Preserving Our Freedoms

I have written a few times about the horrible attacks on Canada last fall and the deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo.  In a cruel twist of irony, the October 22nd attack on Parliament happened on a day that our government was planning to announce legislative changes to provide our intelligence gathering agency CSIS (the Canadian Security & Intelligence Service) with a new power to address the rising threat from global terrorism.  Historically, CSIS was only permitted to gather intelligence domestically and did not have authority to do international work.  Our legislative change to allow limited gathering of intelligence abroad stemmed from the fact that global terrorist movements, like ISIS, are increasingly attracting foreign recruits to fight overseas or even worse to engage in training to take back to their country for attacks.  We have seen that firsthand with radicalized Canadians leaving our country to join ISIS and others attacking in our own country.  The fact that an attack occurred on the day we were to announce this change shows that our moves to address these risks are important.

Our government has taken a very careful and deliberate approach to public safety and security over our time in office.   The Prime Minister has been very careful to ensure that we do not over-react to threats and curtail the civil liberties we enjoy as Canadians.  However, a government also has a critical duty not to under-react to these real threats as well.   In the last few years we have provided for the ability to deprive suspects of their passports so they cannot leave Canada to train or support terror abroad.  The change that allowed CSIS to track suspects abroad was granted because of the mobility of these movements and the risks they pose around the world.  We owed it to our citizens and allies to be sure Canada would not lose a suspect because they left the country or because the threat emanated from overseas.

Several days ago, the Prime Minister announced a series of new measures that are specifically designed to address new potential threats in a way that minimizes the impact on the rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.  The Criminal Code has only recently been updated with respect to many offences taking place online because the internet did not exist when the code was modernized years ago.  We added offences related to cyber-bullying and now have created offences that recognize that the radicalization and recruitment of potential attackers takes place online.  Promotion of terrorist acts will now be criminalized, as will be recruiting or training people to commit acts.

In the case of the killing of Warrant Office Vincent in Quebec, the police were aware of a potential threat from a radicalized young man in the province, but reported to be unsure whether he could be arrested.  We have also clarified the law to make it easier for law enforcement to detain a suspect they believe could cause harm to other Canadians.  Evidence is required of course, but we do not want the burden to be too high so as to potentially make it difficult to stop attacks before they happen.

The changes we have made over the last few years are in response to the sad reality that there are serious threats facing Canada that did not exist decades ago.  We are making sure that our changes are balanced and have a minimal impact on the civil society that is so much a part of our identity as Canadians.  For those old enough to remember the FLQ crisis in Quebec, you will recall that Pierre Trudeau brought in the War Measures Act and detained hundreds of people with no evidence because of a localized threat at that time.  We are not overreacting like that, but we have moved to ensure that security and law enforcement agencies have the ability to track potential threats in our communities and move to stop such threats before they lead to an attack.  This is a responsibility we have to the safe communities we all enjoy and to the freedoms that we all cherish as Canadians.

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