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The Canadian Arab Federation and Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations made their submission Tuesday, September 20, to the House of Commons subcommittee reviewing Canada's Anti-terrorism Act . What follows is an edited excerpt from their 11-page brief.
CAF and CAIR-CAN have been concerned about the notable erosion of human rights and the rule of law in Canada since the introduction of the Anti-terrorism Act. Quite simply, our communities have been blanketed by a culture of fear and suspicion that has manifested itself in increased scrutiny by security agencies and police, racial and religious profiling, and discrimination in daily life.
The introduction of new national security laws and policies has resulted in a palpable chill amongst Arab and Muslim communities. This chill has taken several forms, most notably the withdrawal from participation in community and religious organizations and charitable causes.
For example, the new criminal offence of "facilitation" (the aiding of charities or organizations allegedly connected to terrorist causes) may make criminal terrorists out of innocent Canadians whose only intention is to assist in humanitarian work.
This is more insidious than the laying of actual charges, because there is no formal paper trail, no adjudication and no finding of guilt that can be challenged under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. It does not serve us well in the search for true safety and security under the rule of law.
In fact, this shotgun approach may actually serve to make us less safe, for the valuable insight and assistance of Arab and Muslim Canadians is lost and as a result genuine threats to Canada may go unnoticed.
Once singled out, an organization or individual is deemed to be a terrorist, and anyone who associates with them may be liable for facilitating terrorism.
In the end, we all lose. Our communities lose because they are collectively punished based on guilt by association and stereotype. Canada also loses because it ignores the social capital, ideas and ingenuity that Arabs and Muslims offer.
We are increasingly becoming ghettoized, marginalized and excluded from meaningful participation in the public life of our country.
Others make important decisions about our rights and interests while we watch from the sidelines. This is unacceptable. Arab and Muslim Canadians ought to have a seat at the table.
Some have argued that the indignities and harassment visited upon Arabs and Muslims are mere inconveniences that are relatively small compared to the threat of terrorism.
In fact, the adverse impact of these "inconveniences," especially the intense scrutiny by security agencies and police, is compounded by the fact that many Arabs and Muslims are new Canadians, immigrants or refugees.
Imagine the fear and stress of a refugee who is told that his status is contingent on his cooperation as an informant.
Imagine the lingering effects of security agents visiting one's workplace, school or home, ostensibly to have an informal chat about terrorism and national security.
We need not look too far to find the results of inappropriate and overly zealous investigations. Take the the 23 South Asian men caught in the dragnet of Project Thread in 2003. The lives of those identified as terrorists by the sloppy work of the state are forever damaged.
There is mutual distrust between the national security bureaucracy and the Arab and Muslim communities, and it does not serve the country well.
A number of bold yet straightforward steps could be taken to build cooperation. Diversify national security agencies and bureaucracies by hiring qualified Arabs and Muslims as staff and policymakers.
Since September 11, 2001, we have witnessed the growth and convergence of the national security system. We have not seen a corresponding development in democratic oversight of these agencies and their powers.
As such, CAF and CAIR-CAN recommend that oversight for all national security agencies and functions be centralized in one body.
This oversight body should be empowered to accept third-party complaints, initiate investigations, order compensation, and be fully security cleared.