Proceedings of the Special Senate Committee on the
Issue 20 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Monday, November 21, 2005
The Special Senate Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act met this day at 2:04 p.m. to undertake a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of the Anti-terrorism Act, (S.C. 2001, c.41).
Senator Joyce Fairbairn (Chairman) in the chair.
The Chairman: This is the forty-fourth and final meeting with witnesses of the Special Senate Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act. For our viewers, I will explain the purpose of this committee. In October 2001, as a direct response to the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, and at the request of the United Nations, the Canadian government introduced Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act. Given the urgency of the situation, Parliament was asked to expedite our study of the legislation. We agreed, and the deadline for the passage of the bill was mid-December 2001. However, concerns were expressed that it was difficult to thoroughly assess the potential impact of this legislation in such a short period. For that reason, it was agreed that three years later Parliament would be asked to examine the provisions of the act and its impact on Canadians with the benefit of hindsight and a less emotionally charged situation with the public. The work of the special committee represents the Senate's efforts to fulfill that obligation.
When we have completed the study, we will make a report to the Senate that will outline any issue we believe should be addressed and allow the results of our work to be available to the government and to the Canadian people. The House of Commons is undertaking a similar process at this time.
The committee has met with government ministers and officials, international domestic experts on the threat environment, legal experts, those involved in enforcement and intelligence gathering and representatives of community groups, as well as travelled to Washington, D.C. and London, England, for direct discussions with those who have experienced something on the ground that we here in Canada have not yet.
This afternoon we turn our attention to those who have been most directly affected by terrorism: the families of those who have been killed by terrorist acts. We are joined by Maureen Basnicki, who lost her husband in the tragic events of September 11. We are also joined by Bal Gupta, Chair of the Air India 182 Victims Families Association, and Nicola Kelly, Executive Committee Member.
Nicola Kelly, Executive Committee Member, Air India 182 Victims Families Association: We brought some remembrance books also. They were written by the families. Please feel free to look through those. I am a national spokesperson for the Air India Victims Families Association. Thank you for providing the opportunity to speak today.
Air India Victims Families Association represents family members of those who died in the largest case of mass murder in Canadian history. Judge Josephson, in his verdict at the Air India trial in March 2005, concluded that without a doubt it was a terrorist act, conceived, financed and successfully carried out in Canada. We lost more people per capita than the U.S. lost during the September 11, 2001 attacks. We are not diminishing the loss of the United States or the families of the 9/11 victims, and in fact stand in solidarity with them today. My point is that our laws and the views of our policy-makers and politicians have never reflected this fact. Despite the fact that hundreds were lost, including 86 children, no official from either the federal or provincial level has ever stood with us on June 23 until this year. Until this year, flags were never lowered on the anniversary.
We have failed utterly, not only to prevent this tragedy and convict the perpetrators, but to incorporate the terrorist attack into our history. This has been hurtful to both the families and the entire nation. As a result, we collectively act as if terrorism has never happened here; as if somehow we are immune to the threat of global terrorism. Terrorism in Canada is already a fait accompli. The sooner we learn from it, the better.
Our association would like to make some recommendations. The act does nothing for victims and victim's families. They have certain needs and requirements. For those who were injured and survived, the provision of medical, psychiatric and financial security is paramount. In the case of Air India, no resources were offered to us. No Canadian officials met us when we landed in Ireland. Our government simply failed to act in any effective manner to aid the families in the aftermath of the disaster. We want to be assured there are trained professionals to handle the needs and respond quickly to families in the event of a future disaster.
There is no financial support for families. We find it quite unfair that in our case, taxpayers were forced to pay the accused's legal bills while the victims' families struggled financially. Who is there to protect the rights of the victims?
We also support private member's Bill S-35. This bill would facilitate legal action for Canadian victims of terror who wish to pursue civil suits in Canada against the terrorists and their local and foreign sponsors.
This bill would function on two levels. First, it would provide some financial compensation to victims and their families. On another level, this bill can be an important tool in terms of designating terrorist groups. In other nations, such as the United States and European countries, these suits act as an important tool in the designation of terrorist groups. The discovery process during these cases maps out how money flows within these organizations, how their funding works and where these groups get their oxygen to exist.
I would also like to make another point about designation of groups whose activities meet the definition of “terrorist group” or who knowingly participate and collect private funds. One of the many issues we hope will come to light as result of an inquiry into the Air India bombing, should we finally be granted one, is our politicians unknowingly aiding terrorist groups through political support and donations. We cannot let courting voting blocs from certain groups stand in the way of national security.
In the years prior to the bombing, politicians were attending events at which people were speaking in Punjabi about killing Hindus. You still read in the paper about Canadian politicians attending events of groups that have been banned and have received terrorist designations in other countries. I am not suggesting it is done intentionally; I am saying we cannot afford to be innocent about these issues.
There is a definite need to strengthen our terrorism financing and charitable status laws. There needs to be more scrutiny of where the charity money is going and how it is being spent.
I would also like to discuss the aspects of this bill that would give greater powers to law enforcement and national security agencies. Cooperation between agencies definitely needs to be addressed. New policies and regulations on interagency cooperation need to be drafted. The relationship between CSIS and the RCMP is one of the factors in the failure to prevent the Air India bombing and, subsequently, to convict its perpetrators. This summer, new allegations have surfaced about an ongoing turf war between CSIS and the RCMP. We cannot allow bureaucratic turf wars to stand in the way of our national security.
Another factor that hindered the investigation in the Air India bombing in the months following the attack was that RCMP officers had language and cultural barriers to interviewing witnesses and functioning within the Sikh community. We need to provide multicultural training for law enforcement officers, as well as encourage recruitment among different ethnic groups.
We understand the bill will aid in compelling individuals who have information relating to terrorist groups or terrorist offences to testify. I am baffled as to why, in our case, Mrs. Reyat, the wife of the man convicted of making the bomb, and who is currently being financially supported by Malik and Bagri, was not compelled to testify. It seems she was afraid for her life.
