3). The controversy lies in the fact that the RCMP's anti-terrorism unit shared information with the Americans prior to analyzing its contents, an action now referred to as “data dump.” Paul Cavalluzzo, lead commission counsel stated that information-sharing is necessary in terrorism investigations, but the information must be reviewed and the accuracy of it must be confirmed before anything is released. Erroneous disclosures can lead to “horrendous ramifications,” (Shephard A6). The incapability of the RCMP to differentiate between right and wrong data has aroused a fear that the Canadian government and its bodies will continually release inaccurate information on citizens to other governments, resulting in more unreasonable detainments, questioning and perhaps, even torture.
Once the RCMP realized that the information they leaked to the U.S. government could have been wrong, they have attempted to defend themselves by “making extensive efforts to find any information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities…The results speak for themselves: they found none,” (Shephard A6). In the States, the Pentagon has released an updated interrogation manual that outlaws degrading practices and forces interrogators to abide by the Geneva Convention. President George Bush has stated that the “tough” measures taken by the CIA are not considered torture tactics. They are only procedures used to pry knowledge from “terrorists” in order to secure the nation and lives of citizens. He further claims that the United States has “in place a rigorous process to ensure those held at Guantanamo Bay belong at Guantanamo,” (Harper A3). In spite of their defenses and reasons, Arar has filed lawsuits against the Canadian and American government alleging that information disclosed by these authorities led to his detention. It is yet to be seen whether or not justice will be served.
Anti-terrorism provisions may seem to be essential in sustaining national security, but in granting authorities so much power, it poses serious questions on protection of human rights. Amnesty International, a human rights organization has been one of the leading groups in the opposition of these laws. The new Terrorism Bill in the United Kingdom has provisions that “undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association, liberty and fair trial,” (Human rights par. 6). Amnesty International knows that the extensive powers given to authorities will definitely be abused; the question is how. Since the July 2005 bombings in London, senior government officials have hinted that if courts do not follow government statutes, they will amend the Human Rights Act to support their legislation (Human rights par. 13). The UK government will take actions without the approval of the democratic society.
Another major concern is the UK's global influence. Laws of other countries will reflect the UK's legislation, as they are often used as a reference for law making. With counter-terrorism laws that put human rights at risk, “the UK has given a green light to other governments to abuse human rights,” (Human rights par. 16). In 2001, an Algerian man named Lotfi Raissi was arrested in England and was “forced to get into a car…while still naked (Human rights par. 39). After seven days of questioning, he was released and arrested again to be extradited to the United States. The US authorities claimed that they had evidence to prove that Raissi was a flight instructor for the 9/11 hijackers and that he was connected to the Al'Qaeda. The warrant for his extradition however was not based on any of this so-called evidence. Instead, the “US authorities brought… `holding charges' in connection with Raissi's failure to disclose, on an application for a US pilot's license, a conviction for minor theft…and a knee surgery,” (Human rights par. 39). Though these are extraditable offences, there is a concern that these “holding charges” will result in unreasonable arrest or detention. “Holding charges” means that the police can arrest someone on minor charges and hold them for a prolonged period of time, while the police look for evidence to link them to a more serious crime. This violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects people from arbitrary arrest or detention. The main concern of Amnesty International is that “the US authorities' reasons for seeking Raissi's extradition included the fact that his identity and…occupation fitted a certain profile,” (Human rights par. 39). If the UK allows racial profiling, specific groups will be targeted, posing a significant threat to human rights. It is racism, discrimination, and prejudging someone based on factors, like race or skin colour, that should be irrelevant. With this case of Lotfi Raissi, the UK has given the “green light” to other countries to bend to this new system, where “innocent people could get caught up, violating their rights…liberty and livelihood,” (Human rights par. 39). Raissi was released in April 2002, but he is still part of the 9/11 investigation on terrorists.
In Canada, giving police the power to arrest and hold people for 72 hours without charge is an act of “trampling on civil liberties,” (“Canadian Security”). This violates the rights of people in the event of arrest, thereby breaching the Geneva Convention, as well as Article 9 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This article guarantees freedom from arbitrary arrest, stating that no one should be subjected to arrest, detention or exile without a good reason (Universal Declaration). If suspects of terrorism are held for 72 hours without being charged, this can be interpreted into unreasonable detainment by the police. Participation in “extraordinary rendition” is also a violation of human rights. Under Article 5 of the Declaration, no one should be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment (Universal Declaration). Canada, a country that appears to believe in constitutionality and human rights has willingly sent suspects of terrorism, who are Canadian citizens, to countries that practice torture. Maher Arar, isolated in a “roach-and-lice-riddled cell for 482 days,” (MacCharles A16) suffered beatings and electric shocks in Syria and Egypt. The Arar case has “seriously eroded the confidence and trust of Canadian Muslims/Arabs,” (Kutty A18). It all comes down to whether or not people want to trade their rights for greater security and whether or not the trade-off is fair. Putting national security above human rights seems neutral in theory, but supporting tough anti-terrorism laws will eventually lead to the forfeiture of Muslim and Arab rights. Shirley Heafey, a former chair of the RCMP complaints commission has received criticism from Muslims and Arabs about being questioned or harassed by the RCMP or CSIS. Continual enforcement of such anti-terrorism laws will result in racial profiling in Canada, which goes against the two most important philosophies in Canadian law. People of Muslim and Arab descent will no longer be subject to the Rule of Law or the presumption of innocence and this ultimately leads to the alienation of these people and the collapse of the justice system.
As a government or leader of state, it is difficult to decide between national security and human rights. Choosing one would sacrifice the other and perhaps put citizens at risk. Law is about choosing the better out of two bad things, according to civil liberties groups. The spotlight is on the government. It is up to them to choose the better of the two. There is much controversy surrounding the passing of anti-terrorism laws and countries are divided by where the people stand in the issue. With the extensive power granted to authorities by the current laws, cases of abusive use of power have been raised and have ended with the Arar and Raissi situation or other cases alike. Anti-terrorism laws can defend a state from terrorist attacks, but what is the use of such protection if the people of the state do not have human rights to protect them? It is believed that if nothing is changed, there will be more abuses of power, leading to the sacrifice of human rights for the security of the state and ending in the alienation of certain groups.