Skip to main content

Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, speaks to reporters about firearms licensing in the foyer of the House of Commons on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The Canadian Press

Ottawa is preparing to give federal agents new tools to fight terrorism, including greater powers to track suspects, more abilities to share intelligence, and conferring greater anonymity to government informants.

Details about the proposed powers will be made public in the coming week, a government source told The Globe and Mail, adding that the bill would follow shortly after.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney outlined the coming legislation in a television interview that aired Sunday.

Story continues below advertisement

"We as politicians have a very important responsibility to enable our national security agencies to have the capability to track terrorists abroad," Mr. Blaney told CTV's Question Period. "That's why I will table a bill … to make sure that those individuals, we can track them so we can exchange information all within the scope of the law, on one part."

He added that he wanted people who "are working with our intelligence [to] be protected just as a police officer's source is protected. We need [the legislation] so we can add the tools that are needed to keep us safe."

A polarized parliament last week voted in favour of Canada joining an international coalition led by the United States to fight Islamic State extremists. Ottawa has also pledged to strengthen domestic policies to deal with Canadian citizens who want to leave the country to fight with extremists or to return after doing so.

The RCMP is investigating 90 such suspects, the force's Commissioner, Bob Paulson, told Parliament last week – yet he did not highlight a single arrest. During that same hearing, Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Michel Coulombe said his officials are keeping tabs on 130 Canadians who have joined extremist causes abroad.

One legal problem for Canada is that intelligence about foreign fighters rarely evolves into prosecution in open court. In making the case for foreign military intervention, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had pledged he would do work on the domestic front – including "additional measures to strengthen the ability of our security services."

Canada's spymasters have long campaigned for a "class privilege" for CSIS informants, a legal shield to protect the identities of the spy service's moles in court proceedings. Police sources get such protection by default. Yet CSIS informants do not necessarily enjoy it.

The spy service has lately been on the losing end of several court battles that have led its leaders to complain of judges prying into the agency's sources and methods.

Story continues below advertisement

The Supreme Court itself weighed in on the notion of a CSIS source shield last year, as a legal tangent of another case. Erosion of anonymity threatens to cause "national security sources to 'close up like a clam,' " federal lawyers had argued. Yet in a majority ruling, the top court said that it could not and should not expand such protections – that was Parliament's job.

Critics of the spy service say that Canadian courts have never forced the public unveiling of a source. "That problem has never materialized," said Norm Boxall, a defence lawyer who represents an Algerian whom CSIS has red-flagged as a terrorist threat to Canada.

Mr. Boxall argued that in times of perceived crisis, the government gravitates toward closed administrative proceedings. Ottawa has lately stated that it has begun to seize suspects' passports to deal with the foreign-fighter issue – yet no names and no numbers have been released.

Counterterrorism is a team effort, according to Mr. Blaney. The Public Safety Minister told Parliament last week that 20 agencies – not just the RCMP and CSIS, but also Passport Canada, border guards, and others – already routinely share information for national-security reasons.

Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley last year ruled that CSIS had been unlawfully sharing data with foreign allies – in a way that put travelling Canadian terrorism suspects at risk of being "detained or otherwise harmed."

His scathing ruling alleging unlawful CSIS conduct led Public Safety officials to write memos complaining they had lost an important surveillance power.

Story continues below advertisement

On Sunday, a spokesman for Mr. Blaney declined to say when the new bill would be tabled, but said "measures to protect Canada from terrorists will be announced in the near future."

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, a former Public Safety minister, said more intelligence-sharing powers may well be necessary.

"If they need to be bucked up … then that has to happen," he said, later reflecting on the fact that CSIS estimates that 80 extremists have already returned from the Middle East to Canada.

"Why have they not been arrested?," Mr. Easter asked. "If these are radicalized individuals … then, man, this is trouble."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies