The Impact of the Anti-Terrorism Act

In the aftermath of the horrifying events of 9/11, the government of Canada introduced Bill C-36. It was far-reaching: an omnibus bill, cobbled together in haste while the country was still in a state of shock and crisis, bordering on hysteria. As Calvin White (Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 15/01) wrote, Canada was shocked to the core and was “now desperate to regain control”.

Many saw the legislation as draconian, and it roused the civil rights and immigrant communities, who had grown complacent since the passage of the Charter. The National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) and the National Organisation of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada (NOIVMWC) were perhaps the only two all-women’s groups that appeared before the House and Senate Standing Committees to speak against Bill C-36. NAWL and NOIVMWC can take some credit for having advocated for the ‘sunset’ clause, which was eventually written into the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Both NAWL and NOIVMWC had long felt there was a need to systematically investigate the impact the legislation had on the lives of Muslim and South Asian women, and on Arabic speakers. The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) had also expressed an interest in mounting such a study. All three groups had considerable anecdotal evidence about the fear and anxiety that such legislation had caused for the women within these communities. Fortunately, Status of Women Canada (SWC) issued a call in September 2002 for proposals on “Engendering the Human Security Agenda”, under its Policy Research Fund. NOIVMWC, CRIAW and NAWL met and made a joint proposal to SWC. The proposal was submitted in late November 2002, accepted in early 2003 and the contract was finalized on April 24, 2003. CRIAW is to handle the project finances, NOIVMWC the project administration and NAWL will provide the legal expertise. The draft final report has to be delivered to SWC by March 30, 2004.

The Research

To the best of our knowledge, there has been little gender or diversity analysis of the national security agenda. However, there is an excellent academic analysis of the Anti-Terrorism Act by three members of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (R.J. Daniels, P. Maclem and K. Roach, eds., The Security of Freedom: Essays on Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Bill (Toronto: U of T Press, 2001)). Our study will be unique, in that it proposes to use an intersectional race, gender and class approach, employing participatory research techniques to assess the impact of national security policies on Muslim and non-Muslim women of various ethnic origins encompassing both Anglophone and Francophone communities.

The research project has both short and long-term objectives. In the short-term, the emphasis is on including racialized women as stakeholders in the policy dialogue on national security. This is commensurate with the Government of Canada’s commitment to citizen participation in the governmental policy process, as expressed in the Accord signed with the Voluntary Sector in 2001. In the long term, the project partners anticipate the development of peace and security policy priorities that will not have an adverse impact on women especially, racialized women.

We believe that our work is timely and has a strong empirical basis, which will serve as a valuable source of gender-based information for policy makers, researchers and other equality-seeking organisations on the effects of security agenda. In addition, it will provide concrete recommendations, concerning policy and legislative changes, formulated by women from the communities most affected. Moreover, we hope that the research results will help Canada fulfil its obligations to a meaningful gender-based analysis of legalization and policies as well as meet its obligations to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (UN Security Council Resolution 1325 deals with a number of items, including women and peace building/peacekeeping. It states, in part, that gender needs to be a priority in peacekeeping missions, particularly in post-conflict situations.).

Given the constraints of time and resources, the research will be confined to a sample of 150 women (Muslim women, women of Arab origin, women who have been targeted because of appearance) from three major urban centres and one semi-rural area. The sample will be chosen to ensure that there are appropriate classifications: one focusing on the ethnic/religious/linguistic mix, a second incorporating Canadian born, immigrant and refugee women and a third focussing on socio-economic characteristics, including age and income.

It is anticipated that the findings will determine whether there is a consistent national picture, or if there are substantial differences based on location and spatial concentration.

Next Steps

A Steering Committee consisting of the executive directors of NAWL, NOIVMWC and CRIAW, one board member from each of the three organisations and the principal researchers will provide overall guidance to the study. We have also started to identify potential paid researchers and groups in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary who may be interested in hosting the focus groups. Finally, we have set a tentative date of June 20-22, 2003 for a Steering Committee meeting in Ottawa to further develop the research design.

Should you have any questions or comments, please contact Anu Bose at anubose@noivmwc.org.

Anu Bose is the executive director of NOIVMWC; she holds a PhD in Development Administration from the University of Birmingham, UK.