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The Globe and Mail

Liberals prepared to back Tories’ anti-terrorism bill

Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter said his party has voted for the government’s past anti-terrorism legislation and is willing to support the next round of measures, barring a poison pill in the bill that will be unveiled Friday.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Liberals are ready to support the government's upcoming anti-terrorism legislation that will curtail freedoms in the name of national security, while continuing to push for increased oversight of Canada's intelligence services.

The party has struggled to explain its position against the military deployment in Iraq and Liberal officials said they now want to avoid being "outflanked" by the Conservatives on the domestic fight against terrorism.

In an interview, Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter said his party has voted for the government's past anti-terrorism legislation and is willing to support the next round of measures, barring a poison pill in the bill that will be unveiled Friday.

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"If they are reasonable in what they are presenting on the expansion of this legislation, we are reasonable people," the Liberal MP said. "If the government is sensible about it, and trying to fight terrorism rather than playing politics, then we will be supportive."

Mr. Easter added the Liberals would call for extended parliamentary hearings to get expert testimony on the legislation's impact. Still, the early endorsement of anti-terrorism legislation differentiates the Liberal Party from the NDP, which is waiting for the publication of the bill before announcing its colours.

Pollster Bruce Anderson of Abacus Data said the Liberals' willingness to vote for increased anti-terrorism measures in Canada suggest a desire "to distance themselves from the NDP more than from the Conservatives." He said "it's not been a successful one politically, for the Liberals, to have opposed the mission [in Iraq]."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the legislation would "help authorities stop planned attacks, get threats off our streets, criminalize the promotion of terrorism and prevent terrorists from travelling and recruiting others." The Globe and Mail reported last week the proposed law would seek to lower the legal thresholds used for some preventive police powers, while expanding the criteria that would allow officials to blacklist people on the Canadian government's "no-fly" list.

Mr. Easter acknowledged the Liberal opposition to the mission against Islamic State forces in Iraq, including the deployment of six fighter jets, has been received negatively in some circles. "There is a huge misconception out there about our position on [IS]," he said, arguing the Liberals simply wanted a different contribution from the Canadian government, with more focus on humanitarian aid.

Liberal officials said the party now wants to avoid getting boxed in on the issue of the fight against terrorism on Canadian soil. The Liberals enacted anti-terrorism legislation after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and continued to support government measures in opposition.

Still, Mr. Easter added the Liberal Party would like to see the creation of an oversight mechanism that would involve MPs, based in part on the British model where legislators have access to classified information to supervise the work of the country's spies. He said Canada is the only member of the "Five Eyes" group of allied intelligence services – which includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – without a strong role for parliamentary oversight.

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"It would provide some confidence to the public that our national security agencies are not abusing their authorities in terms of impeding on the privacy of Canadians," Mr. Easter said. "It would also ensure that they are doing everything they can do to keep Canadians safe in their operations."

The Liberals are suggesting the Conservatives are trying to benefit politically from their tough stance against terrorism, following the deadly attacks against soldiers last October in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and Ottawa. Mr. Easter accused Mr. Harper of "using the fear factor," adding he hopes the government responds with "sensible laws to deal with what is clearly an atrocious attack on our values and our democracy."

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