Skip to main content

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Steven Blaney appears at the Commons committee hearing witnesses on Bill C-44, Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, on Parliament Hill, Monday November 24, 2014 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

New powers to monitor and arrest suspects in terrorism cases will be made public "hopefully soon," Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney says – part of the Conservative government's push to give police and spy agencies greater authority, while requiring less evidence, in counterterrorism investigations.

Mr. Blaney made the comment while speaking to a committee on Monday about another proposed law, Bill C-44, that expands the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency. The bill was prepared before last month's shooting on Parliament Hill, but tabled after it, and is set to be moved through committee with just four hours of study. The Conservative-dominated committee could also pass the bill while denying a request from Canada's privacy watchdog to speak about it.

Bill C-44, along with the forthcoming anti-terrorism bill cited by Mr. Blaney and an anti-cyberbullying bill, will give new powers to police and spy agencies. However, critics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new laws have questioned whether the proposed powers go too far, have too little oversight and are constitutional. Mr. Blaney on Monday repeatedly avoided getting into specifics about what government lawyers told him about Bill C-44's constitutionality.

C-44 would grant anonymity to CSIS sources who have provided information or are likely to, and spells out the agency's authority to operate internationally and break the laws of other countries.

Mr. Blaney told MPs on Monday the bill will make Canadians safer, and he largely avoided giving details under questioning from opposition MPs. The bill restores CSIS powers that two recent court decisions had limited, he said, rather than adding new ones. However, the minister acknowledged it is not a final step.

"We need to do more, and that's why we will come back with additional measures in the coming future," he told MPs. At other points in Monday's meeting, he said the bill includes new powers for arrest, surveillance and detention, and would be revealed "hopefully soon."

Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo were killed in attacks in Quebec and Ottawa last month. After WO Vincent's death, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government was looking at reducing the amount of evidence needed to monitor or restrict the movement of some terrorism suspects. That review was said to include consideration of preventive arrest powers. One day after Cpl. Cirillo's death, Mr. Harper said government's work to strengthen "surveillance, detention, and arrest" powers would be "expedited."

In Monday's committee meeting, CSIS director Michel Coulombe said he believes C-44 clarifies CSIS powers that were struck down in the recent court decisions. He said CSIS needs to be able to guarantee anonymity to its sources so they will co-operate, and that he does not know how the agency could "viably" operate without doing so internationally.

The House of Commons Public Safety and National Security committee will give Bill C-44 only brief consideration. It met for two hours on Monday, and is scheduled for another two hours on Wednesday before beginning its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill next week.

The brisk pace appears likely to exclude testimony from Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien, who the committee heard on Monday had asked to speak. One Conservative MP, Rick Norlock, blocked an NDP proposal to give Mr. Therrien first crack at appearing should one of six witness spots not be filled.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Therrien said late Monday he will make a written submission.

The government is also close to passing Bill C-13, an anti-cyberbullying bill that includes several new surveillance powers that require a warrant but, according to critics, not enough supporting evidence, potentially easing judicial approval for intrusive police surveillance. The bill has passed the House of Commons and is before the Senate.