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Hill Dispatches

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Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

CSIS powers to be expanded under Harper's 'Anti-Terrorism Act'

| January 30, 2015
Photo: flickr/victor

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The government has tabled its massive new prevention of terrorism legislation.

It includes a new offence: knowingly "advocating" commission of terrorism offences "in general."

The key words here are "in general."

Currently, it is a crime to advocate or promote a specific terrorist act. Now it will be a crime to more broadly promote something at once more general and more ephemeral, in ways the law does not define.

Government officials say this provision does not include what they call "glorification" of terrorism -- that is, praising the acts of "terrorists" but not encouraging others to commit such acts.

However, the legislation itself is not specific on that point.

Officials say there are guarantees against abuse of these new and broader criminal code provisions. The Attorney General of Canada and a judge must agree that an advocacy offence has been committed.

Preventing more people from boarding airplanes

The new legislation also expands the ways in which Canadians can be added to a no-fly list.

As it stands now, authorities can prevent people from boarding aircraft if it is suspected they pose threats to those airplanes. Now the Minister of Public Security will have the power to prevent people from flying if they might be travelling on airplanes in order to commit terrorist acts somewhere else, not on the aircraft itself.

This provision applies to both domestic and international flights.

New powers for CSIS to act, not merely 'analyze'

The Anti-terrorism Act will significantly expand the powers of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada's 'spy agency'.

CSIS was created primarily as an information gathering organization. Its job has been to analyze and identify actual and potential foreign or foreign-directed threats to Canada. It has not been mandated to spy on Canadians or engage in law enforcement actions.

The new law will give CSIS the power to act, not merely analyze.

The law is vague on the nature of CSIS's new powers to -- to use the governent's own word -- "disrupt", but government officials cite the example of a young, radicalized man who might be tempted to join a terrorist group.

The new law will give CSIS the power to not only interview such an individual in order to gather information, but also to intervene to dissuade the young man from engaging in notional terrorist activity. CSIS officers could also now report this supposedly dangerous young person to the RCMP and the RCMP could arrest him.

But "disrupting" supposed terrorist activity can take many forms.

When the RCMP Security Service fulfilled the role CSIS now plays it engaged in all kinds of sabotage,"disruption" and what were then called "dirty tricks." Much of that activity -- which included burning down a barn to prevent a meeting from taking place -- was theoretically designed to thwart the activities of the Quebec-based Front de Libération du Québec. 

CSIS was created, with more a circumscribed and defined mandate, in response to concern over RCMP Security Service abuses. 

Power to nix wesites

Among other provisions in the new legislation is what the government calls "take down" power, whereby the authorities would have the right to close what are deemed to be "terrorist" websites originating in Canada.

Officials say these new powers are similar to the authorities' existing powers related to the dissemination of hate propaganda.

There are hate crime provisions on the books now, designed largely to protect minorities from vicious slanders that could provoke violent acts, but they are enforced rather selectively. When hateful attacks on the Roma people, which echoed those of the Nazi era, were circulated in the media and online in Canada the authorities evinced scant interest. 

Expanded preventive detention

The new legislative package -- it is in fact an omnibus bill that includes a number of significant measures bundled under the title of the "Anti-Terrorism Act" -- will also expand the capacity of the police to hold suspected "terrorists," without charge, from the current three to seven days, and it will lower the legal threshold for such detentions.

Currently the authorities must be convinced that terrorist activity will happen; now they will only have to establish that such activity may happen.

There is lots more, and the bill raises many questions about protection of fundamental freedoms.

Look to this space in the coming days for more detail.

For now, the government has had its big and highly controlled media show, complete with ringing rhetoric from the Prime Minister at a carefully staged event in suburban Toronto.

Parliament will have to deal with this bill, but the government didn't think it necessary to introduce it there.

No, instead of a statement in the House of Commons, you will be seeing the Prime Minister's face all over the media, looking straight at the camera, surrounded by adoring Conservative partisans, pledging to be "vigilant" and keep Canadians "safe."

This is an election year after all, and this initiative is as much about politics as it is about protecting us all from the threat of "terrorism."



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