OTTAWA–The federal government plans to try to revive the extraordinary anti-terror police powers of "investigative hearings" and "preventive arrest" as part of a series of major security initiatives.
The initiatives will also include legislation to replace the overly secretive "security certificate" regime used to deport terror suspects that was criticized in a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
The government also says it will expand the ability of Canada's spy agency – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – to do covert foreign intelligence gathering abroad.
The two police powers slated for revival were killed by the opposition parties in a parliamentary vote in February.
In an appearance yesterday before the House of Commons public safety committee, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day indicated he has drafted a bill to reinstate those powers.
The Bloc Québécois and the NDP opposed any extension of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act's sections that were automatically "sunsetted" in February, and both party critics said in interviews yesterday they continue to oppose the measures.
They say the Criminal Code has enough provisions to deal with terrorist conspiracies, without resorting to "investigative hearings" that compel testimony or "preventive arrests" that seek to detain or restrain terror suspects without charge.
Day didn't get his way so now he's trying again. The only useful part of his bill is the call for parliamentary oversight of Canada's security services. And, as for expanding CSIS' powers to spy overseas, CSIS director Jim Judd had this to say:
He said domestic intelligence operations are done under political oversight, court oversight, external review oversight, "whereas if you are engaged in foreign espionage outside of the country, chances are you are breaking someone's laws – not your own, but probably your host country."
Judd was blunt about CSIS' current efforts.
"To cut to the chase, in terms of conducting what is normally referred to as `human intelligence collection' overseas regarding the political, economic or other activities of foreign governments, we do not do that. Most of our allies do that and have been doing it for a long time."
Day's plan to expand CSIS' mandate – to give it the kind of powers now enjoyed by the CIA in the United States, or MI-6 in Britain – comes as a Senate committee is in the midst of studying the issue.
Is there a reason for the rush by Day to get his bill passed? What exactly does he have against studying the issue? And why is he trying to restore practices that have been rejected by parliament?
We must not allow Canada to become America Lite. Anyone who watched Frontline's Spying on the Home Front on PBS Tuesday nite (video online as well) should have felt chills running up their spine after being reminded once again about how abuses of executive authority in the name of "security" ought to be exposed and questioned at every turn.