Canada looks to be next in line for broadly-written, government-expanding “anti-terror” legislation. This new legislation was prompted by a couple of recent attacks on government employees. The first attack involved a man said to be “inspired by the Islamic State” who ran over two soldiers in a Quebec parking lot before being killed. The second attack struck a bit closer to home, when a gunman shot a soldier at the national war memorial before making his way into Parliament.
An attack on the government’s turf will always provoke a legislative reaction. One might think some security fixes at Parliament would be in the offing, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has much bigger plans.
Canada will introduce new anti-terror laws that will make it a crime to encourage terrorism against Canadians, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday in response to two recent attacks.
The laws will also allow anyone suspected of being involved in a terror plot to be detained without charge for up to seven days, and empower Canada’s spy agency to thwart attacks directly in a significant expansion of their powers.
If this sounds eerily close to the laws enacted after the 9/11 attacks, there’s a reason for that. For those with government expansion and broader spying powers on the mind, a scary, but ultimately ineffectual, attack on prime government property is an opportunity — not an isolated incident. Peter Watts (an “an awkward hybrid of biologist, science-fiction author, and [according to the US Department of Homeland Security] convicted felon/tewwowist”) sums up the birthing of this horrendous legislation beautifully at his No More Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons blog:
We had a shooting up here in Canada the other day. Like most things Canadian it was a modest, self-effacing affair, nothing that even a couple of losers from Columbine would write home about: a single death, a geriatric hero. A Prime Minister cowering in the closet, scribbling back-of-the-napkin notes on how best to exploit this unexpected opportunity.
He didn’t have to think very hard. Harper’s always seemed almost pathetically eager to turn Canada into a wannabe iteration of the US— think the dweeby eight-year-old, desperate to emulate his idolized older brother— and the Patriot Act has, I suspect, always been his Beacon on the Hill (or his Castle Anthrax grail-shaped beacon, depending on your cultural referents). So our beloved leader is once again trying to resurrect all those measures he couldn’t quite sneak into C-52, or C-10, or C-30— all those measures that no sane citizen would ever oppose, unless of course we chose to “stand with the child pornographers“. You know the list: lowered evidentiary standards. Increased powers of police surveillance. Increased powers of detention and “preventative arrest”. Increased data sharing with the US.
Basically all that stuff they were doing anyway with impunity, only now more of it will be legal.
Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will receive broadened powers. It will be allowed to directly perform “police work” rather than turning intelligence over to law enforcement agencies. It will also be able to disrupt Canadian citizens’ travel plans unannounced.
The new law will also allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s spy service, to directly approach terror suspects in order to disrupt their plans. CSIS is currently permitted only to collect intelligence and pass the information on to police.
The spy agency will now be able to cancel plane or other travel reservations made by Canadians suspected of being involved in terrorism. The new activities by CSIS will require approval by a judge. Police already have many of these powers that CSIS will acquire but the government wanted the spy agency to be able to act right away if they see a threat.
We’ve seen how well secret “no-fly” lists work here in the US. Once you’re on the list, you can’t get off it, barring an expensive lawsuit. We’ve also seen how well the US government’s “terrorist watchlist” works, what with 40% of those “watchlisted” having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” If this legislation passes (and seeing that Parliament is stocked with Harper supporters, there’s no reason to believe it won’t), Canadians can expect the same sort of secretive incompetence. Supposedly, citizens will be able to challenge their appearance on the “no fly” list, but given the wording used in the legislation, they may as well throw their written requests into the nearest wastebasket.
If the Minister does not make a decision in respect of the application within 90 days after the day on which the application is received, or within any further period that is agreed on by the Minister and the applicant, the Minister is deemed to have decided not to remove the applicant’s name from the list.
Not making a decision is one of the easiest things anyone can do. Not making a decision in a timely manner is even easier. The “administrative recourse” process effectively ends the minute it hits the Minister’s desk. To take someone off the list is to take a risk. To simply do nothing for 90 days is easier and safer.
Harper himself has been selling the bill to the public, tossing out statements no public should willingly get behind.
Under current law it is a crime to make a specific threat. The new law will make it a crime to call for a terror attack against Canadians generally. It includes any public threat including online.
“We cannot tolerate this any more than we tolerate people that make jokes about bomb threats at airports,” Harper said. “Anyone engaging in that kind of activity is going to face the full force of the law in the future.”
Wonderful. This is sort of zero-tolerance thinking that gets careless Twitter users arrested. “Joking” about non-specific threats will soon be indistinguishable from actually making terroristic threats — and subjects jokers to a possible five-year prison sentence.
New problems also arise for website owners.
If the court is satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the material is available to the public and is terrorist propaganda or computer data that makes terrorist propaganda available, it may order the computer system’s custodian to delete the material.
So, linking to “terrorist propaganda” is illegal, which would make retweeting anything terrorist-related a potentially criminal act. And the legislation provides no safeguard for websites and platforms that host or transmit third-party content. Instead of addressing the users who post this content, the government is looking to just pin it on whoever’s URL happens to be at the top of the webpage.
As for the CSIS, the nation’s spy service will enjoy expanded powers to spy on both foreigners and domestic citizens alike. The legislation suggests the spy agency’s domestic powers will be more limited inside Canada…
The Service shall not take measures to reduce a threat to the security of Canada if those measures will contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or will be contrary to other Canadian law…
before going on to strip away most of these protections by the end of the sentence:
…unless the Service is authorized to take them by a warrant issued under section 21.1.
Section 21.1 is being heavily amended as well and ties warrant application rejection/approval to :
…the facts relied on to justify the belief on reasonable grounds that the warrant continues to be required to enable the Service to take the measures specified in it to reduce a threat to the security of Canada…
Goodbye, probable cause and say hello to national security exceptions and a lowered bar of “reasonable grounds.” It’s the PATRIOT Act all over again. Only the flag in “flag-waving” has changed. It’s not that legislators actively wish for attacks on their constituents and fellow government employees. It’s just that they’re so quick to leverage attacks into expanded government power.