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Spy service to get stronger anti-terror powers under federal bill

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
January 30, 2015 - 11:27 AM

OTTAWA - Newly tabled anti-terrorism legislation would give Canada's spy agency more power to thwart a suspected extremist's travel plans, disrupt bank transactions and covertly interfere with radical websites.

The plan to boost the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's ability to counter terrorist threats flows from a review of fatal attacks on two Canadian soldiers last October — incidents the government believes were fuelled by Islamic extremism.

CSIS would become an agency that actively tries to derail terror plots, not just one that collects and analyzes information about such plans.

As expected, the bill would also make it easier for the RCMP to obtain a peace bond to restrict the movements of a suspect and it extends the period for preventative arrest and detention.

In addition, the legislation would expand the no-fly regime to cover those travelling by air to take part in terrorist activities, whereas currently there must be an immediate risk to the plane.

The bill proposes giving the RCMP power to seek a judge's order to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet.

It would also create a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorism attack.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a gathering in Richmond Hill, Ont., the Conservative government is prepared to both condemn and confront terrorism.

"Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality," Harper said.

"It seeks to harm us here in Canada, in our cities and in our neighbourhoods through horrific acts."

On Oct. 22, Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, an honour guard at the National War Memorial, before rushing into Parliament's Centre Block. Zehaf Bibeau was quickly gunned down.

Two days earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau had fatally rammed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. After a chase, police shot and killed the knife-wielding assailant.

It soon emerged the RCMP had been monitoring the man — who harboured jihadist sympathies — for months.

The Mounties even prevented him from travelling overseas, presumably to join militant fighters. But they did not have enough evidence to arrest him or further limit his movements, saying extreme beliefs were not a crime.

Existing law requires a fear that someone "will commit" a terrorism offence before police can obtain a peace bond — a tool that can mean jail unless a suspect abides by strict conditions, for instance that they surrender their passport and regularly report to police.

The new, lower threshold would be reasonable grounds to fear a person "may commit" a terrorism offence.

Current anti-terrorism law allows police to arrest someone without a warrant and hold them for up to three days before a hearing. Under the bill, the maximum period would be extended to seven days.

Under existing law, CSIS may interview someone with the sole aim of collecting information, not dissuading that person from, for example, travelling to Syria to join militants.

With its new mandate, CSIS would need "reasonable grounds to believe" there was a security threat before taking measures to disrupt it. The spy agency would need a court warrant whenever proposed disruption measures violate the charter of rights or otherwise breach Canadian law.

Threat disruption warrants would be limited to 120 days, with the possibility of limited renewal if a judge agrees.

The new powers would allow CSIS to engage in a joint operation with a foreign partner to divert a shipment of dangerous chemicals so it was not delivered to extremists.

CSIS could also ask the overseeing court to issue an "assistance order" that would, for instance, require a landlord to allow the spy agency to plant listening devices in a tenant's apartment. Currently CSIS cannot force a building owner to comply with such a warrant.

In addition, the spy agency could provide online "counter-messaging" or even "disrupt radical websites and Twitter accounts" to protect impressionable young Canadians, says a federal background document.

Other proposed measures would:

— Allow for more information-sharing when the material — such as passport or immigration information — is relevant to an agency's national security mandate;

— Give the government more power to object to disclosure of classified information in immigration proceedings.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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