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Speech at second reading of Bill S-7, An Act to deter terrorism and to amend the State Immunity Act.

Honourable senators, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to government Bill S-7, An Act to deter terrorism and to amend the State Immunity Act. As many honourable senators know, this bill has its genesis in private members' bills that I and the Honourable Stockwell Day have been pushing — he in the House of Commons and I in the Senate — for some five years.

It is a validation of the efforts of the victims of terrorism and their allies, most specifically the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, who together have been pushing for this legislation tirelessly and relentlessly. For them it has been a long journey and an often frustrating one. My private member's bill went through four versions and several sessions of Parliament, beginning with Bill S-35, which received first reading here in May 2005; followed by Bill S-218; Bill S-225; and, finally in the last session, Bill S-233.

It has been five years since Bill S-35 was first introduced. The furthest any version of my bill got was Bill S-225 which, in the summer of 2008, was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Three hearings were held on that bill. I can safely say that it received a warm reception from both sides of the house and from the independents who heard testimony from victims, advocates and legal experts, but that was as far as it got.

The same cannot be said of terrorist activity. Terrorists do not rise for the summer, they do not pause for the Christmas season, and they do not call a halt to their activity pending the outcome of an election. All too often, Canadians are reminded of the continued presence of terrorism around the globe. Its devastating effects are well known, as innocent victims, civilians, continue to be targeted by terrorist organizations that have little regard for human life.

These efforts are felt by citizens from countries around the world. These citizens were once considered collateral damage in a war. Now, in the age of terrorism, collateral damage is the whole point of the war. We are not immune to this threat.

The Toronto 18 were arrested in 2006 for, among other things, plotting truck bomb attacks on the Toronto Stock Exchange, a regional office of CSIS and a Canadian military base. They had the Parliament Buildings in their sights, as well. Police collected, as evidence, cell phone type detonators, batteries and the same type of fertilizer that was used in the Oklahoma bombings.

In 2008 we heard of the string of terrorist attacks in Pakistan where innocent civilians were indiscriminately massacred for no apparent reason. This past Christmas we learned of the attempted attack against innocent civilians aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 bound for Detroit from Amsterdam. After that, we heard about the planned attacks on U.S. and European embassies in Yemen, the bombings in Mumbai, the attacks on Sri Lanka's national cricket team, and the arrest of seven people on suspicion of planning a terrorist act in Amsterdam, which are all chilling reminders of the continued threat.

If we needed further reminding, on Monday the British Ambassador to Yemen narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack on his car. It was likely the work of an al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen, a group that the U.S. recently termed a global threat.

Canada remains, and must remain, steadfast in its efforts to address this threat. Whether here in Canada where our intelligence and law enforcement officials are gathering information and apprehending individuals who threaten our national security or abroad where we help other countries to build their own counterterrorism capacity. Canada is making a significant contribution to counter this global challenge.

The bill before us today is one more example of this government's efforts in this regard and it complements existing counterterrorism tools at our disposal.

Honourable senators, we introduced Bill S-7 to address the needs of those who fall victim to acts of terrorism and to deter terrorists and those who support them from engaging in these terrible acts. By creating the cause of action, Canada is sending a clear message to perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters: They will be held accountable and we will not allow the voices of victims to go unheard.

Indeed, honourable senators, Bill S-7 would enable victims to sue individuals and organizations responsible for acts of terrorism and those who support them. This important piece of legislation will thereby provide victims with the ability to seek redress for damages or losses resulting from the terrorist acts that occurred anywhere in the world on or before January 1, 1985.

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I would like to emphasize that under the proposed legislation, victims could also sue supporters of terrorist groups, including designated states that will be deemed to have supported terrorist entities. This is important because, as we know, terrorist organizations could not operate were it not for financial backing. They could not maintain complex communication networks, recruit new members or hold training camps without monetary contributions from supporters. This financial support comes from many sources, including states.

As lawsuits stemming from this legislation could target certain states known to support terrorism, the proposed bill contains provisions to amend the State Immunity Act. Such amendments would lift state immunity for those states that the government designates as supporters of terrorism.

Removing a state's immunity is an important policy decision — one that cannot be taken lightly. This makes it crucial that the system established to determine whether a state's immunity should be lifted is rigorous and effective. Bill S-7 lays out such a system.

Specifically, Bill S-7 would authorize the government to create a list of states that could be sued for supporting perpetrators of terrorism. Under this listing regime, the Governor-in-Council could put a state on the list, upon the recommendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in consultation with the Minister of Public Safety. This would occur if the Governor-in-Council was satisfied that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the state in question supports terrorism.

It is also deemed important to base the listing of state supporters of terrorism on concrete criteria. For that reason, providing support to terrorist entities listed pursuant to the Criminal Code was considered an appropriate criterion to justify the listing of a state.

Those entities designated as terrorist actors under the Criminal Code are determined through a well-established and rigorous analytical process. There are currently 41 entities on this list.

Listed states could apply to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to be removed from the list. The decision to delist a state would be made by the Governor-in-Council, upon a recommendation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, after having consulted with the Minister of Public Safety.

These provisions would allow for the list of state supporters of terrorism to remain accurate and to effectively take into account the changes in a state's behaviour or changes within the international system. The government recognizes that international relations are constantly shifting with the emergence of new actors and occurrences of events beyond our control. These safeguards embedded within the listing regime would allow the list to reflect this evolving environment.

It is an important step to demonstrate that Canada is standing up to terrorist organizations and those who act behind the scenes to provide them with material support.

Honourable senators, Bill S-7 is an important tool for Canada to use in targeting state and non-state supporters of terrorism, and in deterring terrorist organizations that could threaten us. It also puts a priority on victims of terrorism and allows them to seek redress for the losses and damages they have suffered as a result of terrorist acts.

Canadians are affected by terrorism. It is a threat with which we unfortunately have to live. Therefore, we must continue to take firm action to deter terrorism and to try to help alleviate the suffering of Canadians who fall victim to it.

I urge all honourable senators to give passage to Bill S-7, to send the message that Canada is committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians, to holding terrorists and their supporters accountable for their despicable actions, and to providing victims of terrorism with a means to have their voices heard and to seek redress for the hardships they have suffered.