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‘It’s an issue of the times:’ anti-terrorism dominates House, Senate committees

By Rachel Aiello      
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Four House and Senate committees are studying what the federal government can do to prevent terrorism and protect Canadians, a “palpable” concern that MPs and Senators say is indicative of the government’s messaging, mass media coverage, and public fear. 

Parliament’s focus on terrorism began with the Senate National Security and Defence Committee on Oct. 20, two days before the attack on Parliament Hill. The outcome of the shooting and other events abroad has led the government to make terrorism a top public policy issue heading into the 2015 election. 

This focus is reflected in Parliament, with nearly every committee that has a relevant mandate hearing from experts in an attempt to understand various dimensions of terrorism, radicalization, and the rise of ISIS.

But while MPs agree that it’s an important topic, some are concerned that the rhetoric and focus is amplifying Canadians’ fears.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), his party’s public safety critic and former solicitor general in Jean Chétien’s government, told The Hill Times that although there is “no question” of the seriousness of the ISIL threat, whether it should be considered the most serious issue Parliament is facing right now is “debatable.”

“It’s an issue of the times,” Mr. Easter said. “But it comes from several avenues. One, the Prime Minister has overheated the terrorism fear. This has ramped up the government machinery… to look into this issue from a number of standpoints.”

There is also pressure from the public that leaders study the issue, he said, but part of this is based on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) emphasis and media reporting. 

“The two sort of become a self-serving destiny in that one adds to the other so you have the government itself ramping up the issue, that creates more media coverage on the issue,” he said. “Therefore the public itself says, ‘I want you folks to deal with this issue’ and so the pressure then comes from all sides, and so you have both the Senate and the House of Commons and any committee that can, to a certain extent, looking at some aspect of this issue.”

The politicking around terrorism expanded last week into the realm of individual rights as the debate over Canadian women wearing the niqab to citizenship ceremonies heated up between all three party leaders. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) made a lengthy speech in Toronto about individual rights and the Conservatives’ rhetoric toward Muslims, and the debate spilled into the House of Commons.

NDP MP Paul Dewar (Ottawa Center, Ont.), his party’s foreign affairs critic, told The Hill Times last week that he hopes the committees studying terrorism are able to remain focused on “some really important policy issues” and not let the “hot rhetoric” take away from the debate about Canada’s response to ISIL.

Conservative MP Dean Allison (Niagara West-Glanbrook, Ont.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee, told The Hill Times that the numerous studies are about understanding what’s going on and what more Canada can do, in terms of military and governance actions, as well as considering minority and religious freedom issues. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has been studying “Canada’s response to the violence, religious persecution and dislocation caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” since November. It is currently drafting its report and Mr. Allison said it aims to have recommendations tabled in the House by the end of April. 

The committee heard from members of the Iraqi Parliament, religious leaders, and Foreign Affairs Department experts. Mr. Allison said most of the witnesses said similar things about the “brutality of ISIL.”

One of the committee’s more controversial witnesses was Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a think tank whose slogan is “Fighting Islamism on behalf of Muslims.” Mr. Fatah suggested removing mosques’ charitable status and banning the burka in public.

Mr. Allison said that although he may not agree entirely with what he heard, it speaks to the complexity of the rise of ISIL and the diverse Muslim population in Canada that wants to have a voice in Canada’s approach. 

The committee anticipates the government will consider adopting its recommendations, likely to include more or sustained humanitarian aid, but they won’t require legislative changes to implement. 

The Senate National Defence and Security Committee has had to put on hold its study of “Security Threats Facing Canada” focusing on cyber espionage, threats to critical infrastructure, terrorist recruitment and financing, and terrorist operations and prosecutions, to study Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act. The study of the bill began March 9 and will continue the week of March 23. So far the committee has heard from department officials at CSIS, Public Safety Canada, and Citizenship and Immigration, as well as Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien. 

