Bill C-35: Granting Diplomatic Immunity to State Terrorists
By Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
The Liberal government is quietly trying to pass a law that will extend diplomatic immunity to include foreign officials in Canada, even if they are known criminals or terrorists. This is being done under the cover of an innocuous-looking, so-called “housekeeping” measure called Bill C-35. This bill, to amend the “Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act,” (1) was first debated in the House of Commons on October 5, 2001. (2) By protecting foreign government representatives from prosecution under Canadian laws, Bill C-35 directly contradicts the so-called anti-terrorist Bill C-36.
Bill C-35 will also serve to consolidate and extend the power of the RCMP to thwart protests against foreign government officials who will soon be given special immunity from Canadian laws.
During the House of Commons debate, Svend Robinson, the NDP Foreign Affairs critic, speaking for his party, offered unequivocal opposition to Bill C-35. He pointed that: “the bill raises grave questions about the extent to which we are prepared to not only codify existing police powers in law but significantly enhance them. Many Canadians, including myself and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party caucus, are concerned about the growing criminalization of dissent in Canada. We have seen an alarming trend toward giving more powers to the police. Bill C-35 is part of that trend.” (ibid.)
He also criticized the bill because it is “unacceptable to suggest that an individual who is a government representative, part of a delegation to an international conference, or for that matter a world leader, should not be required to obey the law and submit to the same requirements with respect to ministers’ permits as anyone else.” (ibid.)
During the same Commons debate, Canadian Alliance MP Gurmant Grewal, critiqued the bill but indicated that his party would support the Bill if amended. He said that in the case of “a leader known to have committed human rights abuses or supported terrorism, the government would have the authority to admit him or her on political grounds, if they thought it furthered Canadian interests…. This is giving the red carpet treatment for potential terrorists, spies from other countries, criminals or even brutal dictators.” (ibid.)
Francine Lalonde, the Bloc Quebecois spokesperson, and Progressive Conservative MPs, Peter MacKay and Gary Lunn, offered their parties’ strong support for the passing of Bill C-35.
The Canadian government is creating laws to apprehend terrorists, even suspected ones, unless they happen to be known terrorists working for foreign governments, in which case the RCMP will protect them by persecuting peaceful protesters.
One will recall that before the APEC conference in Vancouver, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy “apologised” to Indonesian Prime Minister Ali Alatas for a campaign in Canada portraying Indonesia’s brutal dictator Suharto as a criminal on a Wanted Poster. Axworthy said “It was outrageous and excessive and not the way Canadians behaved.” (3) Axworthy later assured Alatas that General Suharto that he would not suffer the indignity of being in close proximity to any protests. (4)
The RCMP’s subsequent crack down on peaceful dissent at APEC led to the Hughes report. The excessive use of pepper spray and rubber bullets against protesters at the FTAA meetings in Quebec further demonstrated that the RCMP can treat Canadian protesters as criminals in order to protect foreign officials, even those officials who preside over security forces that systematically arrest, torture and even kill their own protesters back home.
Bill-35 will help to entrench such unjust contradictions into Canadian law. The Pinochet’s of the world will soon be more confident than ever when deciding whether to attend international events in Canada. Bill C-35 will allow them to feel secure during their visit here because they’ll know that Canadian law:
- exempts them from prosecution for their crimes and
- mandates the RCMP to protect them from protesters.
Because they generally control their domestic security and legal systems back home, the world’s state terrorists have impunity from their own countries’ laws. Bill C-35 will extend that immunity from prosecution during visits to Canada.
Ironically, Bill C-35 is coming at a time when our government is very publicly pushing Bill C-36, with all of its sweeping new powers that may threaten the civil liberties of innocent Canadians. While giving much attention to this upcoming anti-terrorism law, the media has completely ignored the other new law that may be used to offer protection to foreign state terrorists during official visits.
Our government knows very well that violent and undemocratic rulers, like Pinochet and Suharto, are often Canada’s best business partners. Such rulers create the social, economic, political and legal conditions in which Canadian other foreign profiteers can thrive. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for these despots to be treated with great dignity during their visits to our country. Canadian business opportunities abroad rely heavily on unrestricted access to cheap labour and natural resources. Unfortunately, for Canadian companies, foreign workers do not always bow gracefully while working as virtual slaves in factories, mines and other Canadian-owned enterprises.
