Government senators will most likely not support a private member’s bill that would explicitly criminalize suicide bombing.
Senator Gerald Comeau, right, deputy government leader, said the bill, though
well-intentioned, is “unnecessary” and will likely not be backed by
“The problem with this [bill] is that such activity as suicide bombing is already covered in the Criminal Code and the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001,” Comeau said. “The more the definition of anti-terrorism is broadened, the more uncertainty that can be created regarding the meaning of terrorism.”
Bill S-210 was introduced in the Senate almost three months ago by Liberal Jerry Grafstein and passed first reading.
The bill would amend Section 83.01 of the Criminal Code, which deals with terrorist acts. The bill states: “For greater certainty, a suicide bombing comes within… the definition ‘terrorist activity.’”
Earlier versions of the bill were introduced in October 2005 and then again six months later. Each version died when Parliament dissolved. On the last occasion, Grafstein noted, the bill advanced to committee stage, where it was to be studied and potential amendments considered.
Comeau said Bill S-210 will likely come for a vote on second reading when the Senate reconvenes later this winter. However, following consultations with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the Senate Conservatives have been advised not to support the bill.
The minister told Conservative senators that the bill would be unhelpful in tackling terrorism threats. “If we start to define every terrorist activity, some activities that are not defined won’t be considered terrorist,” Comeau said. “The bill, as it is, is at best unnecessary and could lead to confusion regarding current law on terrorism.”
Comeau predicted, however, that given the Liberal majority in the Senate, the bill is likely to advance to committee stage.
Grafstein said such a step is long overdue, and he accused Conservatives of obstructing the bill. He also rejected Comeau’s contention that the bill would make criminal prosecutions more problematic. The bill is meant to give greater clarity to the definition of terrorism. “It doesn’t interfere with any other definition. It gives a signal to those people who believe suicide bombing is an appropriate political or terrorist tactic and would find them in disrepute,” he said.
“I don’t agree it will undermine the Criminal Code. On the contrary, it would make the Criminal Code more effective against those who counsel suicide bombings,” he said, adding that when they were in Opposition, the Conservatives supported the bill.
A House subcommittee as well as a special committee of the Senate on the Anti-terrorism Act are each reviewing the Anti-terrorism Act. The Senate committee has not yet reported its findings.
Grafstein said once the bill advances to the committee stage, opponents’ concerns can be addressed by calling witnesses and hearing other evidence. “The committee could recommend against it after it hears the evidence.”
He suggested opposition to the bill originated with bureaucrats in the Department of Justice, who have influenced the current Conservative government and the previous Liberal one as well. The government is “allowing bureaucrats to call the shots. They’ve been proven wrong in the past. The best way to expose these views is to hold a public hearing,” Grafstein said.
In the meantime, he continued, suicide bombings continue around the world, affecting thousands of people, including Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan who are potential targets for terror attacks.
Grafstein’s efforts have found support in a grassroots organization called Canadians Against Suicide Bombing. The group has embarked on an e-mail and traditional mail campaign to convince senators that Canada should criminalize suicide bombings. Many high-profile Canadians have signed a letter asking the Senate to pass the bill. Among them are former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent; former prime minister Kim Campbell; former Alberta premier Ralph Klein; Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Lewis MacKenzie; former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry; former Ontario premier Bob Rae; and Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory.
An open letter adopted by the group states: “Suicide bombing has become all too common in many countries throughout the world. Thousands of civilians are killed and maimed to advance a cause based on falsely implanted expectations of glory and martyrdom. We say no cause can justify suicide bombing.”
Grafstein contended that “there hasn’t been a more distinguished bipartisan groups of Canadians supporting” the bill.
In a separate development last weekend, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FWSC) placed a full-page ad in the National Post “urging the United Nations to take action against suicide terror.”
The ad (which can be seen at www.fswc.ca) called on the UN General Assembly “to hold a special session to deal exclusively with the scourge of suicide terror.” It also urged the international community to designate suicide bombings a crime against humanity, and it encouraged religious leaders to denounce those who believe suicide killings are undertaken in God’s name.
Almost identical ads were placed by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.
Leo Adler, director of national affairs for FWSC, said: “We certainly support Senator Grafstein’s bill” and would like to see Parliament designate suicide bombings a crime against humanity.
He rejected the Justice Department’s contention, as described by Comeau, that the bill would complicate efforts to address terrorist acts. Many crimes include clauses that more specifically define the offence, including child pornography (not limited to the general law against pornography), different killing offences (manslaughter, second-degree murger, first-degree murder), impaired-driving offences (which include an offence of causing death while driving impaired).
“There is absolutely no reason why we cannot specify that one of the acts of terror can’t be suicide bombing,” Adler said.