We need stronger tools to compel witnesses to testify. The law enforcement agencies also need to be able to break through the culture of fear that envelopes any community in a terrorist case. They need to be seen to have actual powers to protect witnesses. We also need to make new provisions in our witness protection program if we intend to be successful in the prosecution of these cases. Information gathered by intelligence agencies needs not only to be shared, but actually used as evidence in trials.
In terms of getting a conviction, the Air India families strongly recommend the adoption of a three-judge system for dealing with terrorist cases of this magnitude. There is international precedent for this system.
We urge that any changes to the anti-terrorism legislation should aim to strengthen it by closing loopholes and gaps that exist now, not to weaken it. We need to send a strong message to the international community that Canada is able to deal with the threat of terrorism swiftly and effectively. With our handling of the Air India case, we have managed to send the opposite message.
In the world we live in today, it is not shocking that there are crazy people who want to blow up planes with 300 people aboard. What is shocking for me as a Canadian is that they can do it in this country and get away with it. You are in a unique position to stop that from happening again.
I am here to tell you how easily it can happen here unless we are extremely careful. It happened to my family and hundreds of families like mine here in Canada. My mother, Barsa Kelly, who was murdered on that flight, was the best and most loving mother and wife. Her loss continues to devastate our family. She was a friend to many people from all walks of life; she was a creative force — an educator, an activist, a feminist, and as she would say, a student of life. She was a dedicated volunteer. Thankfully, she has been indelibly imprinted on those of us she loved, and remains a powerful inspiration in our lives today.
My sister, Lorna, and I were born and raised in this country, as was my daughter, who will never know her grandmother. We are as Canadian as it gets; yet over the years, I have been let down again and again by many different governments. What is shocking to me as a person who considers herself Canadian is that my government utterly failed to protect me and my family, convict the guilty parties and provide the support and resources I needed to recover. In fact, until this year, the government completely failed to even give us recognition, let alone answers. If it did not happen to me, I would never have believed it could have happened in this country.
We can no longer afford to be complacent. The cost is too high. Hundreds have already died, and thousands of Canadians have been affected. We hope this generation of politicians will be inspired to implement new and tougher legislation to make it harder for terrorist groups to come to Canada and flourish here. We hope we will never suffer another terrorist act here again.
Bal Gupta, Chair, Air India 182 Victims Families Association: Thank you for giving us an opportunity to testify. I am not a legal, intelligence or anti-terrorism expert. As Chair of the Air India 182 Victims Families Association, I speak from the perspective of victims impacted most directly by the terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 on June 23, 1985.
I personally lost my wife of over 20 years. Since then, I have been raised by my two boys, who were only 12 and 18 at that time.
This tragedy was the result of the explosion of a bomb planted on the plane in a terrorist conspiracy conceived and executed on Canadian soil. The majority of victims were Canadians from various provinces. They were English Canadians, they were French Canadians, and they represented all religions. Eighty-six of the victims were children under the age of 12; 29 families — husband, wife, and all children — were wiped out. Thirty-two persons were left alone; both a spouse and children were taken from them. Six parents in their 40s and 50s lost all their children, and two children below the age of 10 lost both parents.
This is the largest terrorist act conceived and executed in Canada against Canadians. This act will continue to cause incalculable pain and suffering to thousands of friends and family members for decades to come.
On the same day, in a related act of terrorism involving a Canadian Pacific Air flight, a bomb explosion killed two luggage handlers in Japan. This bomb also originated in Canada. This was followed by the murders of two important potential witnesses — Tara Singh Hayer in British Columbia and Tarsem Purewal in the U.K.
The Air India 182 terrorist bombing was not prevented, but it could have been. It took almost 15 years to bring charges to court and the prosecution failed. This is proof enough that deficiencies in our system have hindered our intelligence agencies in preventing the terrorist acts, investigative agencies in bringing the terrorists to court in a timely way, and the justice system in convicting and punishing them. Whether the deficiencies are lack of tools, training resources, legal framework or political will, we do not know. We are still trying to find the answers.
Apparently, few, if any, serious lessons were learned from the Air India 182 tragedy. The Anti-terrorism Act was passed and some terrorist entities were banned only in 2002 — after 9/11 in the United States — 16 or 17 years after the Air India terrorist bombing.
Just last week, on November 17 on CBC, you might have seen that one of the culprits who contributed to Babar Khalsa has been removed from the board of directors of Khalsa Credit Union. Why? We do not know. As parliamentarians, you may and should know the reasons for this.
As families of the victims, we have suffered and continue to suffer incalculable grief and pain, which we do not wish to befall any other Canadian or human being in future terrorist acts.
Terrorism is an international phenomenon and terrorists, in most cases, have international connections. There are many examples: Canada, 1985; the U.S.A, 9/11; Spain, train bombing; Bali, Indonesia, bombings; the U.K. 7/7; train, subway and transit bombings in Russia, India, and, recently, Jordan. We might not like it when Canada is called a “terrorist haven,” but there are many terrorists marking time in Canada. All the conspirators in the Air India bombing are roaming freely in Canada. There are several prominent cases of suspected terrorists currently in Canada. We all know about terrorists caught crossing into the U.S.A. from Canada, and a terrorist cell was busted in Toronto, according to a National Post headline on November 3.
For each identified terrorist, there are probably hundreds of others hiding in anonymity in Canada. Terrorists in Canada appear to have large financial resources. A headline in the National Post on November 5 stated that funding to terrorist groups reached $180 million in 2004. The funds are often raised through money laundering or charitable, social and religious organizations. Some religious preachers, who should be messengers of peace, brotherhood and understanding, preach and support terrorism, recruit terrorists and collect funds for terrorists. There are many examples of clerics suspected, detained, prosecuted and/or convicted for supporting violence and terrorism: Talwinder Parmar of Babar Khalsa; several known cases in the U.S. and the U.K.; and a cleric waving a gun on a holy day, as per the Toronto Star on November 4, 2005. Religious places can easily be used as a cover by terrorist sympathizers, supporters and recruits. These terrorist-supporting activities can often lead to an environment of isolation, intimidation and fear in the related community. If someone is caught, “persecution of our kind” might be used as a powerful defence argument, with strong support from civil libertarians. The government has to and should be able to stop the heinous activities of those promoting terrorism in the name of religion. It matters not whether the religion is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikh or other. We understand that with its review of the Anti-terrorism Act, this special Senate committee is attempting to balance the notions of protecting Canadians from terrorists and protecting individual rights. It is not an easy task, but someone has to do it and this committee has that mandate.
