This government seeks additional, intrusive methods to combat terrorism. More than 2/3 of Canadians were in agreement that Canada needed tougher legislation after the attack on Parliament and the deaths of two Canadian forces soldiers in fall of last year; that number has dropped, but a bare majority of Canadians are still in agreement with the Harper government now approaching a decade in power.
The reality is that the government already has very powerful tools, in place since the infamous attacks of September 11, 2001. The current immigration act (IRPA) made a number of changes including making a permanent resident or foreign national inadmissible on the grounds of security (including engaging in terrorism; being a danger to the security of Canada; engaging in acts of violence that would or might endanger the lives or safety of persons in Canada; or member of an organization that engages, has engaged, or will engage in those acts). IRPA is enforcement legislation that has impressive teeth.
Politicians and others who claim we need stronger legislation, and who claim we fight the terrorist threat behind are being disingenuous at best. But why are we exaggerating the terrorist threat and minimizing the ability to combat same?
Consider the case of Jahanzeb Malik. Malik is a Permanent Resident of Canada living in Toronto who has being detained since his arrest and will be deported back to Pakistan under our tough immigration laws because there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that he planned to commit terrorist activities here. That's a standard far lower than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt and lower even than the civil standard of balance of probabilities. Put simply, if the government believes it is happening or might happen, that’s good enough. No criminal charges and no trial. There is no appeal for a negative decision.
While this move on the government`s part has startled and confused many (including his lawyers who are understandably upset), these powers have been in place since 2002.
Bill C-51, the Anti Terrorism Act, lowers the threshold for arrest, criminalizes promoting terrorism, allows CSIS additional powers to disrupt activities, allows for the removal of terrorist material from the internet, and expands the no fly list. This legislation is unnecessary - Canada has been very successful over the last decade in dealing with home grown terrorist threats like Mohmin Khwaja, Chiheb Esseghaier, and Raed Jaser. It is necessary, however, from a political perspective as it allows this government to portray itself as being tough on terrorists and appease its base. Bill C-51 is merely Harper playing to the gallery.
The reality belies the political messaging. Let’s remember to keep things in perspective. Since 2001, Muslim terrorism has claimed 33 lives in the United States. Compare that to 180,000 murders in the same time frame. Or, consider the fact that toddlers have killed more people in the US last year than "Islamist" terrorists. Simply put, and despite the fear mongering by this government, there is no overwhelming and encompassing terrorist threat in Canada (certainly it is not one that requires additional legislative tools).
As a result of the existing laws, in the last ten years Canada's law enforcement agencies including the Canada Border Services Agency have successfully disrupted terrorist activities and has incarcerated and deported terrorists as well as criminals simpliciter. We have the appropriate tools to detect, strip permanent residents and foreign nationals of their status and physically remove them from this community (or monitor them for years under security certificates). Where we can’t, where they are citizens, we are taking away their passports and preventing their travel (and presumably shadowing them here). There’s even a new citizenship law which purports to strip dual nationals of their citizenship.
I always worry when governments exaggerate threats and minimize their enforcement and invasive powers they have to combat them. We are giving up essential liberties and not even securing even a little, temporary safety.