CCLA Holds Conference Assessing Global Counter-Terror Initiatives

On Friday, October 19th, 2012, nearly 100 attendees gathered at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law for a one day symposium entitled “The Social Cost of National Security: Assessing the Impact of Global Counter-Terror Initiatives on Canadian Society”.  The conference was a partnership between the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Arab Institute — for whom this was their inaugural event — and was hosted by the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto.

The keynote address was given by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Mr. Ben Emmerson, Q.C.  The Special Rapporteur emphasized the importance of observing international human rights standards in the implementation of counter-terrorism measures. Ensuring redress for victims of terrorism is important, however protecting the rights of victims does not legitimize violating the rights of others, and in fact only serves to increase the likelihood of retaliation and violence. The protection of the rule of law and human rights are crucial methods in challenging the spread of terrorism. A video of the keynote address can be found below.

>> Click here to read the live blog from the conference

>> Click here to read more about the conference, including a list of speakers and panels

>> Click here to listen to Ben Emmerson speak on CBC’s As it Happens 

Mr. Emmerson’s keynote was a fitting start to the day’s panel discussions around the social impacts of counter-terrorism measures. Anil Kapoor, Yavar Hameed and Nathalie Des Rosiers began the first panel discussion by assessing the impacts of counter-terrorism legislation over the past ten years on security, immigration, and privacy, and the dangers surrounding complicity in torture and the use of secret evidence. Barbara Perry, Roch Tassé and Balpreet Singh examined the targeting of specific groups and individuals in the aftermath of 9/11, the role of the media and politicians in spreading Islamophobia and racialised images, and how targeting of specific groups has put a chill on freedom of expression and political dissent.

The afternoon discussions continued with an examination of key institutions and their role in national security, including Canada’s human rights commissions, national security agencies such as CSIS and the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the media. Charles Théroux, Pearl Eliadis and Sukanya Pillay examined how anti-terrorism legislation can lead to unfair discrimination and marginalization of minority communities; the potential “importing” of discriminatory practices under the umbrella of anti-terror initiatives; and the role that human rights institutions, such as the Canadian human rights commissions, could play in promoting social and systemic change.

Carmen Cheung, Reem Bahdi and Craig Forcese continued the discussion on oversight and accountability of national security agencies, looking at the how well the recommendations of the O’Connor Commission of Inquiry have been implemented, the implications of increased information sharing between Canada and the US, and the need to take a critical yet nuanced approach to government oversight mechanisms. The last panel of the day examined the role of the media in thinking about terrorism and counter-terrorism initiatives, and we were joined by Tony Burman, Rick Salutin and Naheed Mustafa. Each of these speakers has a range of experience working with national and international media, and the panel highlighted the important role that the media can play in bridging gaps between communities and bringing light to individual stories, the changing landscape of media in the face of cutbacks and new technologies, and the dangers of perpetuating stereotypes in the news.

Post-9/11 security measures have had a profound impact on individuals and society as a whole. Concerningly, these measures have at times resulted in secret evidence, the use or sharing of information procured from torture, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, racial profiling, and denial of due process and fair trial rights – measures that violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and  Canada’s international legal obligations. This conference gave participants the opportunity to pause and critically reflect on what has happened, but was also a time to re-energize our efforts and keep moving forward in the fight to ensure that fundamental civil liberties and human rights are protected.