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Politics RCMP could get more funding to prosecute foreign fighters: Goodale

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 24, 2016 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he is worried that jihadis who come back to Canada are not facing prosecution, adding that the next budget could give the RCMP more money to deal with the threat.

"That is a concern; obviously, it is a concern," Mr. Goodale told reporters after appearing before the national security committee of the House.

Mr. Goodale said he leaves "operational issues" to the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, but added: "They need to know that Canadians expect that where offences are committed, charges will be laid and prosecutions will follow."

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CSIS director Michel Coulombe has estimated that 180 Canadians are engaged with terrorist organizations abroad, including fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and that another 60 have returned home.

While CSIS can conduct surveillance and disrupt threats posed by such individuals, it is up to the Mounties to investigate and lay any charges for terrorism-related offences. For example, the RCMP laid charges against six Ottawa-area men linked to the Islamic State last year, including participating in or contributing to the activities of a terrorist group.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who also appeared at the committee, said accumulating evidence against so-called foreign fighters is a complex operation.

"It is a challenge to be able to get the evidence that is required to prove our cases to our standards here in Canada. We have been improving our performance in terms of collecting that evidence, but it is fundamentally an evidence-collection issue," he told reporters.

He added there is a difference between identifying a supporter of the Islamic State and sending that person to jail.

"In a small town, you may know who the burglar is, but then you have the challenge of going to get the evidence to bring a prosecutable case," Commissioner Paulson said.

Still, he added that he does not see a need to toughen the Criminal Code, or lower the evidentiary threshold for terrorism-related cases.

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"We are Canadians, we have values. Personally, I won't bring down the threshold. I want the justice system to work as it was designed," he said.

Commissioner Paulson insisted prosecution or full-time surveillance are not the only ways to deal with returnees, adding that family members and friends can help to de-radicalize jihadis.

"In other cases, we've assessed that they are back, they are sorry, they are working to try and get their head straight, and we are relying on family members and other professionals to help us," he said.

Still, the RCMP could benefit from a permanent funding boost to do a better job of tracking and charging IS supporters, Mr. Goodale said.

"As a former finance minister, I don't comment on future budgets, but I believe very strongly we need to make sure that our security and intelligence agencies and our police forces have the resources necessary to do what we tell them to do," Mr. Goodale said.

Overall, he said, the government can't ask the RCMP to "perform miracles and not provide the resources necessary to get the job done."

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At the committee, Mr. Goodale faced pressure to deliver on the Liberal promise to create a group of parliamentarians to provide oversight to Canada's national-security agencies.

In particular, NDP MP Matthew Dubé said CSIS has used new powers to "disrupt" terrorist threats without being subjected to additional oversight.

"There is a new sense of urgency, the powers are being used and the level of supervision is inadequate," Mr. Dubé said.

Mr. Goodale said the government is still working on the details of the legislation that will create the committee, including deciding whether it will include senators.

"This committee has to be real, it has to be credible, it has to be trustworthy, so that when they do their work and offer comments to Canadians on the nature of their work, Canadians will be able to trust that they are being told the truth," he said.

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