A person can be detained as a suspected terrorist, and to date only five or six cases in which the ATA has applied have occurred, to the best of my knowledge. A suspected terrorist has all the remedies, such as judicial review and help from supporters and from civil libertarians that is often paid for by the public purse. However, if one single terrorist succeeds in executing a terrorist act, hundreds of victims and family members suffer the incalculable pain for decades and millions are terrorized by fear for all time. At the moment, the system in Canada appears to favour the criminals and not the victims of crime. Terrorists and criminals appear to have more rights than innocent victims of terrorism. This has been our unfortunate experience following the Air India 182 terrorist bombing. You have to change it. It can be done not by repealing or softening the Anti-terrorism Act, but rather by further strengthening its provisions by closing the loopholes and lapses. Prevention is far better than cure, and after a terrorist act, there is no cure. There is only the aftermath to clean up. Even one terrorist detained, foiled and effectively neutralized protects hundreds of innocent lives, prevents the incalculable pain and suffering of thousands of family members and friends of potential victims for decades to come and protects millions of innocent citizens from the kind of fear and terror that lasts forever. The intelligence, investigation and enforcement agencies can prevent a recurrence of terrorist activity in Canada if senators, as lawmakers, provide the legal framework, procedures, tools and training for agency members to do their jobs while protecting individual rights. Senators, it is not easy but you must do it. Please, do not send the intelligence, investigation and enforcement agencies to bat for you with their hands tied behind their backs. I will make recommendations to that effect.
As stated earlier, we are not experts in law, intelligence gathering or anti-terrorism. Rather, we are victims who were affected directly by the largest act of terrorism in Canada. We recommend: The Anti-terrorism Act should not be repealed or softened. Its provisions should be strengthened by closing loopholes. Penalties for participating in, supporting, promoting or preaching terrorist activities should be increased. The ability of terrorist organizations or individuals to raise financial resources from private individuals and/or government funds should be eliminated. Religious and other charitable organizations should be scrutinized more carefully to prevent their support of terrorism- related activities. The law should allow the victims of terrorism to make claims against terrorism-related charitable organizations similar to the claims against churches for sexual abuse of children. Victims of terrorism should be assured of certain minimum emotional, psychological and financial resources to deal with the aftermath. I would suggest that a portion of the financial resources confiscated from terrorist organizations could be allocated for this purpose. Private member's Bill S-35 should be passed as a tool in the designation of terrorist groups and as a financial recourse for families of victims of terrorism. Communication and dissemination of information between security agencies should be improved. We must never again allow rifts between agencies to stand in the way of national security and effective prosecution of terrorists in Canada, as happened in the Air India 182 case. Policies regarding evidence gathering by security agencies should be changed so that applicable information gathered can actually be used for prosecution purposes.
Increased resources should be directed at enhancing cultural training for security agencies to improve the investigation of suspected terrorist activity. Such enhancements go beyond language and should include education about cultural norms and expectations. Relationships between law enforcement officers and ethnic groups should be improved to foster goodwill, discourage feelings of disenfranchisement and encourage an environment in which people will be more likely to come forward to police with information about suspected terrorist activity within their communities. We need only to look at the Air India case to see the devastating affects when members of the public do not feel safe in communicating with law enforcement agencies.
There should be more legal tools to compel witnesses to testify in terrorism-related cases. There should be better policies to ensure the safety of individuals who come forward with information to law enforcement officials and of witnesses in cases of terrorism. There should be recognition of the inherent danger to such individuals when powerful community leaders are involved in terrorist activities. A three-judge system should be used for trials of terrorism- related cases of large magnitude such as Air India 182. Public inquiries into terrorist cases should be automatic and timely so as to ascertain the problems inherent in our systems and improve our security and intelligence to prevent further tragedies. Transport Canada and other internal transportation systems such as the TTC should have more stringent security policies.
Maureen Basnicki, as an individual: Honourable senators, it is difficult to follow Ms. Kelly and Dr. Gupta. I am here in solidarity with victims of terrorism, but it is embarrassing and saddens me that it took my country 20 years to react to Air India. I believe the impetus for the Anti-terrorism Act was the events of 9/11. It saddens me greatly that it did not happen sooner.
Honourable senators, 9/11says it all; I do not need to relate many of the details because we all know them. My husband's first assignment in his new position as financial marketing director for his company was to attend a conference at Windows of the World on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. He went to network and to introduce himself in his new position. A few minutes after the first plane hit the north tower, Ken was able to call his mother in Toronto to tell her that the room was full of smoke and he did not know how he would be able to get out.
I was on a layover in Germany, turned on CNN and watched with horror events unfolding and the buildings collapsing, knowing all the while that my beloved Ken was there. It was four days later before I could finally get back to my children, my country, Canada, and my home in Toronto.
Whenever I am asked for the details, I reply: “I really can't go there.” The pain and horror is too great for me. There is no pretty picture for me to paint of the images of Ken's final hour of life. I try to choose the thought that Ken was overcome with smoke, all the while trying to help others escape. The man I knew was a real hero for me, our two children, his family and friends. I try not to dwell on the possibility that he had a full hour knowing that he was about to die. That hour of torture can be dismissed while I am awake, but unfortunately, I cannot control that horrific image while I am sleeping. I suffer from panic attacks and depression.
After more than 30 years of working as a flight attendant with Air Canada, I am unable to perform my duties at work. I must now take medication before I fly as a passenger.
On the second anniversary of Ken's murder, I was cut off from disability payments. It took a lawyer and legal fees to fight the insurance company. The emotional impact for me has been tremendous. I continue to seek treatment from a psychologist at my own expense. I rely on my family, friends and faith.
My faith has taught me the value of human life. My faith preaches the love of mankind. I continue to seek reassurance from the Canadian government, not that Canada must be psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack, but that, indeed, Canadians have already been killed. It may not happen in our homeland, but it is only by the grace of God that more Canadians have not been killed in recent attacks around the globe.
