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Taking action against our enemies

Two weeks ago, the federal Conservative government introduced legislation that will add an important arrow to Canada's quiver in the global fight against terrorism. Bill C-35 will knock down legal obstacles that currently prevent victims of terrorism from suing in a court of law those who sponsor terrorist violence. This includes foreign states, as well as individuals and organizations within Canada and elsewhere.

It is well known that certain foreign states abuse their vast sovereign powers and resources by financing and sanctioning acts of terrorism, including hijackings, kidnappings, bombings, assassinations and even military attacks on innocent civilian populations. Some states harbour terrorist groups and permit them to openly recruit and train new terrorists. Afghanistan under Taliban rule was such a state, but there have been, and continue to be, many others.

Traditionally, foreign states have enjoyed blanket immunity from civil suits brought before Canadian courts. However, because of the increase in transnational commercial activity -- and all the opportunities for crime that entails -- Canadian governments have already placed certain limits on the immunity of foreign states. For example, a Canadian citizen can sue a foreign state for breach of contract.

Bill C-35 will create a similar exception to allow Canadians to take civil action against states and other parties that finance or facilitate terrorist activity. It will also empower the federal government to identify and seize assets within Canada for the purpose of enforcing judgments against such states and organizations.

Of course, no mere legal ruling or financial settlement can ever make up for the losses suffered by victims of terrorism. Those who have been maimed or traumatized or have lost loved ones as a result of terrorist acts can never really be made whole.

And yet, attaching responsibility to perpetrators and offering some compensatory gesture to victims helps the healing process. That is one of the main objectives of Bill C-35.

Its second major purpose is to hit terrorists and their supporters where they are most vulnerable -- in the pocketbook. By taking away their assets, we can impair their ability to claim more victims .

Many Canadians see terrorism as something that happens to other people, in other places. Unfortunately, Canada is by no means insulated from this scourge. Every year, Canadian lives are torn apart by deliberate acts of extreme violence against innocent civilians. Some encounter terrorism while travelling abroad for business or pleasure; others are targeted by terrorists right here at home.

In June 1985, 331 people, including 154 Canadians, died in the terrorist bombing of Air India Flight 182. Twenty-four Canadians were among the thousands of innocent people killed on 9/11. Several Canadians were injured when terrorists bombed nightclubs in Bali in 2005. A Canadian teacher was killed in the bombing of a department store in Thailand in 2006. Two Canadians were killed, two injured and several held hostage in Mumbai in 2008. These are just some of the most recent incidents in which Canadian lives have been directly impacted by terrorism.

Despite our best efforts and strongest wishes, Canadians will surely be targeted by terrorists again in the future. Many Canadians take part in international humanitarian efforts, diplomacy, business ventures and other causes that bring them to countries in which terrorist attacks are frequent. Moreover, al-Qaeda has repeatedly named Canada as a target in its ongoing campaign of terror.

Bill C-35 will provide a vital avenue for those who have been affected by terrorist acts to seek closure and compensation , and to deprive terrorists of the resources they need to inflict further suffering on innocent targets. As we mark the 24th anniversary of the Air India bombing, it is clear that Canadian victims of terrorism have already waited too long for this law.

-David Tkachuk is a Conservative Senator from Saskatchewan.