Before shifting gears to the legislation, the committee had heard from Islamic and Muslim societies, psychology professors, police forces focusing on extremist threats, as well as the mother of a radicalized man. 

Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell (Alberta), co-chair of the committee, classified the study in general as being about radicalization and home-grown terrorism. He said the Senate chose to study security threats based on the emerging issue and not the government’s direction. 

“The aim is to find out why it is that a Canadian would be radicalized, how that process would occur both in a way that would cause them to do a terrorist act in Canada or to travel abroad to participate in ISIS, or other terrorist enterprises, and then to determine ways to prevent that,” Sen. Mitchell told The Hill Times

Because the committee is studying Bill C-44 and will soon get Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015, once it passes the House, it likely won’t have time to hear from additional witnesses on the security threats study. But the committee says it will still report back on its findings before the end of June. 

“The concern here is palpable, no doubt about it, and we have to deal with it,” said Sen. Mitchell. 

The House Public Safety Committee, with its study of Bill C-51, the government’s most controversial bill this sitting, has received the most attention. The bill will increase the surveillance and disruption powers of CSIS, and makes changes to Canada’s no-fly list, among other measures. Debate over the length of the study and the witnesses the committee would hear from dominated debate before the study even began. 

The committee has completed its first two days of study, with six more meetings between March 23 and 26. It’s scheduled to complete its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill “no later than” March 31. 

As well, the House Finance Committee has plans to begin studying “the costs, economic impact, frequency and best practices to address the issue of terrorist financing both here in Canada and abroad” the week of March 23. The topic was first proposed by Finance Minister Joe Oliver, in a letter to the committee. Terrorist financing was also brought up in both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate’s National Security and Defence hearings, but neither committee explored it at length. 

On Feb. 24, Finance committee member Andrew Saxton (North Vancouver, B.C.), the Parliamentary secretary to the minister of Finance, put forward a motion calling for the committee to begin studying it soon, calling it “an issue of priority” for the government.  The study would investigate domestic organizations financing terrorists abroad in an attempt to stop their advancement. 

“Our concern, and the concern of many Canadians along with the international community, is that terrorist organizations are taking advantage of such organizations as charities and taking advantage of virtual currencies like Bitcoin in order to launder money and to funnel funds to their bank accounts in other countries. Obviously if we’re in a position where we can stop this from happening, then that is a significant step forward in our fight against international terrorism,” Mr. Saxton said to the committee. 

The committee hasn’t decided how many meetings it will dedicate to the study, but it will likely focus on how the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada is doing at monitoring the phenomenon, according to chair James Rajotte (Edmonton-Leduc, Alta.). 

Mr. Rajotte told The Hill Times that terrorist financing is a “high-priority issue for all the MPs” and that it’s important that his committee and all the others to be exploring terrorism from various angles. 

Conservative Sen. Daniel Lang (Yukon), chair of the Senate National Security and Defence Committee, told The Hill Times that terrorism’s prominence in Parliament “should not be a surprise to anyone.” 

In an email, he compared the current situation to the dialogue in the House of Commons following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the time, then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told the House of Commons, “it has become clear that the scope of the threat that terror poses to our way of life has no parallel.” 

Sen. Lang said that Canadians agree with that sentiment: “They want us to ensure that the laws are in place to prevent radicalization and prosecute vigorously those who pose a threat to our way of life.” 

His comparison to the 2001 attacks on the U.S. was first used in his appeal to his committee on October 20 as to why it should to begin the study. “On September 11, 2001, many of us witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, which left 24 Canadians dead…. Colleagues, on our televisions, in our newspapers and on our computers, we see a daily rise in terrorism, mainly from Islamic jihadists fighting for dominance over fellow citizens… The threat is on the rise. It is important to understand it and take appropriate action in a reasoned and well-informed manner,” he told the committee. 

