June 26, 2008

Suicide bombing bill passes Senate & heads to the House

By PAUL LUNGEN, Staff Reporter Canadian Jewish News Thursday, 26 June 2008

TORONTO — A private member’s bill that would make suicide bombing an explicit Criminal Code offence has passed the Senate and is making its way to the House of Commons.

The Senate last week unanimously approved Bill S-210, sponsored by Senator Jerry Grafstein, four years after it was first introduced. Grafstein said he hopes all parties in the House will line up behind the bill and grant it quick passage.

He has already received the support of his own Liberal party, and the governing Conservatives have also indicated they back the bill. Grafstein said he will lobby colleagues from the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois for their support.

The one-paragraph bill, which was held up after the Justice Department voiced concerns that it was redundant and would complicate prosecutions, says simply, “suicide bombing comes within… the definition [of] terrorist activity.”

Grafstein said he hopes the NDP will line up behind the bill, given that their former leader, Ed Broadbent, is part of list of prominent Canadians who endorse it. The group Canadians Against Suicide Bombing (CANASB) has rallied the support of dozens of well-known figures for the bill. Among them are former prime ministers Jean Chrétien, Kim Campbell and John Turner, one-time cabinet ministers Marc Lalonde and Flora MacDonald, Liberal MP Bob Rae and former Ontario premier David Peterson, plus academics, religious leaders and other well-known Canadians.

“Rarely in the events of Parliament has such a distinguished list of Canadians supported a private member’s bill,” Grafstein said.

Grafstein said the bill was thoroughly studied at committee stage in the Senate and could be passed by the House in only a couple of days. Passage by a respected country like Canada will have international repercussions. It could lead to changes to international treaties and conventions to include suicide bombing as a criminal act, he continued.

At the local level, it would criminalize those who aid and abet in suicide bombings, reaching even websites “that demonstrate how to make suicide bombs.”

Jason Kenney, secretary of state for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, said that “the government is supporting the bill,” but he would not say whether that would translate into quick passage. All members of the cabinet will back the bill, but backbenchers will be given a free vote, he said.

“I think the bill is largely symbolic,” he said. “Bombings of any kind are illegal domestically and in international law. We think there is a useful symbolic point in the bill and we endorse it.”

Kenney said while the Conservative government has taken steps to address terrorism – by cutting aid to Hamas, listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and adding the Tamil Tigers to the list of banned groups – previous Liberal governments “failed” to do so.

Reuben Bromstein, a retired judge who serves as CANASB president, said passage of the bill in the House would make Canada the first country to explicitly criminalize suicide bombing. Canada could serve as a model for other states considering enacting domestic law to address the issue, and it would have an educative effect, demonstrating Canadian “society’s disapproval of the act in question.”

“It would be a signal that we’re the first country to do it. It’s a Canadian invention that Grafstein has put in,” he said.