Canada election 2015: Tories propose ban on travel to terrorist hotspots

Stephen Harper says he would introduce legislation to make it a crime for Canadians to travel to parts of the world under the control of extremist groups and told a Quebec City crowd on Sunday that the Conservatives are the only party that takes security seriously.

Stephen Harper vows to outlaw travel to 'places that are ground zero for terrorist activity'

Stephen Harper showed a map of ISIS-controlled zones during his campaign stop in Ottawa and said parts of Syria and Iraq would likely be among the places he would forbid Canadians to travel to if re-elected. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Sunday if re-elected he would introduce legislation that would make it a criminal offence for Canadians to travel to parts of the world under the control of extremist groups. 

"A re-elected Conservative government will designate travel to places that are ground zero for terrorist activity a criminal offence," Harper said Sunday during a security-themed campaign stop in the Ottawa riding of West-Nepean, during which he also faced renewed questions about his role in the Mike Duffy scandal

"We are talking about the most dangerous places on earth, where governance is nonexistent and violence is widespread and brutal." .

The proposed law would apply to certain "declared areas" Harper said, though he did not name any specific locations. A document provided to the media by the party said parts of Syria and Iraq would "likely" be among the first areas to be subject to the travel ban. 

Similar laws exist in Australia, which has designated parts of Iraq and Syria as no-travel zones.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair questioned the timing of Harper's new policy announcement, given that the Conservative government just passed a host of new security measures in June as part of Bill C-51. 

"He had his opportunity to do it before," Mulcair said at a campaign stop in Vancouver. "This is the type of thing that Mr. Harper likes to come up with in the middle of a campaign, and there's little evidence to show that this will have a concrete effect."  

Mulcair also said the Tories have ignored much better, proven ways to fight terrorism, such as combating the radicalization of youth in Canada. Nevertheless, the NDP would support measures to reduce terrorism, he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Harper's announcement is an attempt to distract from the sad state of the Canadian economy.

"He doesn't want to talk about the failure of his economic plan," Trudeau said in response to questions from reporters at a campaign stop in Ottawa. He called the Tory hype over travel to designated areas "not something that is a concern for me."

'Not a human right'

Harper indicated exceptions might be made for some individuals — such as aid workers, diplomats and journalists — but maintained there are "few legitimate reasons" to travel to such parts of the world.

Travel to such places is "not a human right," Harper said, responding to a question about the proposed legislation's implications on civil liberties.  

Harper touted the Conservatives' record on security while warning about the threat represented by ISIS and other extremist groups, in particular from homegrown extremists who return to Canada after training abroad.

Harper and his wife, Laureen, flew from Ottawa to Quebec City on Sunday aboard the Conservatives' newly unveiled campaign jet. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
He also reiterated his oft-heard criticism of the Liberals and the NDP, alleging both were soft on extremism.  

"There's no more importance than ensuring the safety of Canadians. Our opponents just do not get that," he said. 

Later, at a rally in Quebec City, the Conservative leader said his is the only party that takes security issues seriously.

Harper was scheduled to end the day in Toronto, revving up for a week of crisscrossing the country.

Duffy trial resumes 

During his campaign stops Sunday, Harper also faced questions about his role in the Duffy scandal. The disgraced former Conservative senator is scheduled to be back in court this week as a key witness, Nigel Wright, takes the stand. Wright is Harper's former chief of staff and has admitted he gave Duffy $90,000 to repay his disallowed housing and travel expenses.

Harper has long insisted that Wright acted on his own and did not say anything about the transaction to him or anyone else in his office. But he was asked Sunday about the trial — and in particular what Wright meant when he wrote in a February 2013 email that he'd been given a "good to go" from the prime minister.

"I did not know that Mr. Wright had made a payment to Mr. Duffy," Harper replied. "As soon as I learned that, I made that public. And Mr. Wright has been clear about that. This is the purpose of the process and those who are responsible and I'll let the court do its work."

And "good to go"? "The words you're quoting are not my words, they're somebody else's," he said.

With files from CBC's Hannah Thibedeau and The Canadian Press