OTTAWA—Prime Minister Harper announced today the Conservative Party’s highly anticipated new anti-terror legislation, Bills C-51 and C-52, aimed at combating a rise of extremist activity that the Conservatives say threaten peace and security both in Canada and around the world.
The approach is two-pronged, focusing on both foreign and domestic policy. It also eschews what early analysis suggested would be a focus solely on security measures. Today Harper said his party had looked beyond these sorts of “quick-and-easy solutions” to instead come up with more long-term solutions.
“Let me be clear, we are committed to ensuring the freedoms of Canadians, and will not sacrifice these in the name of security,” said Harper. “We are aware of proposals to increase the mandate of CSIS to include police-like powers, to essentially lay the groundwork for a secret police force. However, we feel that such measures would be going too far. They would simply be inappropriate to the situation. Canadians are looking for long-term solutions, not stop-gap measures.”
Other measures were announced today alongside the new legislation, including support for collaborative efforts between police forces and Muslim communities.
“A system based on fear and suspicion only leads to animosity,” explained Aisha Khalaf, spokeswoman for the PMO. “We believe that building trust and communication between police and local community leaders is the best early-warning system, not just for identifying extremist activity, but its underlying causes as well. It is important that we understand the concerns and needs of the Muslim community, and respond effectively and appropriately.”
Khalaf stressed that these measures are part of the government’s short-term strategy, and not tied to the Act, out of recognition that extremism is in no way a problem exclusive to the Muslim community.
Bill C-51: What’s in the legislation?
The anti-terrorism legislation, officially named the Promoting Peace and Security Act has been broken into two separate bills—Foreign Measures (C-51) and Domestic Measures (C-52)—to be debated separately in the House.
On the foreign policy front, the bill redirects future Canadian military action toward peacekeeping efforts. “Like many Canadians, we are now aware of the inefficacy of American-led foreign military interventions,” said Harper. “Let me be clear, this is not a retreat in the face of threats by Islamic State (ISIS) and other groups, but rather a recognition that recent military efforts in the region have simply exacerbated global insecurity. The result has been to stir up resentment, rather than establish lasting peace and security.”
“Clearly the solution does not lie in continuing the kinds of American-led military interventions of the past,” he said.
The new bill commits at least half of military budgets and resources to peacekeeping efforts, under the direction of the United Nations. “Peacekeeping is a proud Canadian tradition, and one of Canada’s greatest contributions to global security,” said the Prime Minister. “We have forgotten this tradition in recent years, and this legislation will correct that.”
The bill also requires governments to bring proposals for military activity to Parliament for debate and vote, and provides minimum lengths for such debate. Harper suggested that all post-military activity would also be debated in Parliament, and a watchdog created to monitor corporate activity during reconstruction in post-conflict regions.
C-51 will also pave the way for renewed diplomatic efforts, tying the bill to a House resolution to commit to seeking diplomatic solutions before engaging in military ones, along with a similar commitment to providing humanitarian aid over military aid.
Bill C-52: What’s in the legislation?
C-52, the domestic policy bill, overhauls an entirely different set of Conservative policies. Specifically, the bill provides resources toward the creation of a robust mental health system, as well as toward poverty reduction—including new resources for low-income neighbourhoods, supporting everything from education programs to social housing to harm-reduction projects like Vancouver’s Insite.
The government says it will also be considering comprehensive changes to social welfare programs, making them more robust and effective. The government will initiate studies into these areas, and has committed to follow through with all recommendations.
Harper says his government believes such measures are the best way to meet the needs of “disaffected youth”—those who, for a variety socio-economic reasons, are more likely to be drawn to extremist ideologies, such as those promoted by Islamic State. Providing these youth with equal access to society, says Harper, will vastly reduce the likelihood that they will eventually turn to extremists groups as an outlet for their frustrations.
Ottawa shooting was a “wake-up call”
This, says Harper, was a lesson learned from Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. The government reportedly began drafting their new legislation mere hours after Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack on Parliament on October 22, 2014. However, initial drafts were abandoned when more information about Zehaf-Bibeau came out. Zehaf-Bibeau, who was homeless at the time of the shooting, had reportedly made attempts to enter prison as an attempt to kick a drug addiction—including using a stick to hold up a McDonald’s in Vancouver in 2011.
“A system was not in place to respond adequately to the calls for help that he clearly made,” said Harper. “We intend to build up that system.”
“Would Zehaf-Bibeau have been susceptible to extremist ideologies if his underlying issues of poverty, drug addiction, and mental health had been addressed? We do not think so,” the Prime Minister added.
Allaying suspicions that the Conservatives would be giving CSIS more powers to monitor Canadians and to “disrupt” terrorist activity, Harper pointedly said this would not be the case. “We will be providing CSIS with increased resources, but not increased powers,” he said. The government will also be restoring oversight of CSIS by reinstating the inspector general, the watchdog position the government eliminated in 2012. They will also be introducing regular security updates by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which monitors CSIS, to all elected Members of Parliament.
“Our government, along with the opposition parties, are committed to addressing the underlying causes of extremist sentiment and activity, in all of its forms, and to find real and lasting solutions to peace and security,” Harper said. “The road to global security is paved through promoting peace, not hated, and not fear.”