Dion to punish MPs who back anti-terror measures in vote
Leader tested by splits in caucus on issue
BILL CURRY AND DANIEL LEBLANC
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
OTTAWA — Stéphane Dion is threatening to punish any Liberal MP who supports the government’s plan to extend two controversial anti-terrorism measures.
The Liberal Leader confirmed in an interview yesterday that his party will oppose efforts to maintain those never-used sections of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act and that it would be a whipped vote, in which MPs are told how to vote.
Although he did not outline the consequences, MPs who defy whipped votes are usually suspended from their caucus. Sometimes less severe penalties are invoked such as stripping an MP of critic responsibilities.
The divisions among Liberal MPs over the two anti-terrorism measures — called preventative arrest and investigative hearings — will test Mr. Dion as he seeks to heal any remaining internal wounds from the party’s leadership race and defend himself from Conservative attacks that he lacks leadership skills.
A Liberal source said that at least a dozen MPs have concerns about the vote on the anti-terrorism provisions, although no one has said yet that they will break party ranks. Still, the divisions on the matter are causing concerns in the party and one Liberal MP said there wasn’t enough consultation.
The MP said it didn’t look good to see the party’s justice critic, Marlene Jennings, openly opposing Mr. Dion.
"It gives the sense she wasn’t consulted even if she is the justice critic," the MP said.
Ms. Jennings issued a statement last night saying that after "substantive discussion within our caucus, I fully support the leader’s decision on this issue.
"The government has failed to demonstrate theses clauses should not be sunset," she said. "We’re the party of the Charter and we believe the onus is on the government to prove that these powers have been an effective and necessary tool to combat terrorism in order to justify the severe rights-infringing nature of these provisions."
Mr. Dion said he consulted caucus before coming up with the final party position.
"I am a very collegial leader," he said. "I consulted my caucus a lot and you need to make a decision. The decision, I’m convinced, is the best on for the country."
When asked if it would be a whipped vote, Mr. Dion said: "Yes, it’s a vote of the party."
The Globe and Mail has learned that Mr. Dion’s opposition to the measures will be further challenged Thursday, when the Senate special committee on the Anti-Terrorism Act will issue a report calling for the provisions to be maintained.
The two anti-terrorism measures were brought in by the previous Liberal government in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. One, called preventative arrest, allows police to detain terrorism suspects without warrants. The second, called investigative hearings, allows police to force individuals who may know about a terrorist plot to share their information in a closed-door court.
To get the measures approved, the government agreed they would expire in five years unless they were renewed by both the House and Senate by March 1.
Supporters of the provisions say the power to quickly bring someone in off the street for questioning could prevent an imminent terrorist attack. Opponents say the low level of evidence needed to force such testimony means it is too easy to draw innocent people into the process whose reputations would be forever tainted by an association with terrorism.
Political analyst Robin Sears, a chief of staff to former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae, said Mr. Dion has yet to make clear what his leadership style will be.
"There seems to be a pattern of staking out a hard position and then being forced to backtrack from it," he said, listing Mr. Dion’s comments on Canada’s Afghanistan mission and his dual Canadian-French citizenship as examples. "Whether you’re a new leader or old, that ain’t a good idea."