October 25, 2014 - 5:00 AM
OTTAWA - The Conservative government is expected to give police and spies new tools to fight terrorism as early as next week.
But some point out that anti-terror laws already on the books aren't being fully used to stem the threat of attacks by homegrown radicals.
Under existing provisions, leaving Canada to take part in terrorism abroad is a criminal offence.
In addition, police have the power to make a preventive arrest of anyone suspected of planning a terrorist attack.
They can also require people with information relevant to the investigation of a past or future terrorist act to appear before a judge.
The Conservatives, however, are hinting more powers are needed to make pre-emptive arrests following deadly attacks on soldiers in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
That would come in addition to long-planned legislation that would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more power to track terror suspects abroad and provide blanket identity protection for the agency's human sources.
University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese said Friday he hopes the government doesn't "rush to introduce a series of new bells and whistles" that don't actually achieve anything.
"All we're hearing from the government is that there's something wrong with the laws. And that's not uncommon," Forcese said. "It's the usual response to a crisis, especially from a federal legislature. There's a reason why the Criminal Code's as thick as it is."
Calm reflection might suggest that successive governments have developed workable anti-terror laws and have spent a lot of time and resources on improved security capabilities, said intelligence historian Wesley Wark.
The Conservatives must evaluate what's already at hand before making legislative changes, Wark said this week.
It's important to understand why police have been reluctant to use the existing pre-emptive measures — originally brought in after the 9-11 attacks on the United States, said Forcese.
There have been suggestions the evidentiary threshold is too high, but Forcese says he can't see "how the burden of using this measure could be any lower, frankly."
"The obvious operational reason for not using it is that once you pick someone up and subject them to a peace bond then your covert investigation is now over," he said.
"So it's a tool of disruption that you would presumably only use in the most dire circumstances when the wheels fall off the other aspects of your investigation."
There might also be hesitation on the part of authorities about "spilling beans in open court."
"If that's the reason why it's not being used then obviously that might require a conversation about legal reform and a debate about whether we want to go there or not."
In the House of Common on Friday, Liberal MP Marc Garneau noted there were 80 individuals known to have returned to Canada after being involved in terrorist activities abroad — actions that are illegal under the Criminal Code.
"Why have they not been charged?" he asked during question period.
Roxanne James, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said the government is "always willing and able to facilitate these efforts" by police, but she did not elaborate.
"We are always examining tools to make the system more effective to protect all Canadians."
One rumoured change to anti-terrorism laws would involve following the lead of Britain and essentially outlawing the glorification of extremist acts and symbols.
"As soon as you start banning that sort of expression, you force it underground," Forcese said. "You don't quash it, you don't quash the beliefs that animate it.
"You've now martyred ideas, and you may give them a street credibility, if you will — an image of resistance that they might not otherwise have."
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2014