Mr. Easter said that although 9/11 is the last comparable time that Parliament has been so fixated on one issue, he thinks if the government was taking the threat as seriously as they seem to be publicizing it, then the security agencies and police forces should be getting more money.

There is skepticism on the part of the opposition as to how seriously the government will take the recommendations made by the committee studies, or whether they’ll adopt any amendments to Bill C-44 and Bill C-51. Mr. Easter said the way the government has been dismissing experts makes it seem like the Conservatives are operating under the premise that “anyone who disagrees with them is an enemy,” a dangerous and divisive way to develop policy, he said. 


The Hill Times



Anti-terrorism witnesses at House, Senate committees

House Public Safety Committee: Bill C-51, Anti-terrorism Act, 2015


March 12 

• National Airlines Council of Canada: Executive Director Marc-André O’Rourke; Laura Logan, chair of the security and facilitation subcommittee.

• As an individual: Craig Forcese, associate professor, faculty of law, University of Ottawa.

• As an individual: Kent Roach, professor, faculty of law, University of Toronto.

• Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations: Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee.

• Amnesty International: Secretary General Alex Neve.

• As an individual: Elliot Tepper, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and Centre for Security and Defence Studies, Carleton University. 

• British Columbia Civil Liberties Association: Carmen Cheung, senior counsel.

• Greenpeace Canada: Executive Director Joanna Kerr; Keith Stewart, head of the energy campaign. 

• As an individual: Ron Atkey, adjunct professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. 

• Assembly of First Nations: National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

• International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group: Paul Champ, counsel.

• As an individual: Barry Cooper, professor of political science, University of Calgary.


March 10, 2015 

• Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay. 

• Department of Justice: William F. Pentney, deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada; and Donald K. Piragoff, senior assistant deputy minister. 

• Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness: François Guimont, deputy minister.

• Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Director Michel Coulombe.

• Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Commissioner Bob Paulson.


Senate National Defence Committee: Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act

March 9, 2015

• Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney. 

• Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Mory Afshar, senior counsel; Nicole Girard, director general. 

• Public Safety Canada: Ritu Banerjee, director of the intelligence policy division of the national and cyber security branch; Lynda Clairmont, senior assistant deputy minister; François Guimont, deputy minister. 

• Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Nathalie Benoit, general counsel; and director Michel Coulombe.

• As an Individual: Ray Boisvert, former assistant director, intelligence, CSIS. 

• Security Intelligence Review Committee: Executive director Michael Doucet; Lindsay Jackson, assistant director of research.

• Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada: Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien; Leslie Fournier-Dupelle, strategic policy and research analyst. 


Senate National Defence Committee: security threats facing Canada

Feb. 23, 2015  

• The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society: Co-directors Lorne Dawson and Daniel Hiebert. 

• Point de Bascule: Director Marc Lebuis. 

• Muslim Youth and Family Services: Mahdi Qasqas.  

• Islamic Social Services Association: Shahina Siddiqui. 


Feb. 16, 2015 

• As individuals: Balraj Deol, Ujjal Dosanjh; former minister Dave Hayer; former judge of the Supreme Court of Canada John Charles Major.


Dec. 8, 2014  

• As individuals: Jocelyn Bélanger, psychology professor, Université du Québec à Montréal; Craig Forcese, associate professor, faculty of law, University of Ottawa; Jeremy Littlewood, assistant professor, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University; and Salim Mansur, professor, University of Western Ontario. 

• Sûreté du Québec: Lieutenant Sylvain Guertin, chief of investigations on extremist threats division; Jocelyn Latulippe, deputy director general, investigations and internal security. 


Dec. 1, 2014

• Peel Regional Police: Deputy Chief Brian Adams. 

• Police Service of Montreal: François Bleau, inspector, intelligence services division; Bernard Lamothe, assistant director, special investigations; and director Marc Parent.

• Edmonton Police Service: Chief Rod Knecht.

• As an individual: Michelle Walrond, mother of a radicalized man.  


