15 July 2015
Last week, the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence released an interim report titled Countering the Terrorist Threat in Canada. While Senate reports are usually consensus-based, all Liberal members of the committee — Senators Joseph Day, Colin Kenny and I — dissented and Senate Liberals support our decision.
There is no doubt that there are serious terrorist threats facing Canadians, including from those who go abroad to fight for and return from groups like the Islamic State. We also heard testimony that the preponderance of threats come from extreme right-wing racist groups from within the country.
We need to ask ourselves how we can deal with these threats in a balanced, thoughtful manner, without hyper-partisan rhetoric and with an understanding that we are all in this together. I chose to dissent from the report because of certain recommendations that were redundant, some that were simply bad ideas, and others that were not included in the report but ought to have been.
One recommendation encourages the government to criminalize the “glorification of terrorism,” a suggestion that the recently enacted Bill C-51 already covers by criminalizing the “advocacy” and “promotion” of terrorism. The Conservative ministers of justice and public safety even told our committee they avoided pursuing the term “glorification of terrorism” in their legislation because it would surely fail a Charter challenge.
The report also suggests that it be a criminal offence to be a part of a terrorist group. But this, too, is redundant. The courts have already decided that to commit, aid, or abet an act of terrorism is a criminal offence. Short of allowing us to catch would-be terrorists who happen to be carrying membership cards, it is difficult to understand what this recommended measure might add.
Criticism of the report has also rightfully focused on a recommendation that “the federal government investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of Imams in Canada.” This is a bad idea because it unfairly stigmatizes an entire religion. It also foolishly puts the government in the business of deciding which religious ideas and preachers it deems suitable. This is hardly a suggestion worthy of a Senate committee report.
If what the report contains is problematic, what is left out is every bit as worrying.
We heard from police, intelligence and security officials that their budgets were strained, even as they transferred scarce resources from other major criminal investigations to the fight against terrorism. We also heard about the need for community policing and outreach programs in the “pre-criminal” space; the need for additional research to understand the various pathways to radicalization; and the requirement for rigorous review and oversight mechanisms for the 17 intelligence and enforcement agencies that deal with national security.
These are essential measures if we’re going to deal effectively with this issue, but not one of them is discussed in any serious way in the report.
Clearly, it is important that Canadians understand that we face risks from terrorist threats and that those risks are evolving and changing. However, poorly considered ideas can create division that has adverse effects in our society. This can also make it harder for law enforcement agencies to do their job because the communities they work with may feel alienated and targeted. What we need now, more than anything, are balanced ideas, a smart approach to the threats facing Canada, and for all Canadians to work together.
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star
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