Enemy of the State?

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When Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati walks into a courtroom to defend those accusedof terrorist acts, he carries 800 years’ worth of civil rights law with him.

Galati has a file — just a little thinner than an average magazine — with nine tabs, each representing a milestone in the West’s legislative journey towards a constitutional democracy.

It starts with the Magna Carta of 1215 and ends with Canada’s Charter of Rights andFreedoms of 1982. He refers to it regularly when arguing cases. He has never considered the file a historical collection until now.

“This has been extinguished,” he said, holding the file before an audience at an open forum on Canada’s anti-terrorism laws on Sunday at the University of Toronto. “We’ve turned it on its head.”

He’s referring to the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-36), and its broad definition of what constitutes a terrorist. Passed late last year, the Act increased police powers and limited public protest, suppressing dissent, Galati said. He warned that activists demonstrating around the G8 Summit this week could fall under the legislation’s definition of a terrorist. Some activists groups have expressed concern about being deemed “terrorist organizations” under the law and the implications this has on free democratic participation.

The Act defines terrorism as threats to the security of Canada, including the economic security of the state. C-36 built on the economic logic behind legislation like C-35, which expanded the definition of what constitutes an internationally protected person from diplomats to mere delegates of a trade conference.

“If you’re the vice-president of Coca Cola or Nike, you’re a protected person,” said Galati. But if you want to protest global corporatization? “Those become terrorist acts.”

“We used to define a crisis as a situation in which the usual form of elite rule has been broken down,” said University of Victoria professor Larry Hannant. “Sometimes that crisis is not a crisis for the people, if it’s popular protest. It’s a crisis for the state.”

Though there have been several occasions where legislation like the War Measures Act have been invoked to deal with specific instances of violence, Hannant said, governments are now creating a state of perpetual crisis. “There is a need to create enemies,” he said.

Anima Sherazee, counsel for the Canadian Arab Foundation, said she came to the forum unsure whether she should discuss the effect of the anti-terrorism laws on Arab people or on political activists.

In the end, she addressed both, arguing for stronger links between the fight against racism and corporate capitalism. “These laws eliminate any form of dissent,” she said, arguing they equate product boycotts and labour strikes with terrorist acts.

“[These activities are] absolutely unrelated to terrorism, but they provide a solution to the government each and every time it needs one.”

The day-long forum was jointly hosted by Science For Peace and LawyersAgainst War.

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