Skip to main content Start of content

JUST Committee Meeting

Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.

For an advanced search, use Publication Search tool.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the accessibility of this publication, please contact us at

Previous day publication Next day publication




[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Tuesday, November 6, 2001

• 1943


The Chair (Mr. Andy Scott (Fredericton, Lib.)): I call to order the 45th meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

This evening we will be dealing with Bill C-36, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Official Secrets Act, the Canada Evidence Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act and other acts, and to enact measures respecting the registration of charities, in order to combat terrorism.

Our only witness this evening—for the moment, at least—is Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.

Mr. Niemi, the rules here are such that you will be given up to ten minutes to make an opening statement. Then this extremely animated group of members of Parliament will be engaging you in conversation and discussion.

With that, Mr. Niemi, we would go to your statement.


Mr. Fo Niemi (Executive Director, Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Thank you for putting me in the line of fire. I understand I'm the only witness tonight.


If you will allow me, I wish to thank you for inviting me tonight.


Briefly, we are an organization, based in Montreal, that was founded in 1983 to, among other things, promote racial equality and harmony in Canada.

• 1945


I shall make my presentation in both official languages. I shall start in French, do the major part in English to please the majority of people and I shall conclude in French.

Our organization is a member of the Canadian Court Challenges Program, the Quebec Press Council and several other organizations which are active in the field of advocacy and racial relations.

Our position on Bill C-36 is very simple. We strongly support this government's initiative, Bill C-36, mostly because it takes place in the context of international cooperation and solidarity to fight criminal and terrorist acts and ensure security, peace and welfare in our country.

As a democratic country dedicated to basic values of individual rights and freedoms particularly the right to life, to freedom, to personal safety and equality, we cannot say no to this bill. We cannot surrender to terrorism or fail to protect ourselves from terrorist threats, real or apprehended, in Canada or elsewhere.

We firmly believe that the fight against terrorist acts committed in Canada or elsewhere is first and foremost a fight for the basic rights and freedoms of Canadians.


In our opinion, the fight to protect Canadians from terrorist acts is basically also a fight for human rights and freedoms. We believe the battle is to ensure that hard-gained Canadian democratic values and standards are not compromised by physical or psychological violence committed by any person, group, or state. The battle is also to secure the achievements made by our country and our colleagues in the United Nations in the areas of global security, democratic development, and human rights over the last 53 years.

This is why we support Bill C-36. It is, among other things, the expression of a national collective resolve to ensure, as it's stated in the preamble, that “Canadians and people everywhere are entitled to live their lives in peace, freedom and security”.

Our comments are basically divided into two parts. The first part will address the more global, socio-political, and legal issues surrounding the bill, and the context or framework in which we think it should be examined. Part two will address more specific provisions of the bill, especially the possible impact of some provisions on certain groups of Canadians.

We believe the debate on anti-terrorism must take place not only in a free and democratic society but also in the context of multicultural and multiracial democracy. Much has been said about the fact that this is a balance between civil liberties and national security, and that many clause in the bill—if not the entire bill—are compatible with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The state, we believe, as in the first section, can place certain limits on the rights and freedoms defined in the Canadian charter, or as elaborated by the courts. But what we would like to bring to the perspective—perhaps some of the many previous witnesses have already done so—is a reminder that there is another often-forgotten principle and provision, section 27, which says:

    This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

I don't believe this is something new.

This is why, when we refer in the debate to Canada being a free and democratic society, we need to keep in mind that there is also a multicultural dimension to the discussion of this bill. It's no secret that the bill has raised substantial concern among Canadians of Arabic, Muslim, Central Asian, and South Asian decent, or any other person who is perceived to be of such origin, especially for people of mixed races who look Arabic.

News reports in Canada and the United States talk a lot about hate crimes, and the racial profiling that may be done by law enforcement authorities. We believe racial profiling has been increasingly normalized and accepted, and that's why we have several concerns when we talk about this bill in very general terms. We'd like to share some of these concerns with you. Personally, I don't believe these are things you have not heard before.

• 1950

We believe there's a major problem when a bill that is designed to combat terrorism and to protect Canadians everywhere from acts of terrorism and violence is perceived as unfairly targeting, criminalizing, and stigmatizing entire racial minority and immigrant communities. This has to be combatted through different kinds of action—government action, community action—in order to avoid, in the minds of Canadians and other people around the world, the perception that the fight against terrorism is a fight against certain groups because of race, religion, and ethnicity, if not citizenship status.