Canadian citizens may be travelling outside our borders and be on the wrong flight, the wrong subway or wrong bus. Canadians may simply be at the wrong hotel or disco. They may be on the wrong beach. Terrorists do not care what religion we are or what colour our skin is. They do not care what country we come from. They do not care what political party we choose.
Prior to 9/11, I was like many of you. I was happily married, a proud parent of two wonderful children. I had a career I loved. This was all taken away from me by a group of madmen who did not know me, but hated me anyway.
I am here to remind honourable senators what happens if we remain complacent. I am here to remind you what happens if we get the balance of human rights versus innocent civilians' rights wrong.
I know that no country, not ours, not the U.S., the U.K., Spain or Jordan can ever be safe from terrorists. However, that does not mean that we do not have a duty to do everything we can to identify, prevent and deal with those who would murder Canadians.
I am a Canadian victim of terrorism. Unlike the majority of Canadian victims of 9/11, Ken, my late husband, chose to live in Canada. I do not want to suggest that my suffering is any more or less than that of any other family of a homicide victim. We all suffer, regardless of the identity or motivation of the offender. However, how can we acknowledge that we live in a different world and have a “new” type of crime called terrorism and not pay attention to the new kind of victim? I must qualify the word “new” as incorrect when you consider that the Air India bombing happened 20 years ago.
Hundreds of Canadian citizens, representing a broad array of Canada's ethnic tapestry, have been slaughtered. Canada has joined the rest of the world in our “new” war against terrorism.
The practice of terrorism has evolved over time. As terrorists and their methods become increasingly sophisticated, keeping pace with these developments means that our criminal laws must adapt to stress prevention and deterrence as strategies to combat terrorism. Please, I beg you to not weaken the Anti-terrorism Act.
We are not addressing the shattered lives of Canadian victims when we discuss the principles of the Anti-terrorism Act. In his book, September 11: Consequences for Canada, Professor Kent Roach provides a critical examination of the consequences of 9/11. He wrote:
Bill C-36 was intended as a means to respond to the massive victimization of September 11, but it did absolutely nothing for the families of the victims.
While Prof. Roach and I may not agree on some aspects of Bill C-36, he makes an important point when he says that the two dozen Canadian victims of September 11 would have been better honoured by appropriate memorials, victim compensation and temporary tax relief than by the rushed amendments to the Criminal Code.
If 9/11 happened in this country, there would be no external fund that the Canadian or provincial governments could direct me to so that my family would be taken care of. In Ontario, for example, the maximum award that can be made for a single event under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Plan is $150,000. That is to be shared among all victims. Thus, if tomorrow there was an attack on the CN Tower and 500 Canadians were killed, families would each receive $300. If there was an attack in Nova Scotia, victims could get $2,000 for counselling.
In Newfoundland, victims would get nothing.
Compensation plans in many jurisdictions are very slow and have a substantial backlog. It is not realistic to expect that a provincial compensation plan could handle an attack that injured or killed hundreds or thousands of people. The workload alone would be a challenge, not to mention the funds to compensate all the victims. Encourage the federal government to develop a national strategy to respond to the victims of a terrorist attack.
My husband was a proud Canadian. He would not have been proud of how Canada has treated his wife and children. When I hear the Khadr family demand their rights as Canadian citizens, I am left wondering where my rights are as a Canadian citizen. Where are my rights as a victim?
I am very proud to say the support and comfort 9/11 families have received from average Canadians has been overwhelming. However, at the government level we have been invisible.
Perhaps one of the most painful aspects of this is that I have no forum where I can seek justice for my husband. The men who flew the planes are dead. The man ultimately responsible may never be caught and will likely never face a trial.
I do not get the chance to prepare and submit a victim impact statement to a judge. In fact, this may be the closest I ever get, and I almost did not even get to come here. I will never attend a parole hearing or face the men who took my life away from me.
I cannot even seek justice in the form of a civil suit against the men responsible for Ken's murder. If I lived somewhere else, I could, but I cannot here in Canada.
Although it may not be within the scope of your current mandate, I hope you will take the time, if you have not already done so, to review Bill C-394. It is called the victims of terror compensation act. This bill was introduced by Mr. Stockwell Day and has received support from MPs from all political parties. I would like to think it would receive support from all MPs. These MPs include Mr. Ed Broadbent and Ms. Susan Kadis.
I do not know if I have time to go over a summary of Bill C-394; I certainly will later, if you so wish.
Nicola Kelly informed me that I have the wrong number of the bill. At this point, numbers are not important to me.
The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has done a preliminary review of some of the lessons learned from the 9/11 assistance community. A major problem they identified was a lack of advance coordination that hampered a smooth delivery of services to victims. We certainly saw this with the bombing of flight 182. After 9/11 there was nothing — at least, nothing that I can recall. It took a long time to seek out advocates. It was clear from the U.S. experience that countries need to develop a strategy to respond to the aftermath of a crisis in addition to strategies to prevent an attack. Canada has a duty to protect Canadians from future attacks. Canada has a duty to take care of Canadian families that have already suffered terrible losses.
In the immediate aftermath of an attack, families of those injured or killed in the attack often want to go to the scene to search for their loved one. Victims need fast and reliable information, sensitive death notification practices and crisis support. Victims will need ongoing information, counselling and support. They may need counselling and support for several years.
Unique issues for terrorist victims include what to do with the ongoing discovery of body parts, identification of those killed — that is, it is necessary to get DNA from family members — the ongoing fear of another terrorist attack and the immense media coverage that naturally follows any such event. Victims need service providers who are aware of these unique issues.
There must be an end to the glorifying or condoning of terrorism or terrorists, whether by the media, states, religious leaders, organized groups, NGOs or others. Steps must be taken to put a stop to the incitement of terror, the recruiting of potential terrorists, the legitimization of acts of terror and the general promotion or acceptance of terrorism.
Victims, along with the surviving families, have certain common needs and requirements, regardless of where they live. For those who are injured and survive, the provision of medical, psychiatric and financial help is paramount. These are innocent people who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They require assistance to return to their previous status, if possible, and there must be not only the administration of such help, but it must be handled by professionals and officials who are properly trained to be sensitive to the peculiarities from which survivors suffer.
