Opinion: Preventative Detention in Canada

Earlier this month eye-brows were raised over the arrest of 23 year-old engineering student Kevin Omar Mohamed. Before actually charging Mohamed the RCMP had originally placed him under a peace bond for fear that he may commit an act of terrorism.

Peace bonds in Canadian law impose a strict set of rules on a person who has yet to be charged with any crime. These rules may include travel restrictions, curfews or an order to stay away from specific people. Similarly one does not need to be charged with a crime to place in preventative detention either, in which case they could find themselves jailed for up to seven days on suspicion.

Peace bonds and preventative detention have been a part of Canadian law since Canada’s original anti-terror legislation in 2001 but Bill C-51, passed with the help of then Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, expanded the scope of peace bonds and preventative detention while also lessening the amount of evidence needed to issue them. During its original incarnation from 2001 to 2007 preventative detention was never used yet with Bill C-51 the government felt the need to double the maximum time a person could spend in jail under preventative detention.

Previously it had to be made clear that there was a potential and imminent threat from the individual being placed under a peace bond. After Bill C-51 the police could arrest a person on mere suspicion alone.

While it isn’t clear the extent of Mohamed’s possible radical beliefs he did appear to have supported radical extremists in Syria, even traveling to the country in 2014. Mohamed praised the extremist group al Nusra on social media, once asking if it was illegal to donate to the group’s clerics. The RCMP maintain that they believe Mohamed was planning to travel to Syria to engage in terrorism. Despite this the police admit there is no proof Mohomed planned to commit an act of terror  nor was he linked to recent terror attacks in Brussels.

This sets a dangerous precedent. As H.L. Mencken once said “the trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” Mohamed’s views are reprehensible and largely divorced from humanity or reason. That being said he should be entitled, no matter what, to a trial to determine any punishment. Especially since he hasn’t actually done anything yet.

The issue is that with decreased evidence and reason needed for peace bonds or preventative detention comes an increase in surveillance and privacy breaches. Is it not suspect to view certain websites? To text certain jokes, or vent in a dark way to friends? Yet those very acts could land you with what is essentially probation or worse.

That is being a little alarmist, I will admit. What isn’t alarmist, though, is the possibility for abuse. It is entirely conceivable that an oil or mining company, with its large political donations and powerful lobbies, might be a little nervous because of some native protesters and environmentalists. Suddenly a well-place word in a certain ear at a $500 a plate dinner turns into preventative detentions and peace bonds for those pesky activists.

How can we call ourselves a free society if we arrest people for crimes they have not committed?

 

 

Leo Stepnowsky

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