There seems to be, unfortunately, no coordinated, unequivocal, proactive action from government or law enforcement agencies to address the concerns at different levels, or to prevent disproportionate law enforcement on minorities and some immigrant groups. Unlike the United States, where verbal enunciation by the President and the Attorney General of the United States was followed by concrete action—creation within the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice of a national origins working group on post-September 11 discrimination—we have not any similar coordinated action in this country in order to stem the public perception, or the actual occurrence in some communities, of acts of hate crime directed against some of the more targeted or vulnerable Canadians because of skin colour or religion.

We also are concerned about the fact that this perception has been compounded by the relentless, heavily biased, and unchecked attacks on the Muslim communities, in particular at home and abroad, by many in the Canadian media. We are also very mystified by the fact that journalists' associations, press councils, and other self-regulatory media ethics agencies have not spoken out about the need for Canadian media to be more balanced and careful in order not to fuel the perception that the fight against terrorism is a fight against the Muslim community, if not the Muslim faith.

Finally, we are also concerned about the fact that when we discuss how this bill will eventually be implemented, there seems to be a reliance, a little bit too automatic, on traditional protection agencies, such as human rights commissions and the courts and the police, to ensure that the bill will be implemented or enforced in such a way that the rights of some people to equal protection and benefit under the law will not be lost. Our own experience, particularly in Quebec but also in some other areas, has shown that this is unfortunately not always the case. Some of these agencies are not equipped, in terms staff knowledge or operational capabilities, to fulfil the mandate to uphold the right to equality and the protection of people in the enforcement of eventually a bill like this one.

We tend to discuss anti-terrorism within the context of civil liberties versus national security. What we would like to propose is that we keep in mind the need to re-triangulate the relationship between national security, civil liberties, and human rights, particularly equality rights.

As you may know, there doesn't seem to be in Quebec among many law enforcement agencies a hate crimes policy or hate crimes infrastructure. Many law enforcement personnel at all three levels of government have no training in dealing with hate crimes. We do not have any knowledge of a federal policy on racial profiling in order to avoid treating people differently or to avoid the perception that the enforcement of Canadian law is biased against certain groups. As well, many human rights commissions in this country lack the statutory authority to combat, among other things, active incitement to hatred, contempt, and ridicule.

In the year 2000, we were fortunate to participate in two national round tables on hate crimes in Canada, organized under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism. They produced, we believe, an interesting blueprint to fight different kinds of hate crime in Canada. Unfortunately, since September 11, or, I would say, since January 2001, no national hate crimes strategy has emerged from these national round tables.

• 1955

To summarize our concerns, we believe there are certain actions that must be done in conjunction with the passage of this bill in order to ensure that both at home and in the world the fight against terrorism is not interpreted as a fight, subtle or overt, against certain groups of Canadians because of race, colour, ethnic or national origin, religion, or even citizenship status. This is why we believe the recommendation made by the special Senate committee on Bill C-36 with regard to the anti-discrimination clause would be particularly helpful in dissipating perception to that effect.

We also suggest you make a change to the last “whereas” paragraph in the preamble, inserting the word “cultural” in the phrase “to protect the political, social and economic security of Canada and Canada's relations with its allies”. We believe acts of terrorist activity may also take place in the cultural and communications sector.

With regard to the implementation of this bill, we recommend strongly that the Minister of Justice of Canada and the Solicitor General of Canada address or take a leadership position to enter into agreements with their counterparts at the provincial and territorial levels on the need for adequate training of law enforcement personnel with regard to implementation of this bill, or any other action related to hate crimes, to ensure that we have enforceable laws that are not perceived as being, or that actually are, discriminatory.

We suggest the government rapidly adopt a racial profiling policy. Any time there's an incident in the media about racial profiling against Canadians of Arab or Muslim origin... this undermines certain efforts we have both at home and abroad to contribute to a safer world. Perhaps in order to ensure greater coordination we can look to some of the initiatives in the United States in fighting terrorism abroad and in securing the freedom and the safety of Arab Americans at home. We can look at some of those models.

I would like to summarize some of the other concerns we have with provisions of the bill. We don't believe in a parliamentary review; we believe in a sunset clause. Our own experience with the Employment Equity Act, which has a built-in five-year parliamentary review, has shown that it doesn't work. The Employment Equity Act, may I remind you, was adopted in 1986, reviewed in 1993, and amended in 1995. So a five-year parliamentary review is usually stretched beyond that date. In the case of the 1993 review, it ended up a very sharply divided, partisan report going a little bit in all directions.

