A couple of weeks back Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan was speaking before a special Senate committee which was meeting as part of the scheduled review of Bill C-36, the anti-terror legislation that was passed in the wake of 9/11. Some of the provisions of that law so alarmed some defenders of civil liberties that a review after three years was incorporated into the legislation itself to mollify its critics. McLellan feels that at most "fine-tuning" of the law is all that's required and in support of her position she cited a poll.
McLellan claimed most Canadians support what the government has done, citing polling by EKOS Research Associates that shows 50 per cent of Canadians believe the government has "appropriately responded" to the issue of terrorism, while 41 per cent feel it hasn't gone far enough.
Only 7 per cent believe the government has gone too far, she said. Two per cent said they didn't know or didn't respond. The syndicated poll of 1,015 Canadians was taken in November, and presented to a parliamentary committee in December.
I wonder if the poll actually included hard information about the provisions of the legislation. The reason I wonder that is because a study done last March for the Justice Department, a study done specifically in anticipation of this review, paints a somewhat different picture.
Canadians worry federal anti-terrorism powers could be used to invade personal privacy, unfairly target minorities or turn neighbours into snitches, a government study has found.
While those who took part in the study accepted an overall need for the Anti-Terrorism Act, several provisions of the three-year-old legislation proved to be cause for concern. "I say that it's dangerous for our rights and freedoms," one participant from Quebec City said. "They were already trampled and ridiculed. Now, it's worse."
Consulting firm Millward Brown Goldfarb convened 22 focus group sessions with a total of 196 people late last winter in Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Many who took part in the study knew little about the anti-terror law until they read descriptions of the act provided by the focus group leaders.
Emphasis added. Sounds a bit more thorough than just a poll, doesn't it?
But some who were aware of specific aspects of the law expressed concern it might infringe on the rights of Canadians.
A number of people in the study took issue with provisions of the law compelling individuals to report information about terrorist finances or property.
"Several imagined themselves in a situation where they might see something suspect going on in their neighbourhood, for example, and be 'scared' to report the person."
The powers of preventive arrest and investigation evoked the communist-hunting McCarthy era for some who feared police might use the legal tools to probe crimes other than terrorism.
The article, written early this month about a study that's nearly a year old, indicates the study was "obtained" by Canadian Press. That suggests to me that the government wasn't eager for the press to see it so CP had to go digging for it. Do you suppose McLellan just didn't remember the results of a focus group study done specifically to prepare for this review?