In A State of Emergency: Terrorism

Since the tragic events of 9/11, there has been measurable progress in protecting the nation against terrorism and other threats to our national security. Following a few months after September 11, 2001, in a state of emergency, the United States government introduced the Patriot Act as a means of combating terrorism and ensuring public safety. This Act also gave expansion powers to law-enforcement agencies, it gave the power for law enforcement officials to arrest when there are reasonable grounds to believe that someone is a terrorist or engaged in terrorist activities. Throughout this passage, I will be using the Patriot Act as a preliminary guideline. I will conduct a post in response to an event that has been officially deemed an act of terrorism, and outline the advantages and disadvantages of the government initial two options.

The first option, to “officially declare that a state of emergency is in effect, per the Emergencies Act, and invoke the powers provided for under that Act”. From the government perspective and public perspective, the main advantage, and the ultimate objective to invoke the powers provided for under the act is to protect the country from any further terrorism. An act that is created with the objective to combat terrorism provides the public with a sense of safety and protection from the government. According to Agameben, in American culture, the sovereign power of the president in a state of emergency linked to a state of war (Ericson, 2007).  Agamben (2005) points out after 9/11, President Bush constantly referred himself as the “Commander in Chief of the army”, and President Bush is attempting to produce “a situation in which an emergency becomes the rule and the very distinction between peace and war becomes impossible” (Ericson, 2007). From the government perspective, the advantages are that in a state of emergency, the government has the ability to create and define new legislation without much justification and no expression from the public. The government gains the ability, under a state of emergency, to determine the criminal sanctions of future suspects of terrorism.

From the government perspective, one of the major disadvantages from implementing an Act during a state of emergency is that it is very difficult to make amendments to the Act or abolish the Act. The Act has become an official law, and it just cannot be abolished immediately. For example, the Patriot Act can only be removed by the Congress (by passing a bill repealing it), by the Supreme Court (ruling it unconstitutional), or by passing a new Constitutional Amendment by the people. From the public perspective, the disadvantages are that many times in a state of emergency, an Act that is created to target a specific type of criminal can give rise to hate crimes of individuals who share similar characteristics from those specific type of criminals. After the Patriot Act, the central question on the War on Terrorism was whether Arabs and Muslims should be treated as a security threat to the nation (Bahdi, 2003). This racial profiling is justified by the nation’s fear of another terrorist attack. These fears gave rise to hate crimes against Muslims.

The second option, “a security bill that provides for expanded powers for police and security services”, from a government perspective, the advantages are that expanded powers for police and security services can increase the ability to apprehend individuals suspected of terrorism. Expanded powers can give the ability for law enforcement officials to apprehend people without providing reasoning, or being able to monitor individuals without a court’s approval and being able to gain easily access to records. From a government perspective, the disadvantages of expanded powers for police and security services is that it can lead to an increase rate of officers abusing their powers. Police officers can use their expanded powers for their personal benefits, and target people without having to always justify their actions.

From the public perspective, the advantages of expanded powers for police and security are that it can lead to more arrests of individuals suspected of terrorism, and increase the probability of stopping terrorism before it happens. The disadvantages are that members of the public can be suspected of terrorism, and could be stopped, searched, and arrested without reasons. This is what I have interpreted Agameben definition of “bare life” in a “state of nature”. The “bare life” i are those individuals that “live within the law but as outlaws, as neither ‘man nor beast’” (Pavlich, 2011). In Ericson’s perspective, there will be laws against laws that will emerge in a state of emergency (Larsen, 2014). After 9/11, there has been an increased surveillance of those of Middle-Eastern appearance, or of South Asian, or Arabic heritage, and of the Muslim faith (Patel, 2012). This has led anti-terror agents and criminal justice agents to scrutinize Brown bodies, and associate things like hijab, scarf, turban, and other religious clothing as suspicious (Patel, 2012). Arabs and Muslims in the U.S were detained up to several days without any evidence because of the expanded police powers and the Patriot Act. Ultimately, the sad reality of expanding police powers will be there will racial profiling, and innocent people lives will be affected.

Given this scenario, I believe our government would initially adopt option one and I believe it did immediately following the terrorist attacks after 9/11. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Canadian government in a state of emergency introduced Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA), which came into force on December 24, 2001. This legislation is 186 pages long and added a new part to the Criminal Code entitled “Terrorism” (Roach, 2003). The Canadian Criminal Code, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines “terrorist activity” as, among other things, an act committed “for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective, cause”   with the intention of “intimidating the public, or a segment of 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.”.I believe that our government adopted an Act so swiftly because it felt pressure from the United States introducing the Patriot Act and to ensure Canadian citizens that the government will take steps to combat terrorism. It wanted to ensure what happened in the United States will not happen in Canada.

A third option, in my opinion, could be that the Canadian government tighten security at airports and borders by deploying more safety officers. As well, the government provide more resources to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. I would not create any new Act or give police officers expanded powers. The reason being terrorism is a crime that already falls under many criminal categories such as hijacking, use of explosives, murder, and threat to public safety. How we treat people who commit these crimes should be how we treat people who are suspected of terrorism. Police officers should still have to abide by proper conduct when investigating a person suspected of terrorism likewise a person suspected of murder, because one is not greater than the other.


Bahdi, R. (2003) ‘No exit: racial profiling and Canada’s war against terrorism.’ Osgoode Hall Law             Journal, 41(2&3): 293-317

Ericson, R. V. (2007). Crime in an insecure world. Malden, MA; Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Larsen, M. (2014). Notes

Patel, T. G. (2012). Surveillance, suspicion and stigma: Brown bodies in a terror-panic      climate. Surveillance & Society10(3/4), 215-234.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario. Oxford University Press

Roach, Ken. (2003). September 11: Consequences for Canada. Montreal, QC, CAN: McGill-      Queen’s University Press.


1 Comment

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One response to “In A State of Emergency: Terrorism

  1. You open with the following statement: “Since the tragic events of 9/11, there has been measurable progress in protecting the nation against terrorism and other threats to our national security.”

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts regarding the criteria that apply to such a statement. What does measurable progress look like?

    Generally, this is an organized and effective post. I think that you have placed the passage of C-36 / the ATA in the wrong category, though – rather than being an example of a formal state of exception (analogous to the War Measures Act or Emergencies Act), the Anti-terrorism Act was a series of amendments that introduced anti-terrorism provisions into existing law (ex. the Criminal Code). In this sense, it is a good example of the second option.

    Your third option is interesting and well-reasoned. Why do you think that there is pressure to legislate in this sort of situation?