We believe the definition of terrorist activity, contained in proposed paragraph 83.01(1)(b), should be amended, as has been recommended by the Canadian Bar Association. At least the word “lawful” should be removed to ensure that enforcement of that provision will not, at the practical level, at the community and local level, result in scapegoating or unbiased enforcement of the law.

We particularly object to the religious reference, because this only further stigmatizes and criminalizes a particular religion or religious community—not to mention the fact that this kind of reference may engage Canadians in endless debate as to what constitutes a religion or what is a set of beliefs that is religious by nature.

Proposed section 83.18, which deals with participating, facilitating, instructing, and harbouring terrorist groups, is very scary for an organization like ours, which provides assistance and sometimes legal representation to victims of discrimination, be they individuals or groups who feel they may have been unfairly stigmatized or disproportionately under police surveillance or arrest. Some racial minorities tend to be victims of racial profiling. If for some reason they come to us for help, and for some reason we don't know that this group or individual has been placed on a list of terrorists, and we carry out our mandate of representation advocacy, the next thing you know we'll be caught in that danger. Lawyers will feel the same constraint.

• 2000

This is why we suggest that a useful thing to do would be to ensure, perhaps through the voluntary sector initiative that the Treasury Board of Canada has set up, that there be an information tool to communicate to people in the voluntary sector as to when individuals or groups are placed on the eventual terrorist list.

We also believe certain additional clarification should be made in that section so that proof of criminal intent will be required in order to protect staff and directors of non-profit organizations from abusive or unfortunate legal prosecution.

Finally, with regard to racial and religious hate, which is a major component of the bill, we welcome strongly and support some of the sections that basically subject the Internet to coverage under the Canadian Human Rights Act, creating the category of “mischief” when it deals with attacks on religious property. We do hope, however, interpretation of the provision on mischief includes attacks on cemeteries of certain religious groups. Perhaps the wording may not be as clearly expressed as to whether that would be considered religious property.

With regard to sanctions on the Internet, even though the provision allows a judge to order deletion of materials on the Internet, we believe there could eventually be a provision, as recommended in the Canadian human rights review panel, to include penalties for the carrier or the service provider.

The Chair: Excuse me, Mr. Niemi, how much time do you have left?

Mr. Fo Niemi: I'm finished. We rushed through the bill to bring to you hopefully some things you may not have heard before, especially how it will impact on local communities in practice.


I thank you very much for your patience. I feel very guilty for taking the time of all those Members of Parliament. I hope to bring a useful contribution to a debate that is extremely important for our country and several Canadian communities throughout Canada.


The Chair: Thank you very much.

For seven minutes, Mr. Toews.

Mr. Vic Toews (Provencher, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate your testimony tonight and your comments regarding the failure of other reviews in the employment equity situation. It's clear that if the government does want to include a review provision in its legislation as opposed to another type of mechanism there needs to be more teeth. That's apparent, and I think your comments echo the concerns of other witnesses.

The one area I would like to briefly hear from you on is the issue of racial profiling. Is your organization against profiling of any sort based on racial characteristics, or is it simply racial profiling? For example, someone has just robbed a store, and there's a picture of that individual taken off the video camera or whatever. If police are looking for the suspect, would it be inappropriate to mention race in that case, whether the person is Caucasian or otherwise?

Mr. Fo Niemi: To the best of our knowledge, all law enforcement authorities, when they are looking for crime suspects, usually describe the individual in a detailed fashion, including hair colour, eye colour, and so on and so forth, in order to visually apprehend that person.

Mr. Vic Toews: My understanding is that bin Laden's terrorists might all come from a certain area. Would it ever be appropriate, then, for airport authorities, because of limited resources essentially—you can't stop everyone—to send out guidelines that would say, look, the general profile of these terrorists share the following characteristics, and these are individuals you should pay special attention to? Would you ever consider that to be appropriate?

• 2005

Mr. Fo Niemi: We have not had a very clear position on racial profiling. First of all, there's a case against Customs Canada right now in the courts about racial profiling of people at Pearson International Airport. Since our organization may be involved in it before the courts, I would have to be very careful about responding to questions.

