By GARY ZATZMAN and TONY SEED
HALIFAX (November 19, 2001) – ON NOVEMBER 17, people from all walks of life, including workers, women, youth and seniors, participated in a rally in front of Halifax City Hall to oppose the US-led war against Afghanistan and the criminalization of dissent through measures such as Bill C-36, the “anti-terrorism” legislation presently before the House of Commons. They marched to St. Matthews United Church for a teach-in on Bill C-36 and developments in the “war on terrorism” abroad.
In a half-hour presentation addressing various issues connected with the anti-terrorism bill, refugee lawyer and immigration consultant Lee Cohen opposed the government’s plans in both Bill C-36 and the reforms to the immigration law in Bill C-11. Insisting on the necessity and urgency for people of conscience to speak out honestly as well as with commitment about these matters at this time, he reminded the audience that the government appears to be acting with the passive acceptance of Canadians and such passivity is the greatest enemy. “To get back our freedoms, as limited as they are, could require fighting many battles all over again from scratch,” he said. In response to a participant who said “coalition-building” among the people might be the answer, the speaker said that, regardless of whether any particular organization or form gets built from the present situation, now was the time – unconditionally, coalition or no – to arouse and sustain any and all opposition to these bills as unnecessary, unjustified, unacceptable and dangerous intrusions on basic freedoms.
The speaker argued that the breadth of the government’s proposed definition of terrorism and its proposals to lower the threshold of “reasonable probable grounds” for laying a criminal charge to mere “suspicion” of an intent for purposes of detention without charge was unacceptable and unjustifiable in light of anything that had happened in this country before or since September 11.
A local university history lecturer and student of international law, stressed the already tenuous character of Canadians’ rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Section 1 says all these ‘rights’ are subject to so-called ‘reasonable limits,” Cohen responded. “So, these are not rights but privileges which the government could take away at will.”
Other participants commented that Bill C-36, as well as Bills C-35 and C-22, will diminish to the minimum the freedom of people as individuals or collectives to act in defence of their rights or as independent political forces. On the basis of expanding the power of appointed agents of the government – RCMP or local police – the people’s right to act against such phenomena will be curtailed.
The speaker and several other participants from the audience noted that anything from gatherings such as this one, to trade union meetings or other political actions, down to the simplest request for political asylum or information about obtaining refugee status could under Bill C-36 justify a “suspicion” of terrorist intent and trigger detention without charge.
Addressing the international situation since the terrorist hijackings of September 11, Janet Eaton stressed the need to set aside unilateral methods and approaches, including violent acts such as the current US bombing of Afghanistan, in favour of multilateral responses through the United Nations.
A person from the audience put forward numerous examples to show the class interests behind the policies being followed by the US imperialists and their allies like Canada and called for politics which favour the interests of the people such as those expressed in the slogans: No harbour for war, Canada out of NATO and NORAD, and for the establishment of an anti-war government.
A local university lecturer originally from the US spoke movingly against the profound damage unleashed by the US’s new world order since the Cold War and the necessity to step up resistance to and exposure of its imperialist aims.
Source: TML Daily, November 19, 2001 – No. 207