Activists in those repressive regimes, who struggle to improve labour rights, promote other human rights or protect their environment from unscrupulous polluters, are often targets of persecution. Many such activists have been arrested, tortured and killed for the crime of peacefully trying to improve their working and living conditions. That’s fairly routine in many of the violent and repressive regimes that are armed courtesy of Canadian military exporters and their friends in our Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Such countries include: Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Korea, Morocco, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and Venezuela. (5)
It is no coincidence that Canada’s anti-terrorist and pro-terrorist bills are arriving at the same time. With all of the hype about new security powers designed to crack down on terrorism, there is a special need to reassure the world’s state terrorists that our government can be relied upon to protect them during their visits to Canada. The Canadian government, like the governments of its allies, relies heavily on repressive regimes to make the world safe and profitable for big business. Canadian corporations have always reaped huge rewards by exploiting human and natural resources in countries where violent military regimes rule. Violent, undemocratic foreign leaders are often seen as our country’s best friends because they ensure “stability.” They do this by tightly controlling unruly activist movements that are seeking more equitable and just socio-economic conditions. The tried and true method of making extreme profits from foreign business operations is to ensure that the governments in those countries keep close control over their dissidents.
Bill C-35 is what Canadian Alliance MP Gurmant Grewal, calls a “power grap” by Canada Minister of Foreign Affairs because it gives him the power to supercede the Minister of Immigration in order to allow foreign government officials with criminal backgrounds, to enter Canada. Once here, these foreign representatives will be protected from embarrassing protests and from prosecution.
Through Bill C-36, the Liberal government wants sweeping new powers to undermine the civil liberties of Canadians, such as allowing security forces greater ease in authorizing surveillance and the ability to carry out preventative arrests against suspects. Meanwhile, Bill C-35 means that foreign government representatives will be granted immunity from Canadian laws, including the anti-terrorist legislation.
The Liberals say that this new law will not supercede laws concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes. However, Bill C-35 would allow the government to grant special protection to foreign government officials who have committed any or all other crimes. So, as long as their crimes fall short of the most heinous international crimes against humanity and war crimes, they’ll be granted immunity in Canada. Even this is not reassuring considering Canada’s long history of harbouring Nazi war criminals.
The government’s concern that Bill C-15 may be unpopular is demonstrated by the very sneaky way in which they presented it to Parliament:
- the government is pretending that the bill deals with innocuous, mundane “housekeeping” matters,
- opposition MPs had only two and a half days to examine the bill before the first debate in the House of Commons (Oct. 5),
- that first debate in the House was conveniently timed to occur on a Friday when many MPs are not in attendance,
- no legislative summary or explanation was provided with the bill, and
- the government’s briefing on the bill was unsubstantial.
The Liberals know that Bill C-35 would be very controversial law, if the media were to expose it. They know that it contradicts their foreign and domestic policies, especially their anti-terrorism law, Bill-35. They know that the Canadian public has very little tolerance for the whole concept of diplomatic immunity, which allows foreign representatives to drink, drive and thereby cause the accidental deaths of Canadian citizens.
The only known media references to Bill C-35, have focused on this angle, i.e., the possibility that officials exempted under the new law may be responsible for deaths or injuries as a result of drinking and driving. (6)
One would hope that Canadians would be even less tolerant of our government’s efforts to offer legal protection to foreign dignitaries who have supported the torture, kidnapping and murder of innocent people. However, because the mainstream media may never expose the broader dangers and contradictions associated with Bill C-35, we may never know what the Canadian public’s attitude is towards granting diplomatic immunity to state terrorists.
(1) BILL C-35, An Act to amend the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act
(2) House of Commons Debate (October 5, 2001),
VOLUME 137, NUMBER 093, 1st SESSION, 37th PARLIAMENT
(3) Memo Re: meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy and Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas (July 30th, 1997) http://www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/fuller/apec/pmo/docs/meeting_memo.html
(4) Lloyd Axworthy’s letter to Minister Alatas (September 3rd, 1997) http://www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/fuller/apec/pmo/docs/ax_letter.html
(5) Press for Conversion!, issue #44, April 2001 Published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade http://www.ncf.ca/coat/our_magazine/links/issue44/issue44.htm)
(a) Manley Moves to Boost Number Eligible for Diplomatic Immunity FindLaw, Legal News and Commentary (Associated Press article, Nov. 1, 2001)
(b) CBC Radio News, Nov. 6, 2001.
Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) (A network of individuals and NGOs across Canada and around the world)