What we need to keep in mind is tightening security checks for everyone, basically. In the case of airport travel or other means of travel, that is possibly the best guarantee so that no individual may sneak through anything that might endanger safety.

Second, the danger in racial profiling is that it relies on stereotypes at a particular time. Today the stereotype would be basically brown-skinned Arab men in their thirties. Tomorrow, if the face of a terrorist changed to a different colour and gender, that stereotype wouldn't hold. So it keeps changing and changing. Eventually we would end up with racial profiling of everyone.

We're saying that instead of looking at racial profiling a specific group, we should ensure tightened security checks on practically everyone.

Mr. Vic Toews: All right.

I certainly would find it objectionable if police, as they have done in certain southern states, would simply stop every motor vehicle driven by a black man aged 20 to 40 for no other reason than simply to do a licence check in the off chance some other criminal activity would be involved. It's not motivated by anything other than this preconceived profile that some people have about those individuals.

In this case, though, it's a little bit different, because authorities are responding to a specific situation. It's not that we go out and say, all right, today we'll profile all Swedish men aged 40 to 50, and the next day we'll profile all Argentinians. There are certain reasons, and it's a very difficult issue. I'm not saying that police agencies have an easy time of it.

I think you've given me some assistance, but I'm wondering, in what situations is it acceptable and in what situations is it not acceptable? I guess that's the struggle that many police agencies are faced with, including our security forces in dealing with the airports.

Mr. Fo Niemi: Perhaps I can suggest that you look at some of the studies or debates surrounding the legislation or executive orders in New Jersey state, which basically adopted orders on racial profiling. The example you just mentioned is racial profiling in a very broad-based situation, in a community where there's no specific crime, or no specific apprehension of a crime about to be committed. But let's say you live in a middle-class neighbourhood. Basically every person of colour driving through there—usually it's black men driving a nice car—will be considered to be a suspect, because there's a link, a general, unspecified, and broad-based link, between blacks and criminality.

Mr. Vic Toews: And that's objectionable.

Mr. Fo Niemi: That is very objectionable. Most initiatives in the U.S. states, and at the federal level, have basically addressed it. This is also the situation at Customs Canada right now, based on a study done by Customs Canada on racial profiling of black Canadians coming back to Canada, who tend be racially profiled at Pearson International Airport.

That is slightly different from a specific situation where there may be a specific crime being committed with a specific suspect or a group of suspects who may be very associated with that particular crime. And this is why, in the case of, say, a banker robber, you can go into detail in describing what the suspect looked like—height, weight, eye and hair colour, and so on and so forth. But it would be very risky, at any Canadian airport or port authority, to do racial profiling of any person because of pure skin colour or whatnot just because that class of person tends to be associated with the general activity of terrorism.

• 2010

As I mentioned, today a terrorist can be somebody who looks Arab. Tomorrow a Muslim can be an Indonesian who looks like me. Are we going to do racial profiling of everybody who looks like me and no longer do so for people who look Arabic? That is the danger in that situation.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Toews.

Mr. Bellehumeur, seven minutes.


Mr. Michel Bellehumeur (Berthier—Montcalm, BQ): Thank you very much for having taken the time to appear before us. It is greatly appreciated. I know that you did not get much time to prepare your presentation.

I quite agree on everything you said. The vast majority of our witnesses have been asking for something you have yourself mentioned. However, while you made a distinction between two things, I think it is necessary to have both. I am talking about the sunset clause. I believe that you would like an expiration clause to put an end to some parts of the legislation after a certain time.

I would like to know if your organization has thought about a time limit? Today, we heard about a two-year limit. A three-year or five-year expiry date have also been suggested. Have you thought about it?

My second question deals on the review of that legislation. I think that we should have both, that is to say, a sunset clause to rescind some parts of that bill at a given time and a parliamentary review. If we have a three-year or five-year expiration clause we must be able to review the law at least once a year to see how it is implemented in practice and make sure that this bill which gives a lot of powers to the police, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Defence, the Solicitor General, and so on, is not misused.

This is how I see this and I would like your comments in order to know if you agree or not. This review would take place every year. The legislation would provide for the appointment of a commissioner, for instance, that would supervise its implementation and would table a report to the House of Commons. In this report, we could find the number of times wire-tapping was used, the number of persons listed as terrorists, charities that would have been deprived of their status, the number of arrests without warrant, obviously without the names to protect confidentiality. After that, the justice committee or any other committee would study that report and hear the commissioner, the ministers, the civil servants, the police forces to see if there was any abuse. The committee would then have three months to produce a report that would be made public.

