The Canadian government says it's looking for a way to stop terror groups and their followers from using the Internet to advance their cause as a debate emerges over how to fight threats to Canada while preserving civil liberties including free speech and privacy.
Justice Minster Peter MacKay said measures could include tools to allow for the removal of websites or Internet posts that support the "proliferation of terrorism" in Canada.
"There's no question that the whole issue around radicalization and the type of material that is often used that we think is inappropriate, and we think quite frankly contribute to – again this is my word – the poisoning of young minds, that this is something that needs to be examined," Mr. MacKay said Wednesday.
His comments come as Canada's privacy watchdogs warn changes being planned to boost police powers after last week's terror attacks "must be measured and proportionate" to preserve Canadian democratic values.
A joint statement from 15 privacy and information commissioners raised concerns that new police powers could infringe on civil liberties and privacy rights.
"We acknowledge that security is essential to maintaining our democratic rights. At the same time, the response to such events must be measured and proportionate, and crafted so as to preserve our democratic values," the commissioners, including two federal watchdogs, wrote.
Mr. MacKay said Ottawa is examining laws in the European Union where lawmakers have grappled with the same problem.
Such measures risk infringing on free speech but Mr. MacKay said he believes it's possible to set "an objective standard" with which to judge what constitutes promoting terrorism. He said he'd want judicial oversight "before you would make any – you know, any type of intervention."
"Encouragement of terrorism," including "glorifying" terrorism is an offence in Britain. Critics of transplanting such a measure to Canada question whether explicitly outlawing this will do any good.
Parliament's major political parties still disagree, though, on whether the slaying of Canadian soldiers last week constitutes terrorism.
Official Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair maintains that Canadians don't have enough evidence to label last week's killings terror attacks.
"The Prime Minister understands, as do Canadians, the fundamental difference between the horrific acts of a profoundly disturbed individual and organized terror," the NDP Leader said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, however, has begun describing the murders of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo as terrorism, taking his lead from the Mounties. "The RCMP was clear, these were acts of terrorism," Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday.
The Liberal chief said his priority when judging new measures or police powers will be "is this going to keep Canadians safe?"
Mr. Harper rebuffed a proposal by Mr. Trudeau to create an all-party national security committee that might provide parliamentarian oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and other security agencies.
The Prime Minister said Canadians shouldn't presume that security is a threat to their rights.
"While obviously we always recognize the certain risks that exist, I do not think we should start from the assumption that everything our police and security agencies do are somehow a threat to the rights of Canadians. On the contrary, more often than not, security and rights find themselves on the same side of the ledger and Canadians do not have effective rights unless we can ensure their security – and that is what we intend to do," Mr. Harper said.
The privacy watchdogs speaking out Wednesday called on Ottawa to "adopt an evidence-based approach" over any new legislation proposed to beef up law-enforcement powers, to tell Canadians about the "nature, scope and impact on rights and freedoms" of any new laws or measures, and to ensure "effective oversight" be brought in for any new powers.
"Canadians both expect and are entitled to equal protection for their privacy and access rights and for their security. We must uphold these fundamental rights that lie at the heart of Canada's democracy," the joint statement said.