Liberals plan swift overhaul of anti-terror law
Liberals plan swift overhaul of anti-terror law
IAN MACLEOD, OTTAWA CITIZEN, OTTAWA CITIZEN 10.20.2015
The controversial security bill rammed through Parliament by the Conservative government in the spring is expected to be overhauled without delay by the new Liberal government, say party officials and other sources.
Proposed legislation to add new measures and repeal some existing parts of the law, now known as the Anti-terrorism Act of 2015, or C-51, is already being drafted and is to be tabled early in the new parliamentary session. Consultations with the public and various experts are planned before the replacement legislation is put to a final House vote.
The bill was brought in by the Conservatives after the killings in October 2014 of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa by lone-wolf extremists.
A key feature of the replacement legislation is expected to be the creation of a multi-party, joint House of Commons-Senate committee, sworn to secrecy and reporting to the prime minister and through him to Parliament. It would have a full-time staff, access to the necessary secret information and be tasked with strategic oversight of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities, according to a source familiar with the content.
Early reaction is positive, but with a note of caution.
“It would be a new departure for the Canadian Parliament and what would be a very difficult task,” said Wesley Wark, a security and intelligence historian and scholar at the University of Ottawa.
“I’m glad we’ve arrived at this moment, it’s something that should have been done in Canada a long time ago. (But) it would be important to be cautious about expectations around the early performance of such a committee.”
Canadian parliamentarians currently have no access to confidential and high-level information about national security institutions and policies – unlike politicians in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and some other NATO nations.
Public opinion polling shows many Canadians want a tighter watch over spy agencies and other federal intelligence gatherers, commensurate with their extended powers under C-51.
A day after the Oct. 22, 2014 terror attack on the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons that an existing government initiative to strengthen laws dealing with the surveillance, detention and arrest of national security suspects would be “expedited.” Two months later, he unveiled Bill
, which the Conservative government used as the centrepiece of a security narrative on protecting Canadians from the Islamic State and its followers.
The omnibus bill, made law in June, dramatically expanded the mandate and powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), criminalized promoting and advocating terrorism, and required airlines to help stop extremists from flying to overseas battle zones.
It also allowed more than 100 departments and federal agencies to begin sharing Canadians’ personal information more easily and made it simpler for police to arrest and detain individuals without charge as suspected national security threats, among other measures.
Five days after Harper unveiled C-51 on Jan. 30, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau surprised many by agreeing to support it. But at the same time, Trudeau said his party would demand – unsuccessfully as it turned out – that the Tory government amend some provisions. Failing that, Trudeau said a Liberal government would make changes once in power.
The Liberal plan for a parliamentary oversight committee is fashioned on a failed 2014 Senate bill introduced by senators Grant Mitchell, Roméo Dallaire and Hugh Segal.
It called for a body to review “the legislative, regulatory, policy and administrative framework for national security and intelligence in Canada, and activities of federal departments and agencies in relation to intelligence and national security.”
The Liberals say a three-year automatic review, or sunset clause, of the entire Anti-terrorism Act of 2015 act would be added.
As well, they want to narrow some of the “overly broad” definitions of what constitutes a threat to national security, including defining “terrorist propaganda” more clearly.
Current oversight and review is chiefly the responsibility of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which conducts after-the-fact reviews of the operations of CSIS, the country’s human spy service.
The activities of the electronic spy service, the Communications Security Establishment, are reviewed by a watchdog known as the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner (OCSEC). Increasingly, in the era of the Edward Snowden leaks on U.S. spying, CSE’s domestic cyber-spying activities are raising privacy and legal concerns, though the agency has never been charged with law-breaking.
There is no independent oversight or review of the Canada Border Services Agency, which has a dual intelligence and law-enforcement role. Nor is there dedicated, independent monitoring of the intelligence arms of the RCMP, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, thePrivy Council Office, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
Wark believes a parliamentary committee would be best suited to a broad mandate looking at the security intelligence community in all its moving parts.
“It’s going to have to maintain a strategic-level look at that community and its functions. It could be matched with organizations like SIRC and the CSE commissioner who have a much more focused review mandate. (They) could both feed into the work of a parliamentary committee.”