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MPs vote against extending anti-terrorism measures

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2007 | 10:02 PM ET

Opposition parties banded together Tuesday to defeat a controversial Conservative proposal to extend two anti-terrorism measures contained in the Criminal Code.

The proposal to keep the measures in place for three more years was voted down 159-124 in the House of Commons.

Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion receives a standing ovation Tuesday after voting against a bill to extend the anti-terrorism measures.Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion receives a standing ovation Tuesday after voting against a bill to extend the anti-terrorism measures.
(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion led off the No votes as fellow Liberals clapped and cheered him on. All but two Liberals present voted against the proposal, as did all Bloc Québécois and NDP members in the House.

One of the anti-terrorism measures allows police to arrest suspects without a warrant and detain them for three days without charges, provided police believe a terrorist act may be committed. The other measure allows judges to compel witnesses to testify in secret about past associations or pending acts. The witnesses could go to jail if they don't comply.

The two measures, introduced by a previous Liberal government in 2001, have never been used.

"These two provisions especially have done nothing to fight against terrorism," Dion said Tuesday. "[They] have not been helpful and have continued to create some risk for civil liberties."

All Conservatives present, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, voted to extend the anti-terrorism measures, which expire Thursday.

Harper said the move not to extend the measures would have long-term consequences.

"The Liberals chose internal caucus politics over the national security of Canadians," he said Tuesday. "This isn't going away … This will haunt the Liberal party."

Liberal Cotler abstains from vote

The proposal to extend the measures has somewhat divided Liberals in recent weeks, but MP Tom Wappel was the only Liberal who voted alongside the Conservatives Tuesday. He was a member of the subcommittee that reviewed the anti-terrorism measures.

Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler abstained from voting Tuesday. He was present in the House, but never rose from his seat during the vote.

Before the vote, Cotler said he could not comfortably support either side. He said the position could be taken that the provisions have never been implemented and therefore they should be sunsetted.

"Or you can take the position as I've taken," he said. "The fact that [the provisions] have not been used means that they have not been abused, but they may still be needed."

Leading up to Tuesday's vote, Conservatives labelled Liberals soft on terror and accused them of flip-flopping on a law they'd written themselves.

Liberals have responded that governments cannot be trusted with too free a hand over people's rights, especially the current Conservative government.

The anti-terrorism rules became law on Dec. 18, 2001, in the chaotic aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The rules, known as the Anti-terrorism Act, were introduced by Jean Chrétien's Liberal government and fast-tracked through the House of Commons and the Liberal-dominated Senate.

The act was hotly debated, as it defines what terrorism is and makes it a punishable offence within Canada's Criminal Code.

With files from the Canadian Press

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