CSIS powers beefed up under new bill tabled by Steven Blaney

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has tabled Bill C-44, dubbed the protection of Canada from terrorists act, to expand the powers of Canada's spy agency.

Public safety minister says it's time to stop 'under-reacting to the great threats against us'

Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney was in question period Monday in the House of Commons and later tabled legislation to change the CSIS Act. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has tabled a bill in the House of Commons today to expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada's spy agency.

Bill C-44, dubbed the protection of Canada from terrorists act, was expected to be introduced last week before a gunman launched an attack in the capital.

"This bill is bringing clarity into the CSIS Act while protecting individual rights," Blaney told reporters in Ottawa after he tabled the bill on Monday.

The proposed legislation amends the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, as well as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act and makes a consequential amendment to the Access to Information Act.

Bill C-44, as CBC News reported earlier, amends the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to:

  • Give CSIS more powers of surveillance "to more effectively investigate threats to the security of Canada."

  • Give Canada's spy agency explicit authority to operate "within or outside Canada." This would allow the agency to share information on suspected Canadian terrorists abroad with members of the so-called "Five Eyes" group of countries — namely the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
  • Give "greater protection" to confidential sources without having to identify them in court proceedings, even to the judge.

The proposed bill would also:

  • Allow for some exceptions, including disclosure of informants' identities "if the human source and the [CSIS] director consent to the disclosure of that information." The bill lays out the process by which a judge could order that an exception be made.
  • Make it an offence to divulge any information that would lead to the disclosure of the identity of a CSIS employee "who was, is or is likely to become engaged in covert operational activities."

More anti-terrorism measures coming

Today's proposed legislation has not been altered following Wednesday's assault on the National War Memorial and Parliament's Centre Block, CBC News has learned.

The ultimate goal of the bill is to give authorities greater power to deal with some of the Canadians already on a watch list who are considered most dangerous, sources say.

The Opposition New Democrats said they would take the time needed to study the bill but expressed some preliminary concerns around the effect the changes could have on "judicial proceedings."

"We are also interested in what steps the government will be taking to partner with communities to combat radicalization — something that we have been asking for action on for weeks," said Randall Garrison, NDP public safety critic, in a written statement to CBC News following the tabling of the bill.

Wayne Easter, the public safety and national security critic for the Liberals, said the government hasn't made the case for why Canada's spy agency needs more powers.

"The government has an obligation to explain how existing laws are being used or not used," Easter told CBC News in a telephone interview Monday.

Easter, who has been pushing for stronger parliamentary oversight of Canada's intelligence agencies, said he is wary of what provisions a second anti-terror bill might contain. 

'We will not overreact. But it is also time that we stop under-reacting to the great threats against us.—Steven Blaney, public safety minister

Blaney told the Commons on Monday that it is important for new public safety legislation not to be an overreaction to events such as the attacks in Ottawa and Quebec last week, but it is equally important for the Canadian government not to under-react to threats.

"The first responsibility of the government is to keep Canadians safe.

"We will not overreact. But it is also time that we stop under-reacting to the great threats against us," Blaney said during question period on Monday.

In addition to today's CSIS bill, Blaney said the federal government will also introduce further anti-terrorism measures.

"Further reforms to protect Canadians from terrorism will be presented in a second forthcoming piece of legislation," Blaney said.

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