Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Harper government to give new powers to CSIS to counter terrorism

On Friday, the federal Canadian Conservative government of Stephen Harper introduced legislation giving new powers to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service along with a number of other measures designed to counter terrorist threats.
The new bill C-51 is only 62 pages long but contains new and extensive powers to detain suspects on less evidence and also to allow CSIS to interfere both with suspects' travel plans and also finances. The entire bill can be read here. The new powers allow law enforcement agencies to arrest a person if they merely think a terrorist act "may be carried out" instead of the requirement now that they think that such an act "will be carried out". The period of preventive detention of an arrested suspect is extended from three days to seven. Reduced evidence is also a factor in changes for retaining suspects on the basis of a terrorism peace bond. Now, the bond can be obtained only if the police think the suspect "will commit" a terrorism offence but under the new law, they need only believe the person "may commit" a terrorism offence. The new peace bond requires the person to surrender their passport. The bill also requires judges to consider imposing further conditions such as electronic monitoring or a ban on leaving the country. All these restrictions can be imposed even though the suspect is never charged or found guilty of any crime. These provisions give enormous power to authorities based only upon what they think you may do.

 While at present it is illegal to promote a specific terrorist offence, the new bill bans promotion or international advocacy of terrorism in general and allows for a maximum prison sentence of five years for doing so. A CBC article notes: "Officials were careful to note that the bill doesn't criminalize the glorification of terrorism, noting the difficulty in balancing freedom of speech with the desire to keep people from encouraging terrorist activity. " ​ I guess you could say: "The Islamic State is the greatest example of pure Islamic thought that the world has ever seen. No other version of Islam comes close to fully implementing the commands of Allah". Just do not add that you should join the group and wage jihad as that would be promoting terrorism, since the Islamic State is classified as a terrorist entity. What such legislation does is to ensure that radicals hide their discussions and planning even more. This law will probably be used not just against Islamic radicals. It will be helpful in confronting radical environmentalists or aboriginal activists.

 CSIS is given new powers to disrupt activities it considers terrorist, including Twitter accounts and radical websites, not only in Canada but abroad as well. Some of this disruptive activity might be illegal surely and create problems in foreign relations. The CSIS could also "counter-message" by challenging messages posted on radical sites. This sort of activity is sure to be noticed by jihadists and become an object of ridicule. The disruption could include interfering with travel plans, financial transactions, or even intercepting goods. However a court order would be needed if these actions interfered with the legal rights of a subject, if the subject were a Canadian or permanent resident. If the suspect were a non-Canadian and outside of Canada, a legal analysis of the situation would be required. "Disruption" is not even defined in the legislation. Examples given include interruption of a phone call between subjects. Surely, this type of action would clue suspects in to the fact they were under surveillance. CSIS might also contact family and friends to attempt to have them dissuade the suspect from taking part in any terrorist acts. This would alert the suspect that they were under investigation and no doubt would cause them to hide any plans from family and friends.

In the past, CSIS has disrupted activities by infiltrating them often using tactics that are debatable and even involved taxpayers funding radical groups: From 1988 to 1994, CSIS mole Grant Bristow infiltrated the Canadian white-supremacist movement. When the story became public knowledge, the press aired concerns that he had not only been one of the founders of the Heritage Front group, but that he had also channeled CSIS funding to the group.[28] Officials could apply to a court to "seize terrorist propaganda" or force a website to remove certain materials that would promote acts of terrorism against Canadians. This is an expansion of existing powers that allow the removal of hate propaganda or child pornography. The new bill would also expand the Canadian no-fly list to allow authorities to ban anyone from flying when they believe that the suspect might be traveling to engage in terrorism. There is an appeal process to be defined. These travel restrictions may lead prospective terrorists to decide that it makes more sense to stay at home and act against soft targets in Canada rather than trying to join a jihad against Assad in Syria for example.

 The opposition Liberal Party appears ready to support the bill. The safety critic Wayne Easter said that Liberals had voted for past anti-terrorism legislation and will support new measures unless they find a "poison pill" in the new bill. Easter said: “If they are reasonable in what they are presenting on the expansion of this legislation, we are reasonable people. If the government is sensible about it, and trying to fight terrorism rather than playing politics, then we will be supportive.” The Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, said he would wait until he had read the bill carefully before he would comment. The Liberals and the official opposition the NDP both opposed the Conservative sponsored mission against the Islamic State in Iraq. The Liberals wanted a more humanitarian-focused mission. However, the Liberals themselves sponsored anti-terror legislation after 9/11 and supported Conservative measures while in opposition. Easter however is pressing for a strong oversight mechanism as the other four members of the "Five Eyes" group have. The five cooperating intelligence services are the US, UK, Australian and New Zealand along with Canada.

 The group is known for circumventing each others domestic laws by the manner in which they share information: Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on domestic spying. So the US can spy on Canadian citizens in Canada and share the information since it might be illegal for Canadians to do it. Canada has a specialized agency for spying CSEC, Communications Security Establishment Canada, that does what NSA does in the US. For some reason the last "C" has now been dropped. The CSE is right next door to the CSIS in the most expensive government building ever erected in Canada: CSEC’s budget has doubled in just the last 10 years. We now spend $350 million in taxpayer dollars every single year on CSEC. Taxpayers are also on the hook for over $4 billion to build and operate a new headquarters for CSEC which the CBC has called a “spy palace” and “the most expensive government building ever built.”

Reaction by the foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, of the official opposition New Democratic Party, was to stress the need for oversight. He agreed with the Conservatives that terrorism was a real threat but that there should be a stronger oversight body along with the increased powers for CSIS: “If you’re expanding (security agencies’) powers, you need commensurate oversight. This government isn't taking present oversight obligations seriously.”

Former Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh perhaps sums up the situation facing the NDP in this remark from his blog: The most muted response from the NDP's Mulcair to the newly unveiled legislation showed the NDP had realised that its position on our Iraq mission was not beneficial to its political fortunes. Mulcair did not wax eloquent about liberties any more. His emphasis was on defending Canadians' safety which needed to be enhanced without curtailing our liberties, he said. Paul Dewar of the NDP focussed mainly on lack of robust oversight and more resources. Thomas Mulcair is the leader of the New Democratic Party. While the NDP is supposedly on the left of the political spectrum in Canada there is nothing "left" about this response. Politicians are usually more concerned about votes than ideology. Canadians appear to fear the threat of terrorism much more than the increasing trend towards more police and spying power. They are quite happy to hand over funds for battling the Islamic State in Iraq and to build a mansion for Canada's spies while restricting many of our freedoms. The politics of fear is trending.

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