Anti-terrorism powers: What's in the legislation?

The Canadian government wants to lower the threshold of proof for arresting someone suspected of being involved in a terrorist act, and to let CSIS "disrupt" conversations and activities.

Legislation introduced Friday gives CSIS new powers as security officials grapple with new threats

The federal government has introduced legislation to expand powers for Canada's police and intelligence agencies to combat domestic extremism and prevent potential terrorist attacks. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's government on Friday introduced its new anti-terror legislation, a sweeping range of measures that would allow suspects to be detained based on less evidence and let CSIS actively interfere with suspects' travel plans and finances.

The new bill, C-51, is only 62 pages long but contains a variety of increased powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). 

Here's a look at key elements of the bill:

1. Lower the threshold for arrest

The new measures would let law enforcement agencies arrest somebody if they think a terrorist act "may be carried out," instead of the current standard of "will be carried out." It would also increase the period of preventive detention from three days to seven.

Another measure would provide for a terrorism peace bond that would detain someone if the police believe that person "may commit" a terrorism offence. The current provision allows for a peace bond on someone the police think "will commit" a terrorism offence.

A peace bond under the new measures would require the person to surrender his or her passport and would apply for five years if that person had been previously convicted of a terrorism offence.

The bill also includes a requirement for judges to consider imposing conditions on the person, including passport surrender, electronic monitoring or a ban on leaving the jurisdiction.

2. Criminalize promoting terrorism

Right now, it's illegal to counsel or actively encourage someone to commit a specific terrorism offence. Bill C-51 would broaden that to ban the promotion of terrorism or intentional advocacy of it. The bill threatens a maximum sentence of five years in prison. 

Officials were careful to note that the bill doesn't criminalize the glorification of terrorism, noting the difficulty in balancing freedom of speech with the desire to keep people from encouraging terrorist activity.  ​

3. Allow CSIS to 'counter-message' or 'disrupt' activities

The bill would also give CSIS the ability to disrupt suspected terror activity, including radical websites and Twitter accounts, as well as "counter-message." The power applies inside and outside of Canada.

That means security officials could go online to challenge the online communications sent to those suspected of becoming radicalized. It also includes interfering with travel plans and financial transactions or intercepting goods, according to background documents.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney is responsible for CSIS and the RCMP. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
If there were a threat to the subject’s legal rights, a court order would be needed, if it involves a Canadian or permanent resident. For non-Canadians outside the country, officials said it would depend on a legal analysis of the situation.

One example of disruption would be to interrupt a phone call between subjects. It could also mean CSIS could involve a subject's family and friends in deterring that person from participating in terrorism and inform the RCMP of its suspicions. However, there is no definition of "to disrupt" in the legislation, leaving it open to interpretation.

The bill also carries a requirement for the Security Intelligence Review Committee, or SIRC, which has oversight of CSIS, to report every year on disruption activities.

4. Remove terrorist material from the internet

The "seizure of terrorist propaganda" measure would let officials apply to a court to order the seizure, or force a website to remove, "any materials that promote or encourage acts of terrorism against Canadians in general, or the commission of a specific attack against Canadians," according to background material provided to journalists.

This would expand a measure that currently allows a court to order the removal of child pornography and hate propaganda. However, the information provided at the background briefing did not say specifically which officials would be able to apply for the order — whether it would be CSIS, police or other officials.

The consent of the attorney general would be necessary for the court to consider the request.

5. Allow for court proceedings to be sealed

Currently, Division 9 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allows the government to ask the court to protect classified information in immigration proceedings to protect investigation techniques and witnesses. But that application comes at the end of a proceeding. The measure would allow the government to ask for proceedings to be sealed at any point in the process.

6. Expand the no-fly list

The bill would allow the government to add to the no-fly list anyone it believes might be travelling to engage in terrorism, and it would define the appeal process.

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