Anti-terror Legislation in Canada


Terrorism: In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of intimidating the public “…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”

Mass violence: Mass violence is not defined in Canadian statutes.  For our purposes, it is interpreted as an act or instance of violent action(s) or behaviour(s) where the perpetrators are armed and attacking unarmed or defenseless civilians. It is most often attributed to political, social, religious or cultural causes and results in a significant number of persons harmed or killed.

The Anti-terrorism Act

The Canadian Anti-terrorism Act (ATA) was passed by the government of Canada in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.  It received Royal Assent on December 18, 2001, as Bill C-36.  The “omnibus” bill extended the powers of government and institutions within the Canadian security establishment to respond to the threat of terrorism.  The Act included provisions to allow for ‘secret’ trials, pre-emptive detention and expansive security and surveillance powers.  The Anti-terrorist legislation was renewed after a 3-year review and the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that it does not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

How does the ATA affect victims?

It is important to note that the ATA legislation deals only with those who plan and perpetrate acts of terrorism and does not guarantee any form of assistance or aftercare to victims in the aftermath of an attack on Canadian soil; nor does it address Canadians who may be harmed by terrorism abroad.

The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act

The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA)—and related amendments to the State Immunity Act— allows victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators of terrorism and those that support them, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world.  It received Royal Assent March 13, 2012.

The Act complements Canada’s existing counter-terrorism measures, including the deterrence of terrorism, and is aimed at responding to the unique concerns of victims of terrorism while demonstrating Canada’s leadership against those who support terrorism around the world.

The Act allows:

  • victims of terrorism to sue the perpetrators of terrorism and those that support them in a Canadian court, including foreign states listed by the Government. Victims can seek redress for terrorist acts committed anywhere in the world from January 1, 1985 onwards;
  • victims of terrorism to sue the perpetrators of terrorism and those that support them if the victims are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, or if they can demonstrate a real and substantial connection between their claim and Canada; and
  • for the suspension of statutory limitation periods. In other words, victims are not penalized if they were incapable of commencing an action within the normal limitation period because of physical, mental or psychological conditions, or when the victims were unable to ascertain the identity of the perpetrator of the act or those that supported them.

How does the JVTA affect victims?

Victims would have to obtain legal counsel at their own expense in order to sue under the JVTA.  Any civil lawsuit involves risk, many years of involvement and the possibility that the other party does not have significant assets in Canada for victims to access.