RICHMOND HILL, Ontario (Reuters) - New anti-terror legislation in Canada would make it a crime to call for attacks on the country and give a much larger role to the government’s main spy agency.
The bill introduced by the Conservative government on Friday would give the spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the ability to disrupt attacks by interfering with travel plans or communications, for example. In the past, CSIS has been limited to the collection of intelligence.
The bill, whose passage is assured because the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament, would also make it easier for police to make preventive arrests.
“Jihadi terrorism as it is evolving is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who faces a general election in October, said at a news conference. “Violent jihadism is not a human right. It is an act of war.”
The government promised the legislation after a gunman attacked Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in October after fatally shooting a soldier at the nearby National War Memorial. The attack by a so-called “lone wolf” Canadian convert to Islam came two days after another Canadian convert rammed two soldiers in Quebec with his car, killing one.
Harper also cited recent attacks in France and Australia, saying such events show the danger of terror is not a future possibility but current and imminent.
To make recruitment more difficult, the legislation would give the courts authority to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet.
It is already illegal to counsel someone to commit specific terrorist attacks, but the bill would make it illegal to make a general call for attacks in Canada.
The government said, however, that the bill would not ban what it called the “glorification of terrorism” - praising those who commit acts of terror - only those who urge the acts be replicated.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association called the bill unsound and counterproductive.
“Criminalizing people’s words and thoughts is misguided and won’t make Canadians any safer. We will be less free, less democratic and less likely to know who to keep an eye on,” said policy director Michael Vonn.
Among other measures, the bill would make it easier for authorities to prevent Canadians from traveling abroad to join extremist groups such as Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Police would be able to detain suspects for up to seven days without charge instead of the current three.
It also allows for limiting the movement of individuals considered suspect without actually detaining them.
Responding to critics, Harper said security and police agencies would still need judicial approval for preventive arrests or to disrupt potential attacks.
“Canadians understand their freedom and their security go often hand in hand. They expect us to do both; we are doing both,” he said. “We do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians you somehow take away their liberties.”
Thomas Mulcair, leader of the opposition New Democrats, called on the government to ensure that the security agencies had enough funding, saying cutbacks had hampered their ability to carry out their existing mandates.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer, Leah Schnurr and Mike De Souza in Ottawa; editing by Peter Galloway and Dan Grebler