To conclude, I want to emphasize that remembering those who lost their lives in terrorist attacks is simply not enough. We must focus our efforts on protecting the lives of other Canadians who are at risk from terrorism. To succeed in this effort would be the greatest tribute to my husband's memory.
I have a short list of recommendations that can be expanded upon: First, do not weaken the Anti-terrorism Act. Second, pass Bill S-35 — I believe that is the name of it, here at the Senate level. Third, encourage the federal government to work with the provinces to develop a national strategy to respond to the victims of a terrorist attack. Fourth, be more aggressive in going after monies raised in Canada to support terrorists. Fifth, encourage the federal government to hold a national conference or summit on addressing the needs of Canadian victims of terror. Sixth, continue to promote communication between agencies.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Ms. Basnicki.
I thank all of you for sharing these thoughts with us. It is significant that you should appear before us as the final witnesses in our nine-month journey. We will certainly be glad to have your thoughts, suggestions and memories as we move ahead through this very difficult issue and produce our report.
I should say to you, and indeed to our listeners, that the possibility of a change of activity on Parliament Hill in future days will not mean that all this work and these thoughts will disappear. They will be resurrected and we will continue with our report at that time, should we not be able to do so immediately.
Senator Andreychuk: I would like to thank all three witnesses for coming here today and all the people you represent, who stand behind you, the families and other victims. Having worked in courts, I know how difficult it is for you. It is to put your personal grief aside and try to look at something more broadly based so there are fewer victims in the end. I want to thank you for your compassion, for your statements today and the dignity with which you offered them.
I wish you had come earlier. I would have preferred to start with you so that when I talked about human rights, I could have talked about victims' rights as much as the others who are touched by terrorism, whether they are the unjustly charged or the victims who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in this situation.
You talk about keeping the act, yet you also talk about strengthening it in ways that were not thought of, for example, through enhanced protection for witnesses. It would seem to me that we have heard very little in this committee about the peculiar nature of terrorist activity and the associations that they represent being a little different from criminal activity, except perhaps organized crime, and so we should pay attention to witness protection programs. You also mentioned financial resources being coordinated and ready to assist families when we now have defined terrorist activity as a separate entity, both internationally and nationally. These are all important points on which we have heard little evidence. The fact that you have come today is therefore also important.
Dr. Gupta, I should like to ask you a specific question. I think I know your answer, but I would like to hear you on the need for an investigation into the process of the Air India investigation so that we can learn lessons from it. I would like your opinion on the record on that. The theme has been prevention. Do you think our problem is lack of laws or lack of good intelligence? In other words, where should we put our dollars in order to thwart terrorist activity before it is organized into action?
Mr. Gupta: Thank you so much, Senator Andreychuk. We have asked for an investigation into the lapses that surrounded the Air India tragedy. We have heard so many statements over the years, including one from the former director of CSIS, Mr. Reid Morden, who said it appears that in this case CSIS dropped the ball. Those may not be his exact words. We feel strongly that, hindsight being 20/20, the Air India tragedy could have been prevented, because there were officers keeping tabs on the suspected terrorists up to, I think, two or three days before the tragedy took place. Whether you call him a culprit or a CSIS mole, Mr. Gill, who is sitting in the U.K. at the moment, apparently was an informant, and he was pulled out of the group just days before the tragedy.
The families feel strongly that the system could have prevented the tragedy, but for some reason it did not. We would like to know the truth. Of course, there are other aspects regarding acceptance of luggage from a person who is not flying and failures of various machines and the system. We do not know. We are still waiting for an investigation. As you all know, Mr. Rae is looking after that.
I do not know whether there was an attempt by the government to delay the process. Unfortunately, we have been treated badly, if I may say so, by the Conservatives under Mr. Mulroney and by the Liberals after they came to power. Mr. Chrétien declared that he would have an inquiry, but when the Liberals came to power, they became turncoats. It is unfortunate, but we have never tried to make it a political point. As Canadians, we would like to have answers.
Ms. Kelly: Perhaps I can expand on that in terms of lessons learned from Air India. In our recommendations, we go from the financial aspect of how this conspiracy occurred to politicians being at meetings, and what we can learn from that today, all the way through to airport security. So much went wrong in this case.
Your questions as to whether it is laws or good intelligence are well thought out. The intelligence was there. These two people in the Air India case were persons of interest, and the surveillance was dropped days before the bombing. I think it is more a question of how we use the information we have. How is it shared between agencies? In today's world, we should pay attention to how agencies cooperate internationally. How do we work with international agencies? I think prevention of future terrorist incidents in Canada will come down to intelligence.
It is not so much the laws — the strong laws are there — but how will they be used practically? It is fine to give law enforcement officers more power, but how will they operate in communities where there is this culture of fear? These communities are isolated. How do we get in there and encourage more recruitment, perhaps, from those ethnic groups, or perhaps have a stronger police presence in those communities so that people will feel safer in coming forward with information? These are all aspects of the law that have to be looked at. How will it change and prevent what happened in our case and what is happening in Canada today?
Mr. Gupta: With regard to the law and intelligence, there is work to be done on both aspects. If you look at the Air India case, of course there were intelligence problems. The judge called erasure of tapes by CSIS a case of most serious negligence. There are some problems in our intelligence system that must be straightened out. I am not saying they are intentional, but whatever the cause may be, the effect is the same.
There are laws concerning a person who knows something, and I will give you two examples. One is the wife of Mr. Reyat, who is in jail for making the bombs for the Narita CP Air bombing, and he also pleaded guilty to bomb-making for Air India 182. His wife had information, but there is something in our law whereby she could not be called as a witness. Another case was similar. Somebody stayed with one of the families in the same group for a month, and it is very surprising that the people would not know who that person was. He was related to the tragedy, but the law could not be used to obtain the identity of that person, so there is something missing in the legal system.
You have to keep in mind that in a normal crime, the victim is one or two people.
The days when we fought with clubs and stones are over. Now, a single terrorist can take away the lives of hundreds of people, if not thousands. Terrorism must be treated differently from other crimes.
