Mounties on terror patrol: Canada intel agency to get expanded anti-terror powers

Reuters/Chris Wattie
Canada’s main intelligence agency will reportedly get more powers to target potential terror attacks, according to largest local network CBC. The new security legislation, which has already gained a dubious public response, is to be revealed on Friday.

Under the new law to be presented in parliament on Friday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will be given powers to act on its own to prevent potential attacks, as currently it only gathers information, analyzes it and then passes to police for action, CBC reported on Thursday.

The legislation is expected to lift current restrictions of the activities of CSIS, a civilian agency. The law will criminalize the promotion of terrorism; ease tracking and monitoring suspects, alongside the right to prevent jihadist suspects from boarding planes and to intercept shipments of equipment and material that could be used in an attack. It will also authorize CSIS to share private information and block financial transactions, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper.

However, CSIS would need to get a judicial warrant first. The power to arrest or detain people would reside with the police.

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“The goal is for CSIS to move from an intelligence-gathering service to an agency that will have the power to disrupt or diminish potential terrorist threats under appropriate judicial oversight,” CBC News quoted an unnamed source as saying.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday, “We are not under any illusion of the evolving multiple threats that we face. It's difficult to predict them all, but we must continually evolve and improve our tools to do everything we can in what are obviously dangerous situations for the Canadian public, situations that we are seeing more and more frequently all over the world,” according to CBC News.

Experts, including constitutional lawyers, have pointed out that security agencies “already have wide-ranging powers at their disposal” and that Canada's 2013 Anti-Terrorism Act is quite “sufficient” for now, Reuters reported.

“The Stephen Harper government is undermining our country’s already inadequate system. Just three years ago, the prime minister shut down the Office of the Inspector General, a watchdog given the task of ensuring CSIS avoided dirty tricks,” Canadian Senator Colin Kenny wrote in the Vancouver Sun.

The government introduced a new anti-terrorism bill in October, after a “lone wolf” attack of the parliament by a Canadian citizen, who killed a soldier. It followed another fatal attack of a Canadian convert.

“There’s a real danger when we make laws in reaction to events with the assumption that those laws will help prevent tragedies from happening again,” Kent Roach, a professor at the University of Toronto and an expert in constitutional and terrorism law, told CBC News.

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“Sometimes these things can become wins for extremists and terrorists,” Scott Stewart, vice-president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, a US private intelligence and consulting firm, said, as cited the broadcaster. “They are trying to provoke further attacks and if the response reinforces their perspective on the state of the world, then it ends up helping their cause.”