OTTAWA - The Minister of National Defence will be able to designate any area in Canada a temporary military zone for up to one year, allowing the Canadian Forces to "forcibly remove" anyone in it during that time, under legislation introduced yesterday.
Billed by the government as housekeeping legislation largely concerned with air transportation, the Public Safety Act affects 19 pieces of legislation ranging from the Explosives Act to the National Defence Act.
Opposition MPs raised concerns, saying it endangers Canadians' constitutional rights by giving the government broad new powers.
The National Defence Act amendments give the Minister the authority, on the recommendation of the Chief of Defence Staff, to create a temporary military zone over "property, a place or a thing that the Canadian Forces have been directed to protect in order to fulfill a duty required by law."
Renée Filiatrault, press secretary to Arthur Eggleton, the Minister of National Defence, was asked to clarify whether that meant the site of an international meeting such as the G8 set for Kananaskis, Alta., next spring, could be designated.
"If the [Chief of Defence Staff] makes a recommendation to the Minister that the protection of international relations, national defence or security of people and things at a particular event necessitates the establishment of a temporary security zone, the Minister could designate that area to be a temporary military zone," she said.
The bill would give the military the authority to "forcibly remove" an unauthorized person, "and any animal, vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other thing under the person's control." It also bars anyone who is removed from seeking compensation if they are injured "by reason only of the designation of a military security zone or the implementation of measures to enforce the designation."
Mr. Eggleton said yesterday the bill is intended only to protect the equipment of the Canadian Forces and its allies if it is located off National Defence property. Asked whether the bill would allow the lockdown of a neighbourhood, he said: "That's not the purpose of this at all. The purpose of this is to protect our own military equipment."
The legislation would also create large fines or jail terms for air rage and impose new penalties -- including jail terms of up to 10 years -- for "irresponsible hoaxes."
As well, it would speed changes to immigration rules intended to take effect next spring or fall that prohibit suspected terrorists from making refugee claims.
The legislation allows the government to share air passenger information with law enforcement agencies in Canada and other countries if it believes a "credible threat" exists.
Opposition critics and legal experts warned the new act gives too much undefined power to ministers and bureaucrats.
Other critics complained it does nothing to address the two air safety issues many people are wondering about: the provision of air marshals on flights and a government takeover of airport security, which is currently the responsibility of airlines and airports. The 96-page bill is silent on both.
Government ministers dismissed the concerns, saying there are adequate safeguards for the public and that action will be taken soon on air marshals and airport security.
"These are very broad powers and there are no guidelines spelled out as to how they'll be exercised," said Joe Clark, the Tory leader.
"The thing we cannot allow is to have the government gather more and more power over the ordinary lives of ordinary people without any control on the way the government exercises that power."
The Bloc Québécois warned the omnibus bill allows the government to get around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by waiving the requirement for a review of the Charter compatibility of some actions.
Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Leader, said that under interim orders, ministers "will have all the power. In fact, deputy ministers will have all the power. This is unacceptable."
David Collenette, the Minister of Transport, who introduced the bill and led the defence of it in the House of Commons, said the concerns are overwrought.
"The fact of the matter is, when you have a terrorist assault like Sept. 11, you want to make sure those in charge of your government have all the necessary powers to act immediately," he said outside the House. "In some cases, you need the authority to move ahead and then worry about the ... approval process. But those safeguards are there.
"The normal legal and constitutional constraints apply to everything we do."
This is the second piece of omnibus legislation introduced by the federal government since the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11.
Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice, introduced several amendments to the government's first anti-terrorism bill on Monday following criticism it excessively curbed civil liberties.Ian Jack
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