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Canadian Counterterrorism Bill in the Works

The Canadian federal government currently believes that Canadians are vulnerable to a significant terrorist attack, due to legislative gaps that hinder and may even prevent federal agencies from sharing information about potential threats.

New Security Measures

New legislation is expected to be tabled later in January that will provide national security agencies with explicit authority to obtain and share information now subject to privacy limits. The legislation represents the centerpiece of a collection of wide-ranging security measures, set to be unveiled in upcoming weeks. These changes include:

  • Expanding privacy limitations governing information submitted in passport applications to allow it to be shared with national security agencies.
  • Authorizing information on the movement of controlled goods, such as automatic weapons and tracking devices and substances that can be used to make chemical weapons, to be shared with investigative agencies.
  • Simplifying the procedure for police to detain suspected extremists.
  • Developing a new strategy to help prevent young people from becoming radicalized.

These areas were identified in an extensive review, started after the separate attacks last October, perpetrated by Martin Couture-Rouleau, who killed a Canadian Forces member in a hit-and-run attack, and by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who stormed Parliament Hill and shot a Canadian Forces soldier in the back.

According to one official, “We’ve seen an attack with a car, and an attack with a gun. The concern is that we have significant gaps in our ability to track not just suspected terrorists, but material coming into the country that they can use in an attack.”

Government officials say the public would be shocked to know that, for example, Canada can share information about missing chemicals in a shipment with its international allies, but not with national agencies that could investigate what happened.

Changing Priorities

The federal government’s intentions have been hinted at for a while now, to the chagrin of civil rights experts, who are warning that expanding police powers of surveillance, detention and information sharing must, at the very least, be accompanied by increased oversight either by Parliament or an independent watchdog.

There is also concern that free speech and other constitutionally protected rights are being overridden in the push for greater national security. For example, in Britain, the government is proposing measures to allow authorities to match internet addresses to the specific device and the individuals using it.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that the attacks in Paris, in which 17 people died, are proof that “terrorists cannot be allowed safe space to communicate with each other. And the powers I believe we need, whether on communication data or on the content of those communications, I am very comfortable that those are absolutely right in a modern liberal democracy.”

It’s not clear how far Canada will go in that direction, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney have both mentioned that they will ensure police have what they need in the battle against homegrown extremists. According to Minister Blaney, “We are more dedicated than ever to track those individuals and enable those who are there to protect us – law enforcement, intelligence – to enable them with the tools that are needed.”

Often, police and CSIS agents find themselves shorthanded when trying to access information held by other Canadian departments. Ray Boisvert, president of I-Sec Integrated Strategies and a former assistant director of intelligence for CSIS pointed out that it routinely takes months of paperwork and intervention at the highest levels of CSIS and Foreign Affairs in order to complete an investigation. Boivert commented:

“Quite often the biggest success stories in intelligence work and actually solving crimes has been the ability to connect the dots. That’s why we need to be able to get at those bits of information. Ensure there are strict rules and controls, but ensure that somebody can reach into a database and check to see if there’s a match. And if they do, then at that point let them make a case for access to it.”

Another area of interest would be to prevent the next generation of fighters by working with mosques and others in the Muslim community to counter the jihadist message on social media, and to identify signs of radicalization and work with parents.

Summary

In the wake of terror attacks in France, the Canadian federal government has released a list of security measures to be discussed in Parliament in upcoming weeks.

CIPP Exam Preparation                                      

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Canada (CIPP/C) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Canadian government and legal system (I.A.a.)
  • Enforcement agencies and powers (I.A.c.)
  • Canadian privacy laws and practices – public sector (III.)
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