Are you quite favourable to that kind of thing? Do you think that it might comfort people who are concerned about individual and collective rights?

Mr. Fo Niemi: Yes. In fact, I did not mention it in my presentation, but we found the recommendations of the Senate Committee on that bill very interesting and maybe much more transparent particularly on the subject of a parliamentary review—

Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: It is similar, yes.

Mr. Fo Niemi: —and the appointment of a parliamentary officer or a commissioner to review the implementation of this law and produce an independent report. Should that review take place every year? We did not discuss that issue. I suppose that it is up to parliamentarians to decide if that process should take place every year or every two years.

In regard to your previous question on the duration of the sunset clause, we think that the maximum should be the duration of a legislature, five years, because this bill will reverse the traditional relations between the authorities and the citizens. So we think that the government should submit itself to that review and not invoke confidentiality or national security to elude that responsibility so that the respect for Canadian values and civil liberties will be maintained.

• 2015

However, we think that we might have to find a formula for the parliamentary review. We have discussed it but we did not include it in our brief. Because of the nature of the parliamentary process there is sometimes too much partisanship and Members of the House of Commons and even senators do not always have the independence required to do a rigorous review. A parliamentary committee or another mechanism should be able to make an evaluation as rigorous as possible. Otherwise, we shall fall into partisanship. Political parties will follow their party lines and won't do the rigorous review that is necessary to make sure that the legislation—


The Chair: Thank you very much.

Mr. MacKay for seven minutes.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC/DR): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for being here and for giving us your organization's view and interpretation of this legislation.

As was said by the other Mr. McKay on the committee, this is perhaps the most important bill we'll deal with in the life of this Parliament, and it's one whose implications will be felt for many years. So I guess there is mounting pressure here. We always feel that we want to try to get this bill right in the first instance, although much of the focus has been on sunsetting, or not sunsetting, this legislation.

Whether it's three or five years the bill sunsets, increasingly we've heard from witnesses concern with regard to the damage that can result to people's reputations. I can't help but be struck by the sense of fear and intimidation—the terror, if you will, ironically—that many new Canadians and their representatives here have expressed about this legislation.

I'd be interested in your perspective on that, the psychological factor, the damage that can be done—whether it be in terms of racial profiling or whether it be a fear, or misunderstanding, I suppose, of what their rights should be and what rights could be affected. In that regard in particular, we heard from a number of lawyers who came forward and said that the rights that should be protected, constitutional rights—particularly the right to counsel, from which many other rights then flow—are rights that people may not know exist.

This legislation gives the government and gives the Attorney General the ability to say we're not providing you with the reasons for our actions. You've been detained. You're going to come before a hearing. We don't have to tell you why, but you have to bring forward information. You have to answer questions.

That is particularly devastating and damaging to an individual and their reputation in the community. I would be interested in hearing your comments on these ministerial certificates and what judicial or parliamentary oversight might at least enter a little more accountability into that equation. Generally speaking, I wonder whether you feel that an oversight committee should take the form of a parliamentary committee or a parliamentary officer, as we have with the Privacy Commissioner and the Information Commissioner. Would that inject a greater comfort level for your organization, or for those for whom you speak?

Finally, along those same lines, in the listing, or the aspect in which individuals and groups can find themselves on a list—gazetted, if you will—are there enough safeguards and checks and balances that allow for individuals affected to have their names removed, or to question the decision, particularly when, as we heard today, the request for the listing, or the information the government may rely on for the decision to list a group or individual, comes from that person's country of origin, where their activities may have been described as subversive by a government that may in fact be the one that is corrupt or of despicable origin?

• 2020

This aspect comes through time and time again, that once the reputation is tarnished, it's extremely difficult to put the shine back on it.

Mr. Fo Niemi: There are many components, but I'll do it very quickly.

First of all, even though there are built-in mechanisms for checks and balances and certain judicial reviews—many of the provisions that the Attorney General or other enforcement authorities can make—our concern at the front line is that when a person is wrongly accused or wrongly placed in a terrorism group or is subject to some of those things, basically the person would have to go for judicial review or appear before the court at his or her own cost. That can practically bankrupt anyone before we even get to the question of damaged reputation. Where will people find the financial assistance? That's a very serious concern.

