BILL C-36: A Replay of a Horror Story

by Jane Gaffin


(This article was originally published in the Whitehorse Star on December 17, 2001. See related articles on this site: Where the Bullet Hits the Bone and Terrorism: Another Recycled Myth


Bill C-36 is a done deal.

It passed Parliament 191 to 47 on November 28 (2001) and will be rubber-stamped by the Liberal-majority Senate to be presented to Canadians like a head on a platter in the new year (2002).

This is a terrifying piece of legislation.

Deceptively wallpapered over as a method to catch terrorists, the hefty, 183-page people-control law holds promise to trample on privacy and civil rights.

It was hastily concocted under the guise of protecting national security and calming a jittery population who wants to feel “safe”. Sorry, this bill shouldn’t make anybody feel safe. It was shoved through Parliament without exhaustive debate and carries no provisions for periodic reviews to correct the inevitable glitches.

The question should be: Was Bill C-36 really necessary? The government already has churned out tons of blood-curdling people-control laws through the parliamentary mill to suit every occasion.

The police are said to have rounded up scores of suspects already and C-36 hasn’t even been proclaimed law yet. (Same with the U.S. before its anti-terrorist bill was passed.)

So what was the point?

Some politicians tried to justify the anti-terrorist bill by telling CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio interviewers: “if you think Canada’s is bad you should look at what the Americans did.”

Good idea, especially since both countries seem to have wantonly amputated their memories about what happens when a paranoid government overreacts in the heat of protecting national security. The U.S. government ruined the lives of thousands of innocents when the world was on the brink of the Cold War. National security trumps civil rights and freedoms every time, often without just cause.

One nasty piece of business was guilt-by-association, which has been repeated in C-36 A person can be guilty of subversion with no way to prove innocence, simply by knowing another person who belongs to the same organization, but knows nothing about the other’s personal life or extraneous activities. (Under the Canadian Constitution Act 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes in section 2. (d) Everyone has the fundamental “freedom of association”.)

The same scenario played out during the Age of Suspicion. The era followed the Second World War, in which Canada had joined Great Britain, the U.S. and Russia to fight on one side against Germany, Italy and Japan. The war ended in August 1945.

Within a month, friendships shifted. Russia, a former ally, became a formidable foe. A Russian cipher clerk, working in a sensitive job in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, blew the whistle on a spy network operating in the nation’s capital and Montreal. He had a motive for his actions insofar as his tenure was nearly finished in Canada. And he didn’t relish returning to his oppressive police-state homeland.

He presented proof to the Ottawa police that spies were passing national secrets to Soviet agents, who transmitted the information to officials in Moscow. A federal affair, the Mounties granted the Russian and his family political asylum and protection from the Soviet thugs who were tracking the traitor.

News filtered to U.S. President Harry Truman. Though history has been kind to the 33rd president, his administration didn’t seem to know how to find the authentic communist spies, so turned vulturously on its own people. In the name of national security, Americans were encouraged to squeal on friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbours under the patriotic pretense of squeezing potential demons out of the woodwork.

Meanwhile, the Communists had tramped across Europe and taken Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and, later, Czechoslovakia into the Soviet family.

As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Evil has already travelled around the world while truth is still pulling on its boots.”

The Communists marched and the U.S. was hand-wringing. The enemy had just divided the Soviet Union from the Western World by clanging down the “Iron Curtain”, a term coined by Mr. Churchill. Yet the method employed to stop the Reds from seizing North America was to unleash secret agents on two million innocent federal government employees and the half million applicants who sought government jobs every year.

Ordinary people were hunted down like hard-boiled criminals. Any tidbit of negative information would spark a full-fledged investigation into the person’s background.

Any imagined “subversive” activity conjured in the state’s mind was sufficient grounds for dismissal. A federal employee did not have to be–or have ever been–a member in a “questionable” organization to receive a pink slip.

He could be guilty by association. He only had to know someone who was or had been a member of what might be deemed by authorities as a “questionable” organization. The axed employee was not told what he was alleged to have done wrong because there was nothing to tell. Since the accused did not know who the informant was, he had no way to defend himself. He was fighting feathers.

When the victim was pinpointed and neighbours questioned by security officers, the whole family was automatically ostracized by society. Everybody was fearful to associate with any person the government linked to Communist activities.

The accused could never find other work and would end up in the streets. Even movie stars, entertainers, secretaries and kindergarten teachers were targeted and blacklisted from working.

