The Quebec government is set to introduce draft legislation this week it says will give police, social workers and the courts new tools to counter religious fundamentalism and terrorist recruitment.
The government plans to give officials in law enforcement additional resources to monitor social media and other recruiting hotbeds, such as schools, for signs of terrorist activity, according to a highly placed government source who drew a broad outline of the coming legislation.
The bill will also contain expanded powers for courts to grant injunctions when faced with a risk of forced marriages or honour crimes. A second bill this week will introduce the Liberal version of the "charter of values" to limit religious accommodations and religious expression in government services – measures likely to be less contentious than the recent Parti Québécois version, but still raise alarms among civil libertarians.
The legislative package comes amid recent news extremist groups have lured at least two dozen Quebec youth and young adults into joining their ranks, mostly in the Middle East. Police have arrested some of the youth, others were intercepted at Montreal's Trudeau airport while still others have flown to Turkey and disappeared. One used a vehicle to kill a soldier last fall in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and was shot by police.
The province has for years also experienced a general atmosphere of suspicion around conservative Islam, and a leading legal expert warned much of the plan appears to amount to a symbolic crackdown targeting Muslims. The law already allows police to go undercover to crack down on terrorist recruitment, monitor the Internet or intervene if the well-being of a minor is at risk, said Nathalie Des Rosiers, a professor of constitutional law.
The government official said a lot of the bill and the accompanying "action plan" to be unveiled by the Quebec Justice Minister will centre on training for front-line workers, particularly in the area of youth radicalization. The law's drafters found a dearth of expertise in Quebec on countering radicalization – a fact recently confirmed by a host of experts and the founders of Montreal's fledgling local anti-radicalization centre.
"The phenomenon is so new, there's almost no one in Quebec trained to counter it," said the government source who was not authorized to give interviews but spoke on condition of anonymity. "A lot of this will be about training. We're really starting from scratch."
Premier Philippe Couillard confirmed Monday introduction of the new measures "is imminent," but declined to comment on details. "There will be legislative and non-legislative measures. In no time you will hear all the details," he said after speaking at a conference in Montreal.
A second bill to be introduced this week will be a lighter Liberal version of the "charter of values" that caused enormous controversy during the 18-month rule of the PQ that ended last year. A source says measures in the new charter will include a requirement government services be provided and received with uncovered faces – a rule that effectively bans the niqab or burka from government institutions.
The bill is similar to one introduced and abandoned by a previous Liberal government five years ago and matches Liberal campaign promises last year. The new plan cherry-picks ideas that have widespread support in Quebec, such as the restriction on face-coverings, but it will leave aside the PQ's controversial ban on the hijab, kippa and other "conspicuous" displays of religion that do not cover the face.
The rule against face-covering in public services may be a matter of agreement among Quebec's main political parties, but civil libertarians say they are discriminatory and target forms of religious and political expression.
Prof. Des Rosiers, a former general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the ban on face-covering targets a small group of Muslim women above all others and raises concerns on constitutional grounds.
"Reasonable people can disagree on whether it's absolutely necessary, but it targets one group," said Prof. Des Rosiers, who is dean of the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa. "I think the symbolic impact remains dangerous. It continues to have a message of borderline Islamophobia."
On other coming provisions, Prof. Des Rosiers said it's difficult to see how the province could add powers that could stop honour killings or forced marriages above what is already contained in the Criminal Code of Canada. "You can always go to the police. In fact, it's an obligation if child welfare is at stake. Again, it seems more symbolic than anything," she said.
"It's wanting to look like you're doing something by using legal means as opposed to investing in social services to make sure people can leave abusive relationships."