Senator Andreychuk: I think the points about a witness protection program have been made. I hope this committee will address a more systematic way to help victims immediately. If we label isolated terrorist activity as the heinous crime it is, then we have to build support systems for the victims. That is one thing we will address.
Are you saying that religious leaders should have a different onus and a different law, or are you saying anyone who perpetrates and incites terrorism should be dealt with in the same way? It seems to me one of you was targeting the fact that religious leaders have some sway over their adherents. I was not quite sure whether you meant we should overlook them. Are you saying we should treat them differently?
Mr. Gupta: I did not mean we should treat them differently. I mentioned both religious and other social/charitable organizations. I picked on religious groups because many examples exist of where religion has been used as a cover to preach, support and further other activities.
I gave you a very good example: Babar Khalsa was used by Talwinder Parmar. Then you have cases such as the World Trade Center bombing. A cleric was sentenced in the U.S.A. I do not know if the U.K. has deported or is deporting another cleric. A very prominent cleric in Indonesia was in the courts for the Bali bombings.
The other groups are equally important, but religion provides an easy cover. To repeat what I said before the Commons subcommittee last week, religion is a very strong force. It was supposed to make men and women out of animals. Unfortunately, sometimes the reverse effect occurs. Religion is powerful because it can dangle the carrot of heaven before you if you become a martyr to the cause, or it can dangle the stick of hell if you are a heretic and do not obey what your religion tells you to do. That is why I picked religion as an example.
I am not saying other organizations should be ignored. It does not matter whether it is a religious, a political or a social organization; we have to be careful because they are using our tax dollars.
Actually, some of the organizations in British Columbia mentioned in the Air India case received dollars from the federal and provincial caucuses. I am not saying these organizations were directly involved, but definitely one of their members was removed from the directorship of the Khalsa Credit Union on November 17.
Ms. Kelly: In one final plea for a three-judge system, some of you may know that one of the reasons Judge Josephson cited for not believing the prosecution's star witness was that he believed a woman could not be in love with a man who could be a murderer. The fact that a person who murders hundreds of people can get away with it because one person holds this belief is truly shameful.
Senator Fraser: I thank you very much for being here. It is a very humbling experience and useful exercise for us to hear from you. You have made points that others have not and added weight to points that other witnesses have made.
I think you can rest assured that our objective is not to weaken Canada's protection against terrorism. Our objective is to see whether there are ways in which this bill can be improved. There is a serious distinction there.
In that context, quite a number of people who have appeared before us have been greatly troubled by the way the law now defines “terrorist activity.” As you know, there is a long list of items that constitute terrorist activity. It is causing harm with the intent of compelling people, governments or organizations to do things that they otherwise would not do, et cetera; activity that includes any of those characteristics and is committed for an ideological, political or religious motive.
A number of people have told us this is troubling to minority communities in Canada in particular because they feel it extends the reach of criminal law into areas where it previously did not go, and they feel vulnerable. We have also been told that in a strange way it has made the law harder to use; how can you prove in court that something was done for a religious motive?
Have any of you any thoughts about that definition? That is my only question. It seems to me you might have a slightly different perspective on it.
Ms. Basnicki: I understand that the United Nations is still trying to define terrorism, so it is indeed a difficult thing to do.
When you have a murdered loved one and the definition of terrorism is taking all this time, do not negate the fact that you have that victim. They seem to be left out of the equation.
It is not that this murder does not matter; it does. It matters greatly if we want to prevent it from happening again. I want to emphasize that there does not seem to be the appropriate balance here. If we are getting into definitions, I remind you that we are talking about the most horrific crime there is. It targets innocent civilians of any country, of any background, of any nationality. The definition must not target any nationality or ethnic group. All victims stand united in that. We just say that we have dead people here caused by a certain act, and how can we prevent such an act from happening again?
Mr. Gupta: We all understand what terrorism is. When innocent victims are murdered or harmed, no matter for what cause, whether political, religious or social, the problems in the system will remain. They were always there; they will always remain with us. There is no perfect religious, political or social system. There may be a utopia that does not exist on earth. When innocent people are harmed in the name of religion, politics or a social system, then we have terrorism. I went through the list of people who have appeared before your committee, and I can tell you from which groups you heard that statement.
We are all minorities, let's face it. I am a Hindu. I came from India. I am of East Indian origin. I have no problem if you target an East Indian or Hindu if he or she is actively involved in terrorism. Multiculturalism is good, but do not allow people to use multiculturalism as a cover to carry out their terrorist activities. Even their own communities will be victims if they are allowed to do that. Their own communities become victims of fear, terrorism and intimidation. I do not go too far. Even Ujjal Dosanjh, the Minister of Health for Canada, was beaten up and left for dead.
The problem is there are groups, which I will not name — you can name them if you want — that are very strict in their attitudes. They believe in the supremacy of their religion and only their religion. They do not give any rights to minorities where they are in the majority. They want not only equal rights; they want more-than-equal rights.
They should have human rights, yes, but more-than-equal rights, no.
Ms. Kelly: Whatever group law enforcement is looking into should feel safe as long as they are not discussing something that is potentially harmful to other Canadians or acts of violence being perpetrated against another group. I could not put it better than these two, but as a former political science student, I want to say that in terms of expanding the definition, or whenever anything is done for religious or ideological purposes, it also always comes down to money and power. You might want to include a clause on the fact that sometimes, these acts are carried out for financial reasons.
Senator Day: I join my colleagues in thanking each of you for being here and for your written submissions that you have given to us to take away and think about. There are many good points in there, with which you will find we agree. It is a question of balance. That is really what we have been considering in this committee for some time.
I understand your frustration with respect to the Air India trial if you look at it from the point of view that, after the fact, it was dealt with in a criminal-type system that we have had for a long time, involving many rules, and properly so, to protect individuals. However, the fight against terrorism is moving toward prevention. There are new and different tools that we are still learning how to use. There are two in particular on the prevention side that I would like you to talk about that have been brought up on several occasions. One is detention without charge of individuals who are deemed to be a security risk, where there is not enough evidence to charge them criminally but there is enough information and intelligence to believe that if they were let go, they could cause some problems.
