OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada vowed on Friday to toughen laws against terrorism in ways that critics say may curtail civil liberties as a country that prides itself on its openness mourned the second soldier this week killed by homegrown radicals.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined a crowd at the National War Memorial in Ottawa to mark the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot by a troubled and drug-addicted convert to Islam on Wednesday while on ceremonial guard at the memorial in the center of the country’s capital.
Behind the somber scenes, Harper and his Conservative colleagues scrambled to beef up anti-terrorism legislation that was already in the works before the attacks. An opinion poll showed a majority of Canadians lacked confidence in their security services’ ability to deter homegrown threats.
Investigators said there was no apparent link between the two attackers - one killed a soldier in Quebec and the other killed Cirillo in Ottawa, before they themselves were shot dead - but Canadians worried about the parallels between them.
Police said both were Canadian citizens who had been radicalized, a term the government uses to refer to Canadians who become supporters of militant groups such Islamic State.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government would act swiftly to toughen security laws and would go beyond the terms of a bill to strengthen the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency that was already being drafted before this week’s incidents.
“We’re looking ... to see if there is a way in fact to improve or build on those elements of the Criminal Code that allow for pre-emptive action, specifically in the area of terrorism,” MacKay told reporters in Brampton, Ontario.
A government source said legislation to be introduced next week on the spy agency would be largely unchanged from the bill that was being prepared before Wednesday’s Ottawa attack. The government will put forward more measures later, the source said, and they will include wider powers to address security threats in the wake of the attacks.
The body of Cirillo began the journey to his hometown on Friday, in a last ride along the nation’s “Highway of Heroes.” Thousands lined portions of the 500-kilometer (300-mile) route and flocked to overpasses, hanging flags as a sign of respect.
Police believe that the Ottawa gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, acted alone and independently of Martin Rouleau, 25, who on Monday drove over two soldiers in Quebec, killing one of them, Patrice Vincent, a 53-year-old warrant officer.
The back-to-back attacks on uniformed soldiers on Canadian soil has sparked a national debate over the power to counter threats while holding on to some civil liberties.
“I don’t believe that when it comes to enforcement that we should just turn a blank checkbook over to our security services,” said Norman Boxall, an Ottawa lawyer, who predicted the new CSIS measures would be challenged in court.
In Istanbul, packets of an unidentified yellow powder were sent to five western consulates on Friday, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Belgium, officials said. It was not immediately clear what the powder was and results of tests on them were due on Monday. Sixteen people were hospitalized as a precaution.
An opinion poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that some 55 percent of Canadians were not confident in the ability of police to thwart attacks by homegrown radicals.
Some 66 percent of the 1,491 people polled online Oct. 21-23 said they would prefer authorities to focus on securing the nation’s borders and dealing with homegrown threats, rather than prioritizing foreign military intervention or foreign aid.
The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
Fears of a backlash against Muslims also grew as a mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta, was vandalized. Windows were smashed and someone wrote “go home” and “Canada” on the building in red paint. The town is home to the military base from which Canada sent six fighter jets to take part in air strikes against Islamic State militants.
“This shows how fragile the situation can be if it is not properly managed,” Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of Muslims Against Violence, said of the Cold Lake vandalism.
Soharwardy led a memorial service for the dead soldiers in a
packed makeshift prayer hall in Calgary, where he urged the Muslim community to report any harassment to police.
“We cannot take abuse because of one or two people who committed these crimes. We condemn them more than anybody.”
Canada’s left-leaning opposition New Democrats have already begun to raise concerns about the loss of civil liberties that may come hand-in-hand with tougher police powers.
Muslim groups in particular urged against too much power being given to security and intelligence forces.
“I think those amendments have to be balanced,” said Aasim Rashid, director of religion for the B.C. Muslim Association. “We should not go overboard on this, to the point where we’re just targeting and apprehending individuals that we don’t need to.”
Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Euan Rocha in Brampton, Ontario; Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Howard Goller and Peter Galloway