Second, with regard to the role of the Attorney General in here, when we analysed this bill and discussed it, there was great discomfort with the fact that the bill was being brought forward without any movement or action on the part of the justice minister to come up with ways and means and safeguards or guidelines for provincial and territorial authorities, ministers of justice and solicitors general. The administration of many parts of this bill will fall heavily within provincial jurisdiction, and we don't know how that will play out.

Mr. Peter MacKay: Is it clear in your mind as to who, in most instances, will carry the can, who will prosecute offences?

Mr. Fo Niemi: Not in some cases.

Mr. Peter MacKay: It seems to me it's discretionary, federal and provincial.

Mr. Fo Niemi: Exactly. That's of very great concern.

There's a third component as well. In some of these provisions, when they involve people who have not had Canadian citizenship, it is not said in the bill how one's perhaps wrongful accusation or whatnot will affect the person's citizenship status. In the U.S. Patriot Act, basically it was seen, in some cases, that could lead to the deportation of legal permanent residents after some type of long detention by the Attorney General. Will that be the unforeseen consequence here?

Thirdly, we're in favour of an officer of Parliament akin to the commissioners of privacy or information. We would also perhaps ensure that this officer of Parliament is really listened to by Parliament. Perhaps a special committee could be struck, or possibly a joint House and Senate committee, to ensure that the work of the officer of Parliament, the reports and results, will truly be listened to in the most fair and non-partisan way possible.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Mr. Myers, seven minutes.

Mr. Lynn Myers (Waterloo—Wellington, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I first of all want to thank you for coming and for giving the very important testimony you did. I thought you made two particularly strong observations. One was with respect to the charter and section 27, the multicultural reference. I thought that was a good observation and a good point.

With regard to the three anchors you mentioned—civil liberties, human rights, and national security—those are, in this whole debate, paramount in terms of Canadian society. They're certainly the values we cherish a great deal. I thought that was particularly good.

You commented on the targeting of groups based on race, religion, and ethnicity. You went on to say that you were of the opinion that we're not doing, as a country or as a government federally, necessarily a good job in combatting that. You referenced the United States—I think you said the U.S. Department of Justice—and the fact that there's a working group or working committee there. You thought probably in Canada we should have a similar one, or at least I think you said that.

So my first question is, are there other things we should be doing in this area as well?

• 2025

Second of all, since you are a centre of research and you have a very good reputation...

[Editor's Note: Technical Difficulty]

...taken place over the last little while—for example, since September 11—to get a feel for what's transpiring in society.

I guess I'm zeroing in now on hate crimes and other things that may be taking place as a result of the events since then. Maybe you could elaborate a little bit in terms of what you and the centre have found. I think the committee would be interested in hearing that.

Mr. Fo Niemi: I can share with you some information with regard to the Montreal police. They have a policy on hate crimes on paper. And this is without being critical; I am just giving you a factual situation. Unfortunately, in Montreal there's no infrastructure to deal with crimes based on race, national origin, or religion, other than a community-based service played by the B'nai B'nai Brith human rights league.

I have been told that since September 11 there have been more than 50 hate-crime-related acts committed against people of Arab or Muslim origin, as reported to the Montreal police. This is still within the context that the hate crimes policy is not very well known. The concept of hate crimes is not very well understood.

We have received since September 11 numerous calls—we have contacts and links with different communities—from people who encounter either open physical threat, harassment, or more subtle forms of intimidation on the job. A special area of concern, identified by everyone, is the open-line talk show. As we speak, we are filing a formal complaint with the CRTC against a local station that has used the format of a talk show to further perpetuate a lot of misunderstanding about peoples of Muslim faith.

We are concerned that many of these things are done very haphazardly and in an uncoordinated fashion. We were looking toward certain leadership on the part of government to perhaps prevent, educate, or do something, but to tell you the truth, we have not heard anything from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, even though perhaps it has a role to play, from the Quebec Human Rights Commission, or from other human rights commissions in other parts of the country. I have heard that there have been meetings and dialogue between commission staff and local communities.

Perhaps what the Government of Canada could do—and we have raised the situation of the U.S. Department of Justice and the national origins working group—is have an internal coordinating committee to ensure some type of concerted action among different departments—transport, justice, Solicitor General, port authorities, and so on—to prevent some of these “irritants”, as we call them. They're irritants not only for the people who are targeted but also for the country as a whole. In fighting terrorism we cannot be seen as fighting our own people, our own citizens, our own residents because of who they are. So that kind of internal working committee would be useful.

