An Ontario judge has struck down a portion of the Anti-Terrorism Act, saying it is unconstitutional under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom to define a terrorist as a criminal motivated by religious beliefs.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Rutherford made this ruling on Oct. 24 during the trial of a Canadian man, Momin Khawaja, a Muslim, who is charged with conspiring with others in Britain to carry out an attack there.
Faisal Joseph, the legal consul of the Canadian Islamic Congress and former federal prosecutor, said while the Muslim community opposed the Act from its inception in 2001, now this ruling comes as a “double-edged sword.”
“The benefit to the Muslim community is that by striking this provision down it is going to take out the element of racial profiling,” he said. “But the irony is striking it down will make it easier to convict people accused of the crime. The Crown will no longer have to prove religious motivation anymore.”
This decision has caught the attention of key politicians within the country as well.
In a CBC report, Justice Minister Vic Toews said this ruling fundamentally changes the meaning of terrorism and said he would review the decision and if needed, appeal it.
A University of Toronto religions professor, though, finds this decision troublesome.
Robert Campbell said if governments start to link terrorism with religion, then either terrorists will stop linking their goals to religion to deter getting caught – or if religion is seen as the cause, then terrorists or religious people may want to fulfill that expectation.
He said such a definition leaves us with no definition at all and risks labelling everyone who is religious as a terrorist.
Victory for Canadians
“With such a definition, then Christians who believe you can’t dance could be terrorists too,” he said. “Also, if you blame religion as the causative agent of terrorism, then nothing stops the government from passing laws against practising religion itself.
Joseph voiced a similar view and said regardless of the likelihood of this ruling backfiring on the accused, this decision is a “victory” for a concerned Muslim community. The decision, he said, is a victory not only for the Muslim community but for all Canadians.
“Canadians have to understand that if we are only concerned about terrorists blowing up buildings in this country, we have lost the so-called ‘war on terrorism,’” he said.
“The way any terrorist is going to win is if he undermines our institutions and our rule of law. If we lose civil liberties, all has been forgot.”