OTTAWA – The Conservative government wants to retool Canada’s no-fly list procedures to make it easier to stop a suspected terrorist from boarding an airplane.
In addition, it is looking to give police greater ability to generally restrict the movements of purported extremists by lowering the threshold for obtaining a peace bond, The Canadian Press has learned.
An internal federal review of two deadly attacks on Canadian soldiers last October has also highlighted a lack of suitable laws to crack down on radicals who openly encourage others to wage terrorism.
The government plans to address these areas in legislation that was promised following the killings, said a source familiar with the review who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The legislation is expected to be introduced soon. The House of Commons is scheduled to resume Monday.
On Oct. 22, Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, an honour guard at the National War Memorial, before storming Parliament’s Centre Block. Zehaf Bibeau was gunned down outside the Library of Parliament.
Two days earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau fatally rammed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. After a chase, police shot and killed Couture-Rouleau when he advanced on officers with a knife.
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.
At the time, the Mounties had some 63 active security investigations on 90 suspected extremists who intended to join fights abroad or who had returned to Canada.
Some legal experts are puzzled as to why new laws are being contemplated when existing ones aren’t being fully used.
Authorities say it is often difficult to take dangerous suspects off the streets because the cases do not meet the threshold to use criminal tools, such as peace bonds, that can mean jail unless individuals abide by strict conditions, such as restrictions on where they go and with whom they associate.
Existing law requires a fear that someone “will commit” a terrorism offence before a peace bond may be granted — a standard the government is looking to lower in the legislation.
Police would welcome such a move.
“We haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about terrorist activity in our own country, and particularly the kind of activity that we’ve just recently seen,” said Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, which represents front-line officers.
It is already against the law to travel abroad for the purpose of joining extremist hostilities, which meant the RCMP would have been able to prevent Couture-Rouleau from taking an overseas flight. However, it can be harder to curb other air travel, especially within Canada.
The Conservatives created a no-fly list in 2007, but authorities can prevent a person from getting on an airplane only if they pose “an immediate threat to civil aviation.”
It is expected that any new legislation would broaden that definition to allow officials to deny a boarding pass to someone police consider a genuine security concern, even if there is no explicit plan to attack a plane.
“It could be because you don’t know what they’re going to do once they get off the plane,” said the source, who was not authorized to discuss the review. “Are they going to try to cross the border into the U.S. and disappear?”
In the review, the government also identified a need to more readily share security-related information about passport holders and the importation of dangerous chemical substances. Currently, privacy law can restrict the exchange of passport information, and there are legal impediments to sharing word of possibly diverted shipments.
Concerns about the threat of homegrown extremism have prompted the RCMP to shift more than 300 officers to the terrorism file from organized crime and other areas.
University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese said he suspects this makes it “a very good time to be in the Mafia.”
However, in a time of fiscal restraint, there appears to be no federal appetite to give the Mounties more resources.
Several national security experts and civil liberties advocates have called for more extensive oversight of intelligence agencies, particularly given the move to boost security powers.
They point out that recommendations for a more robust watchdog system — made more than eight years ago by the federal commission of inquiry into the Maher Arar affair — have not been implemented.
“There’s been precisely zero movement on the accountability side,” Forcese said.
It is expected the government will stress the oversight mechanisms already in place, including the judicial controls on peace bonds and the ability to appeal a no-fly order.
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