The Charlottetown Guardian reports the RCMP has arrested a Prince Edward Island man they suspect might carry out a terrorist offence. It's somewhat awkward for the government: it could be a good news story (depending on what the case looks like), but it could also undermine the Conservative's position that Canada's security and spy agencies need more power to keep this country safe from terrorism. Several witnesses have suggested Bill C-51, which is being rushed through the public safety and national security committee this week, could actually interfere with RCMP and local police efforts to disrupt potential terrorist attacks.
So what is the legislation for? Tuesday night's hearing put some disturbing answers on the table.
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, told committee the recent attacks in Paris, Brussels and here in Canada "should serve as a wake-up call," that "democracy and our world as we know it is under threat by groups such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and others who practice a ruthless ideology of hatred and intolerance." He said "We stand behind the spirit of C-51," and in particular welcomed the information-sharing provisions, and the new Criminal Code offence for promoting terrorism vaguely defined.
Benlolo said he sees support for terrorism proliferating on university campuses, which are becoming "sites of intolerance." Students are waving flags of "known terrorist organizations" (not listed but you can guess who from the list above) without consequence, something he called "a short step" to encouraging students to engage in terrorist activities. Benlolo said he hoped the government would take on growing radicalism on university campuses, like "economic terrorism," which could include sponsoring flotillas to "support and encourage terrorist groups," and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, whose goal is to end the occupation of Palestinian land and full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel.
Oh, all of this is to happen without diminishing freedom of expression, he added.
Benlolo was followed by Martin Collacott, a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute, who told committee Canada needs C-51 to be able to spy on more Muslims. So that I can't be accused of taking Collacott out of context, I'm going to let him explain his math:
So we not only face a significant range of threats at the present time, but it is likely that the number will increase in the future. Making an accurate estimate of just how widespread the threat might be isn't easy, since there are a number of factors involved: what role does the internet play in the radicalization process; to what extent are local recruiters involved, etc. And we may also have to expect at least some trouble from Canadians who've joined the ranks of ISIS in Syria and managed to return to Canada and bring their extremist views with them. I think someone estimated there are now 130 of them. In addition, we will have to deal with an increasing number from the Muslim community as it grows rapidly in size. An Environics poll taken in 2007, probably the most comprehensive poll taken of the attitudes of Muslims in Canada, showed that a very large percentage reject violence while only one in eight of those polled believe, for example, that the Toronto 18 plot was justified. However, Statistics Canada population projections to 2031 estimate a very substantial increase in the Muslim population from just over a million to two and a half times as many in 2031. And if the proportion who think that attempts such as the Toronto 18's plot could be justified remains at around one eighth, this would provide a much larger pool from which violent jihadis could emerge…
So there you go, Mo Muslims, Mo Problems, according to Collacott. (He worries the RCMP is already diverting investigators from fraud and other criminal files to cover the heavier terrorism workload, but never explains how C-51 would improve that situation.)
Witnesses representing First Nations and Indigenous perspectives, on the other hand, believe C-51 has nothing to do with terrorism, that the bill targets them directly. Lawyers at Olthuis Kleer Townsend LLP wrote in February the legislation "could be a blank cheque to the government to stifle Indigenous dissent." They took issue with the power of law enforcement agents to arrest someone if they feel a terrorist act "may" be carried out (versus "will" be), based on the Criminal Code definition of terrorism, which currently includes "an act […] that is committed […] in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security."
"This broad definition could easily encompass a protest against a pipeline or against a clearcut of a forest," suggested Michael McClurg and Senwung Luk on the firm's blog. They worry the caveat in the same Criminal Code section, that the alleged terrorist act must be intended to cause death or serious harm or risk to the pubic, will now be at the discretion of the police. "Under the new 'may' standard, the officer might say to himself: 'Might these people be intending to harm public safety? Maybe they intend to even block fire trucks from going through this route. If there is a fire in this area, the public will surely be in danger. I better start arresting people.'"
Witnesses for Wednesday's C-51 hearings, which began at 6:30, include:
- Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow (Salim Mansur, the group's vice president, was a witness on Monday)
- Hassan Yussuff (president) and David Onyalo of the Canadian Labour Congress
- Andrew Majoran (general manager) and Brian Hay (chair of the board) with the Mackenzie Institute
- Thomas Quiggin (as an individual)
- Peter Edelmann (executive director) and Eric V. Gottardi (chair of the criminal justice section) with the Canadian Bar Association
- Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Stuart Trew is the CCPA's Senior Editor. Follow Stuart on Twitter @StuJT.
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