The other point that I would like you to talk a little about has been brought up several times: racial profiling. The point has been made on several occasions that individuals who stand out in society, perhaps because of colour or religion, are being unfairly focused on by government authorities, police and intelligence authorities. Do you feel that that is the case, that in our zeal to prevent the next disaster like Air India or September 11, we are going too far in focusing on certain ethnic minorities, or is that one of the side effects of this new emphasis on prevention, rather than charging people after the fact, that we just have to live with?
Ms. Kelly: That is one of the delicate balances that smarter people than we have to strike. However, I feel that our intelligence community has become more honed through the years. If they have reason to believe that certain organizations, based on both international and national intelligence, are threats to the country, they should go ahead and do whatever they have to do to prevent a tragedy, based on information and not on skin colour. We only have to look at Oklahoma to see an incident that was not caused by an ethnic minority. We must operate in a colour-blind way because we saw with the Air India case how too much sensitivity resulted in the deaths of 300 people. At the same time, we must strike a balance. We do not want to go too far the other way.
We want to rely on intelligence, police and enforcement agencies to gather information on individuals rather than look at it in terms of ethnic groups.
Senator Day: Let us not stop there, because Muslims and Arabs are telling us that they are being stopped and questioned unnecessarily and unfairly. What is happening with Hindus and Indians? Are you concerned? Are your communities telling you that they are being stopped unfairly?
Mr. Gupta: I think it was said very clearly, let us enforce the law in a colour-blind fashion. If any community — I am using the word rather loosely because we are all communities in a way; we may be a community of Indians, East Indians, Pakistanis, Ukrainians, Irish or Italians — is involved, it is very easy for religious groups to use the argument “persecution of my kind.” The same arguments are being put forward, but they should look into themselves. Are there many people from their community involved in terrorism? This was from a Saudi Arabian imam or cleric, and I could not have put it better.
You brought up the terms, Muslim and Arabic groups. Who said all Muslims are not terrorists, but most of the terrorists who have been caught are Muslim? If the shoe fits, so be it. This has been and will be used by minorities to cover up their deeds, or misdeeds, as the case may be. Do not be deterred by it as lawmakers. You have to work, if I may say so, in a colour-blind fashion.
Recently, a person of a certain colour was shot in a church in Toronto while attending a funeral service for another person who had been shot. You cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, you want your kind to be protected. On the other hand, if anyone from your community is caught, you raise the flag of racial profiling. If I may say so, there may be a hint of guilty conscience in the statements that you heard. You do not have to look very far for that. Look in the Toronto Star for a certain person writing opinion pages in recent years that are always slanted in a particular direction. That is true even in The Globe and Mail.
As a Hindu, I have no problem. If a Hindu is making trouble, go and get him. He is making trouble for both you and me. My children will not be safe. Look at the gang wars in Vancouver, British Columbia; our children are suffering.
Ms. Basnicki: Mr. Gupta used the example of the shootings in Toronto, where the three of us live. There is an increased level of crime in Toronto that has reached 50-odd murders and certainly has to be addressed. It is alarming. On the other hand, there is also a great outcry that there is racial profiling there.
I want to make two comments. Number one, I certainly think that the increase in crime in Toronto needs to be addressed, but one successful terrorist act there will far surpass the annual homicide rate. If you are looking at the bigger picture, then you also have to take the corresponding so-called racial profiling along with it. There are many in our intelligence community and among police officers who will say, “No, we are not racial profiling, we are looking at the facts and statistics. The facts are these and they speak for themselves.” I would suggest that in the bigger picture, when you are dealing with terrorist acts and large numbers of homicide victims, the same thing applies. We are just looking at the facts, and it is not the intention of the family members of the victims or other groups to racial profile. It is strictly to look at who is committing these crimes and what can be done about it. Unfortunately, we do not have the answers. We just encourage everyone to look for the answers.
We mentioned prevention. That is uppermost in our minds. We do not want anyone to walk in our shoes and that is why we are here today. We cannot bring our loved ones back. They are gone. Because we do not want any other Canadians to be affected by terrorism, prevention is indeed important.
This brings me back to the proposed legislation, the victims' compensation bill. Terrorism requires a substantial amount of money. Victims of terrorism see it as a means to empower us to go after deterrence, prevention, accountability and justice. We also see in the Air India case a perfect example of where our justice system let us down. Civil legislation can perhaps fill the gap. We are not empowered to do that. Therefore, I think I speak for most victims when I say give us the opportunity to go to the courts, to seek the justice, the deterrence and the accountability that we are so desperate for. As for those groups that may feel that they are being profiled, it is not up to us to judge who they are and we do not need to do that. We have intelligence communities and the facts will state this group or this country is guilty of harbouring terrorists and of supporting terrorism financially. Give us the tools as victims of this heinous crime to go after the perpetrators.
Senator Zimmer: Thank you for your heartfelt presentations; you are all courageous. Ms. Kelly, you mentioned that it is important to promote better communications and cooperation between agencies, and in so doing, hopefully information will not fall through the cracks. You mentioned it a second time in response to a question. You also mentioned CSIS, the RCMP, and, probably, immigration authorities. Are there any other agencies or organizations, inside or outside of government, nationally or internationally, that you would suggest be involved in this process? You mentioned a judicial system of three judges. I would like to hear a further comment on why you chose three; why not five? What is your rationale there?
Ms. Kelly: I am not an expert on this, but I think that any kind of inter-intelligence agency cooperation should be legislated as mandatory, along with the sharing of information with international agencies as well as with our neighbours to the south, the United States, including immigration agencies, as you mentioned.
It would take someone who knows more about this. However, it would seem that if there were changes in the financial and charitable status laws, we could garner information as to financial transactions taking place that might be suspicious in terms terrorist activity.
Regarding the three-judge system, basically there is international precedent for that. I do not know; I am not a lawyer, so five judges might be appropriate. My point is it should not be left to one individual to make decisions of this magnitude.
Senator Joyal: I got the definite impression when I listened to the three of you that in the case of the Air India bombing and the 9/11 Canadian victims, the system broke down. Twenty years later you are still seeking redress. After a long trial, the decision that came did not, in your view or mine, give you the peaceful compensation of somebody being found guilty. The fact that you have been fighting with your own means through the years shows that the system failed. There is no justice for you.
