Commons committee calls for rollback of key C-51 anti-terror measures

MPs call for rollback of anti-terror measures

OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee is calling for repeal of a provision that allows Canada’s spy agency to violate constitutional rights, with a judge’s permission, in the name of disrupting national security threats.

In a report Tuesday, the Liberal-dominated public safety committee also recommended requiring a judge’s approval for any Canadian Security Intelligence Service disruption operations that fall short of breaching constitutional guarantees, but nevertheless break the law.

Currently, CSIS efforts to derail plots could involve taking down an extremist’s website, cancelling airline tickets, disabling a vehicle — or even more drastic actions. 

In addition, the MPs said the scope of activities subject to recently enacted information-sharing powers should be narrowed to make them consistent with other national security legislation.

Many of the 41 recommendations put flesh on the bones of Liberal promises to fix “problematic elements” of Conservative anti-terrorism legislation known as C-51.

Conservative MPs on the committee issued a dissenting report saying the legislation should be maintained, while New Democrats tabled a supplementary opinion suggesting the government should go further by scrapping C-51.

“Close to two years after being elected, the Liberals still haven’t adopted legislative measures to repeal C-51, the dangerous and ineffective law adopted rashly by the former Conservative government,” said Matthew Dube, the NDP public safety critic.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May warned the Liberals would be building on a “deeply flawed foundation” unless they repeal much of the previous government’s legislation.

Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement steadfastly disagreed, saying the Liberals “chose to focus on ways to handcuff our security services and take away necessary powers.”

The majority report maintains there need be no tradeoff between national security and the rights of Canadians, committee chairman Rob Oliphant told a news conference.

“They both may be fully realized, and in fact can only be fully realized, if they’re both fully respected.”

The Trudeau government has committed to ensuring all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to preserving legitimate protest and advocacy and to defining terrorist propaganda more clearly.  

It has also pledged that appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list will be subject to mandatory review.

Seven majority recommendations from the MPs would bolster protections for people confronted with security barriers at the airport.

The Liberals have already taken legislative steps to create a special committee of parliamentarians to scrutinize security and intelligence activities. The report recommends going much further by bolstering the family of watchdogs that keeps an eye on CSIS, the RCMP and the cyberspies of the Communications Security Establishment.

It calls for a new, independent review body for the Canada Border Services Agency, gateways between all national security review bodies to allow information exchange and joint investigations, as well as more funding for these watchdogs.

The plan also includes a new national security review office for intelligence bodies that have no dedicated watchdog — an office that would also co-ordinate review functions across government.

The model closely mirrors the oversight and review recommendations of the federal commission that investigated the overseas torture of Canadian Maher Arar.

Other notable recommendations from the MPs urge the government to:

— Use preventive detention of suspects in only exceptional circumstances;

— Review ministerial directives concerning torture to ensure they are consistent with international law;

— Increase funding for long-term research and the development of professional expertise to address new and evolving threats; and

— Develop a community-based strategy for the prevention of radicalization to violence.

The report contains a number of very good recommendations the government ought to take seriously, said Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. But he too said the government could go even further.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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