I referred earlier to the national round tables that took place in 2000 and that produced two major, very useful reports. Unfortunately, that highly commendable blueprint has no mechanism to be translated into a national action strategy. One of the things our organization recommends is that as this bill goes through Parliament and eventual adoption, very serious consideration be given to the need to develop parallel and complementary strategies and activities to support the fight against terrorism and to further disassociate the fight against terrorism from the fight against people of Muslim and Arabic origin. We cannot allow that association to take place, either in fact or in anyone's mind.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Myers.

Mr. Cadman, three minutes.

Mr. Chuck Cadman (Surrey North, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to touch on something you mentioned. Right at the end of your presentation you referred to Internet companies being penalized for carrying hate propaganda. I just want a point of clarification here. Are you suggesting by this the Internet companies whose facilities are used to transmit? Or is it Internet companies' ISPs who allow their servers to be used to actually set up a site? Because there's a big difference here. In the first case, if it's the transmission, that would be something akin to penalizing the telephone company for a hateful phone call.

I just want clarification of what you meant by that.

• 2030

Mr. Fo Niemi: Perhaps I can refer you to the report of the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel, recommendations 144 and 145. It's recommended there that the act be amended to allow, in that case, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to impose penalties on the access or service provider to the extent that it knew, or should have known, its facilities were or are being used to disseminate hate messages.

We believe the La Forest committee crafted that recommendation to ensure a certain liability, but that would not really jeopardize the entire—

Mr. Chuck Cadman: I'm a little confused here. I could certainly understand it if an ISP allows their equipment, their servers, to host an actual website that was propagating hate. I could certainly understand that. But I'd have a little bit of trouble if it was just flowing through their systems, their pipelines. That's all I wanted clarification on.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Mr. Grose, three minutes.

Mr. Ivan Grose (Oshawa, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Our adversary is a very clever fellow, and he has cleverly named his enemies. He, of course, like all despots, started off with the Jews, and then he mentioned the Crusaders. I think they were the fellows who pranced around on big horses, with a red cross on a white tunic. I haven't seen many of them around lately.

He then very cleverly said that all Arabs or Muslims who did not agree with his twisted ideas were enemies of Islam. Then we're faced with the temptation that, gee, that makes it easy, because if anyone looks Arabic, we'll simply ask them, “Are you for us or against us?”

Of course, that's the furthest thing from what we should do, but he has cleverly muddied the waters and put us in this box so that we're really not faced with the same situation we usually are with racial intolerance. We have to be a little more clever about it, a little different.

Do you agree? And have you any ideas on how we can handle this situation other than what we've done in the past for racial intolerance, which has succeeded in some cases and not in others? Do you have any ideas on how we should handle this new and unique situation we've been faced with?

Mr. Fo Niemi: Not beyond some of the things I spoke of earlier. I believe those are perhaps the small steps that can contribute to...

Maybe I didn't understand your question very well, but I believe the things we recommended here can help reduce some of that situation of irritation.

Mr. Ivan Grose: Then I'll try again.

He has said that all Arabs and Muslims who do not agree with him are the enemies of Islam, not of him. We're then faced with the proposition that the temptation is to ask people who look Arabic “Are you with us or are you with him?” Well, of course, we can't do that, but he's put us into a box. He's muddied the waters so that it's not the same as ordinary racial intolerance, where you say, well, I'm being intolerant toward a group. We don't know who the group is right now. He has managed to muddy the thing so much that we don't know exactly who he's talking about.

I think it's placed Muslims and people of Arabic descent in Canada in a very difficult position, because of course they're not with him. We know that. They know that. But there's always that lingering thought in the back of your mind, which is what he wanted to do.

I just thought you might have an idea on how we handle this a little bit differently from how we handle ordinary racial intolerance, because it's not that easy.

Mr. Fo Niemi: Possibly the best way is just through more public education. We're concerned over what we read in the national media about why Muslims don't do this, or Muslims are bad, or Muslims are evil, and there is no way to counter or respond to the things we see in our own Canadian media. That is possibly more damaging.

Mr. Ivan Grose: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Niemi, for making it here. You've assisted us in what we consider to be a very important task.

I want to thank members of the committee very much.

The meeting is adjourned.

Top of document