You just mentioned in passing the Rae commission of inquiry's mandate. Dr. Gupta and Ms. Kelly, why did you not mention the Rae commission in your brief? Is your mindset such that you cannot expect any positive outcome from that commission? Do you feel that this commission does not have the power to come forward with recommendations that would be helpful to you in seeking the redress you have been looking for over the last 20 years?
Ms. Kelly: We are hopeful that Mr. Rae's recommendations will give us the redress that we are hoping for. At this point, we seek more than justice. We hope to change the system so that other Canadians will not suffer like this.
These shortcomings in the system, in our opinion, should have been corrected 20 years ago. We are horrified that they still have not been in terms of the RCMP and CSIS — the fact that there were new allegations this summer of a rift between them in relation to the Arar inquiry.
We see all the time in the papers — and recently, there was a report on the Fifth Estate talking about airport security — that these issues that led to the deaths of our loved ones are still unresolved in Canada. We are trying to change that. We are hoping that Mr. Rae will also see this in terms of what lessons we can learn and apply today in Canada. We hope, but we do not know.
Mr. Gupta: In the second paragraph of our brief, there is some reference to Mr. Rae. He is a very honourable person, but it was not our choice. It was the government's choice to appoint a prominent person to look into the questions that should be asked, or whether they should be asked.
If you remember, in the House of Commons on April 7 of this year, a private member's bill was passed with the support of the Bloc Québécois, NDP, Conservatives and, if I remember correctly, five or six members from the Liberal side, for a public inquiry into the Air India case. Do not get us wrong; anything we do will not change the facts. We are the losers for the rest of our lives, but we do not want this to happen to anyone else. Those lessons that will prevent similar tragedies can only be learned from an open inquiry.
We do not know what Bob Rae will recommend, whether the government of the day will accept his recommendations or not. These are still open questions to which we do not have any answers.
Senator Joyal: I had the impression, from the terms of reference of Mr. Rae's commission, that his attention would be more focused on the impact of the Air India bombing on the victims' families than on a full public inquiry into what happened in the context of the tragedy. Am I right or wrong?
Mr. Gupta: I think he is supposed to bring out the questions that should be answered. In addition, victims' support in the future may be a small item — that is my understanding — but most of his work will be to look into all the paperwork that exists, whether it is CSIS or RCMP reports, commission reports or the judgment of Judge Josephson. He is supposed to look at all the available information and come up with the questions that remain unanswered. At least, that is what even the Prime Minister said in Ireland: “I want to know the answers.”
Ms. Kelly: We hope, but after so many years, hope wears thin. However, he has been open with us and has worked closely with the families.
Senator Stratton: I will try to be brief. Others have said it far better than I — our feelings about the courage it took for you to come here today and say what you have said.
When I think back on this, terrorism events have been taking place starting with Air India. It has been a rather steep learning curve on the part of governments, in particular, in adjusting to what is transpiring constantly. I think the mistake we made as Canadians is that once we passed the Anti-terrorism Act, we essentially forgot about it. We did not do anything on an ongoing basis. I think this committee should continue its study, not just of the bill itself, but of terrorism and its effects; for example, what has transpired for you as a group of people who suffered great tragedy.
We have recommended, or hopefully will recommend, that there be an oversight committee struck so that events can be dealt with as they occur. For example, compensation for victims has been totally ignored. I think it is appropriate for that oversight committee to take a look at that issue and that this committee continue its ongoing study into terrorism. As I have said, and I think you would agree, it is evolving.
Would you agree that such an oversight committee would be beneficial on a continuing basis? Would you also agree that this committee should be reconstituted after this study is completed to continue its study on anti-terrorism?
Ms. Kelly: Absolutely.
Ms. Basnicki: Most definitely.
Mr. Gupta: No question about it. It will be useful. As you said clearly, it has evolved rather rapidly. Partly, it is a revolution that is taking place. The world has become a much smaller place than it was 20 or 30 years ago. That is reflected indirectly in the increased terrorism activity. It should have been the other way around.
Unfortunately, there are always some groups that want to take advantage of this smaller world. Rather than inflict damage in their home countries, they choose to inflict it in countries around the world, sometimes simultaneously to create a greater terrorist impact. The idea of an oversight committee is a good one. There was a similar proposal in the Commons subcommittee on November 16. However, there it was a call for an ombudsman or similar official. Whatever the terminology, it would be helpful. I would suggest that it should be done in consultation with the provincial governments.
Ms. Kelly: For family members, it is more than simply financial compensation, which is helpful when the family breadwinner is lost, because such a tragedy creates emotional upheaval. A distraught family member arriving in a foreign country needs help to get around, obtain a death certificate and attend the morgue, while back home, legal help is needed to deal with insurance companies; and all of this has to happen quickly. We suffered because we did not have that assistance. As I mentioned, there were no Canadian officials present in Ireland until Dr. Bal Gupta made a huge fuss about it. Then, five days later someone from the Canadian Embassy showed up.
Mr. Gupta: I used four-letter words.
Ms. Kelly: We were at a complete loss as to how to function. Thankfully, the Irish were welcoming. Had we found ourselves in a more hostile environment where, perhaps, we did not speak the language, it would have been much worse.
Ms. Basnicki: I have been trying to rebuild my life since 9/11. One of the greatest barriers is that so many people respond with the attitude that such a tragedy could never happen to them, as they respond to so many kinds of crime, and they turn their backs and walk the other way. The hurt caused by my country turning its back on a problem that affected me, a Canadian, and could potentially affect other Canadians, was an insurmountable barrier to moving on. I welcome any intent, as I am sure all victims' family members do, to address the real threat that faces us today. How that is done, whether through an ombudsman or other suggestion, please, we ask that it be afforded the attention that it deserves.
The Chairman: The committee has heard all kinds of testimony over the last nine months, but it has been particularly useful to have these witnesses appear and remind us what is at the heart of the issue. The committee will take the views of witnesses to heart in its deliberations and develop suitable recommendations so that these kinds of responses do not happen again.
Thank you all.
The committee adjourned.