The National Council on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR) is pleased to launch its “Key points and Backgrounders” project to educate and inform about important Canadian policy issues discussed during the 2015 Canadian federal elections.

NCCAR’s Media and Policy Analysis team will be developing non-partisan, educational “Key Points and Backgrounders” accessible to the public on a series of topics such as Canadian policy on Syrian refugees, potential impact of “security” policies as well as foreign policy in the Middle East and the Arab Word. NCCAR will also provide its perspectives on these issues.

These “Key Points and Backgrounders” are featured as part of Your Voice voter education campaign which NCCAR is a partner in along with the Canadian-Arab Institute.

Issue:

The Conservative Party is proposing criminalizing travel by Canadians to areas where terrorist activity is identified.

Background:

During an election campaign pledge on August 9, 2015, Mr. Stephen Harper proposed that he would bring in legislation that would make it a criminal offence to travel to “declared areas…places that are ground zero for terrorist activity…where government is non-existent and violence is widespread and brutal.” The proposal suggests that national security agencies would be able to track Canadians traveling to such areas and those who return would be required to prove that they were in the region for humanitarian purposes, as a journalist covering the conflict or that they were fighting ISIS or an enemy of Canada.

Considerations:

What have politicians been saying?

NDP leader Mr. Tom Mulcair said there is little evidence such a measure would have any impact on efforts against radicalization, while Liberal leader Mr. Justin Trudeau said the promise was intended to distract voters from economic issues.  But Mr. Trudeau did not dismiss the idea of a travel ban out of hand. Mr. Mulcair suggested, “It won’t make a big difference practically speaking,” and clarified, “we’re not going to be against something that, theoretically at least, could help combat terrorism.”

What have commentators and experts been saying in the media?

The concerns expressed have been in the following areas:

  1. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians rights to mobility and to be presumed innocent. The proposal offends the Charter, in particular, by creating a presumption of guilt simply for travelling to certain parts of the world.
  2. There are already laws enacted in Canada to deal with terrorism offences.
  3. The criminalization of travel will mostly impact Canadians travelling to Arab countries and is not an effective use of limited law enforcement resources for fighting terrorism.
  4. Canadians who need to visit various areas in the Middle East for work, education, family or humanitarian reasons are likely to be stigmatized and may deter desperately needed support and engagement for civilians caught in a crisis zone.

NCCAR’s Perspective:

The proposal by the Conservative Party to criminalize travel to designated parts of the world concerns NCCAR. While the intention to empower counterterrorism efforts is a laudable goal, the means chosen could result in unintended consequences and undermine the primary objective of protecting Canadians at the expense of core values in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is equally important that stakeholders be consulted to explore the most effective options to protect Canadians from terrorism without alienating certain groups of Canadians who must travel to conflict zones.

In brief, NCCAR is concerned that the criminalization of travel to conflict zones not only offends long-standing Canadian values such as the presumption of innocence and mobility rights as embodied in the Charter, but also has the potential to stigmatize Canadians who must travel to conflict zones in Arab countries for work, education, family or humanitarian reasons. In addition, such a ban on travel could negatively impact Canada’s relations with the Arab countries identified and the civilians trapped inside the designated areas. Further, Canada may be perceived as turning its back on civilians when they are most in need by discouraging travel and assistance to conflict zones.

To read the complete document with the Key points and Backgrounder, click here.