The nearly 3,000 who were hauled embarrassingly before the courts met with a kangaroo-style justice in which the deck was stacked against them. Another 10,000 were questioned and three million screened. The crassly hypocritical period of history has been compared to the Salem witch hunts of 1692. The whole scenario looked worse than the communist-style government for which the Americans pompously rebuked the Soviets for endorsing.

During this nightmarish time in America, democracy was asleep at the switch. The Constitution and Bill of Rights offered no protection. Governments view civil rights differently during national emergencies. It was a period that instilled great fear and confusion in the people. The country was having an anxiety attack.

After all was said and done, not one spy was exposed. By deduction, the public could accept that the tireless and ruthless efforts of the undercover agents had maybe scared off the enemies of the state.

But the demons weren’t scared off. They had been covered up by corrupt authorities working within the bureaucratic system. It provided the international espionage rings a chance to whisk off to Russia with nuclear information and other confidential loot, such as U.S. money-printing plates, stolen from under the president’s nose in Washington, D.C. And, had the Russian defector not blown the whistle in Ottawa, the spies probably would never have been apprehended and brought to trial several years later.

Until then, the public’s attention had been diverted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s nailing of kindergarten teachers and youths for fraternizing with the enemy. Compassionate young people had conducted benefit drives and sent food and warm clothing to the Russians during the war when Russia was an ally. Afterward, it was not a valid self-defence.

This dark period of history has no option but to repeat itself on Canadian turf. C-36 will give licence for undercover agents to investigate, interrogate and abuse a whole bunch of innocents whose lives will be ruined. And, like the U.S. government didn’t find a “Red Under Every Bed”, Canada won’t ferret out a single terrorist who couldn’t have been found, detained and arraigned by using some other piece of legislation already on the books.

The Canadian Criminal Code–the Bible of the law-enforcement business–comes quickly to mind as a broad-sweeping document useful for nabbing law-abiding citizens.

Why not terrorists? But the only consolation left to Canadians now would be if some of the masterminders and supporters of C-36 end up the first victims snared in their own machinations….just to give the rest of society a dress rehearsal as to exactly how this abusive law is REALLY going to work–or not work.

The aftereffect:

As predictable, the Supreme Court of Canada was finally solicited to rule on the definition of the word “terrorism” and the anti-terrorism act’s legality; as predictable, Canada’s top court said in a unanimous 7-0 decision that everything was hunky-dory.

On December 13, 2012, Canadian Press writer Mike Blanchfield delivered a brief report titled Supreme Court to Deliver Terrorism Definition in anticipation of the next day’s decision.

(See full article at:

“The constitutionality of Canada’s anti-terror law comes under the microscope Friday (Dec. 14/12) when the Supreme Court of Canada delivers a series of major rulings on the legal definition of terrorism,” wrote Blanchfield.

“The high court will rule on a handful of charter challenges brought by a convicted terrorist and two accused terrorists, key among them whether Canada’s post 9/11 anti-terror law violates the constitutional guarantees to freedom of expression, association and religion,” he continued.

He noted that the rulings could determine whether the terror legislation needs to be amended or rewritten, or is struck down for giving law enforcement too much latitude.

“The ruling also will decide the fate of former Ottawa software engineer Momin Khawaja, the first person charged under the law, and two other men, awaiting extradition to the United States, where they face charges of supporting the banned Tamil Tigers terrorist group.

“Khawaja is now serving life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years after the Ontario Court of Appeal took the unusual step of increasing his original 10-and-a-half year sentence to send a message about terrorism.

“The high court will also rule on whether Khawaja’s stiffened sentence should be upheld.”


In an unbelievable, yet predictable, outcome, on December 14, 2012, Canadian Press reported that the Supreme Court of Canada has declared the country’s controversial anti-terror law to be constitutional in a series of rulings that affirms how terrorism is defined in the Criminal Code.

“In a 7-0 ruling, the court has dismissed a series of charter appeals brought by three men, including terrorist Momin Khawaja, the first person ever charged under the anti-terror law.

“The court said an Ottawa trial judge erred by giving Khawaja too light a sentence of 10 1/2 years in prison and endorsed the life sentence later imposed by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

“The rulings also upheld the extradition order against two other men, Suresh Sriskandarajah and Piratheepan Nadarajah, who can now be sent to the United States to face trial on charges of supporting the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group.

“The high court flatly rejected a series of constitutional challenges brought by the three men.”

One suggested site for reading the full, enlightening story by CP writer Michael Blanchfield, can be viewed at

An excellent article by Ian MacLeod (with files from CP) was published December 14, 2012 on Postmedia News titled Canada’s Anti-terrorism Law Overcomes Final Hurdle in Top Court. See


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