Commons committee calls for rollback of key C-51 anti-terror measures

A House of Commons committee is calling for repeal of a provision that allows Canada's spy agency to violate constitutional rights in the name of disrupting threats.

Liberal dominated committee want judges to approve CSIS actions that break Canadian laws

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale is facing calls from a parliamentary committee to rollback elements of Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act that violate Canadian's rights under the constitution. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A House of Commons committee is calling for repeal of a provision that allows Canada's spy agency to violate constitutional rights in the name of disrupting threats.

In a report Tuesday, the Liberal-dominated public safety committee also recommended requiring a judge's approval for any Canadian Security Intelligence Service disruption operations that break Canadian law.

In addition, the MPs said the scope of activities subject to recently enacted information-sharing powers should be narrowed to make them consistent with other national security legislation.

Many of the 41 recommendations put flesh on the bones of Liberal promises to fix "problematic elements" of Conservative anti-terrorism legislation known as C-51.

Conservative MPs on the committee issued a dissenting report saying the legislation should be maintained, while New Democrats tabled a supplementary opinion suggesting the government to go further by repealing entire sections of C-51.

Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement said Tuesday the Liberals "chose to focus on ways to handcuff our security services and take away necessary powers."

The majority report maintains there need be no tradeoff between national security and the rights of Canadians, committee chairman Rob Oliphant told a news conference. "They both may be fully realized, and in fact can only be fully realized, if they're both fully respected."

The Trudeau government has committed to ensuring all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to preserving legitimate protest and advocacy and to defining terrorist propaganda more clearly.

It has also pledged that appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list will be subject to mandatory review.

The recommendations

Seven majority recommendations from the MPs would bolster protections for people confronted with security barriers at the airport.

The Liberals have already taken legislative steps to create a special committee of parliamentarians to scrutinize security and intelligence activities. The report recommends going much further by bolstering the family of watchdogs that keeps an eye on CSIS, the RCMP and the cyberspies of the Communications Security Establishment.

It calls for a new, independent review body for the Canada Border Services Agency, gateways between all national security review bodies to allow information exchange and joint investigations, as well as more funding for these watchdogs.

The plan also includes a new national security review office for intelligence bodies that have no dedicated watchdog — an office that would also co-ordinate review functions across government.

The overall model closely mirrors the oversight and review recommendations of the federal commission that investigated the overseas torture of Canadian Maher Arar.

Other notable recommendations from the MPs urge the government to:

  • Review ministerial directives concerning torture to ensure they are consistent with international law;
  • Increase funding for long-term research and the development of professional expertise to address new and evolving threats.