Nov. 24, 2014

• Muslim Canadian Congress: Tarek Fatah, founder.

• Muslims Facing Tomorrow: Syed Sohail Raza. 

• As an individual: Rafal Rohozinski, senior fellow, SecDev Foundation. 


Nov. 17, 2014 

• Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Superintendent Shirley Cuillierrier; Sergeant Renuka Dash. 

• Public Safety Canada: John Davies and Anna Gray-Henschel national security policy division; and Gary Robertson, national and cyber security branch.

• Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Co-chair of the Counter Terrorism and National Security Committee Scott Tod. 

• Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Tom Venner, assistant director, policy and strategic partnerships. 


Nov. 3, 2014

• Public Prosecution Service of Canada: George Dolhai, deputy director of public prosecutions; Ursula Hendel, national security and northern prosecutions branch; and Brian Saunders, director of public prosecutions.

• As an individual: Senator Serge Joyal, former deputy chair of the Senate Special Committee on Anti-terrorism.


Oct. 27, 2014 

• Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Commissioner Bob Paulson; deputy commissioners Mike Cabana, federal policing; and Peter Henschel, specialized policing services. 

• Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Michael Peirce, assistant director, intelligence.


Oct. 20, 2014 

• Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada: Luc Beaudry, manager, terrorist financing intelligence group; and director Gérald Cossette.

• Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Deputy director of operations Jeff Yaworski.


House Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee: A study of Canada’s Response to the Violence, Religious Persecution and Dislocation Caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Feb. 24, 2014

• The committee proceeded to give drafting instructions to the analysts for a report.


Feb. 17, 2014

•The committee discussed drafting the report.


Feb. 5, 2014

• Stimson Center: Ellen Laipson, president and CEO and Stimson Center fellow Geneive Abdo.

• As an individual: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies


Feb. 3, 2014

• Muslim Canadian Congress: Tarek Fatah, founder. 

• As an individual: Sami Aoun, professor, Université de Sherbrooke.

• As an individual: Salim Mansur, associate professor, University of Western Ontario. 

• As an individual: Ayad Jamal Aldin, former deputy of the Iraqi Parliament.


Jan. 27, 2014

• Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development: Andrew P.W. Bennett, office of religious freedom; Mark Gwozdecky, Middle East and Maghreb; Leslie Norton, international humanitarian assistance; and Donica Pottie, conflict policy and security coherence secretariat.


Dec. 9, 2014

• Religious Freedom Project: Director Thomas Farr. 

• Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: Jonathan Dahoah Halevi.

• Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East: Bishop Emmanuel Joseph Mar-Emmanuel.


Dec. 4, 2014

• As individuals: Rabea Allos; Matteo Legrenzi, of the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

• Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Andrew Tabler, senior fellow.


Dec. 2, 2014

• As individuals: Member of Iraqi Parliament Vian Saeed and Rabbi Reuven Bulka. 

• Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International: Khalid Haider, Omar Haider.


Nov. 27, 2014

• One Free World International: Founder and President Rev. Majed El Shafie.

• Chaldean Catholic Church in Canada: Niaz Toma. 

• Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada): Sotirios Athanassoulas. 

• As individuals: Mokhtar Lamani, former ambassador, United Nations-League of Arab States; Payam Akhavan, professor, faculty of law, McGill University and Kellogg College, Oxford University.


Nov. 20, 2014

• As an individual: Bessma Momani, associate professor, Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo. 

• Iran Human Rights Documentation Center: executive director, Rod Sanjabi.

• Catholic Near East Welfare Association: Canadian National Director Carl Hétu; U.S. External Affairs Officer Elias Mallon.


House Finance Committee: A proposed study on terrorist financing

• Proposed the study on Feb. 24, the committee will begin studying it the week of March 23. No witnesses have been established yet. 

Source: House committees, compiled by Hill Times reporter Rachel Aiello.

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