A Senate committee is offering to conduct a review of Canada's new anti-terrorism powers five years after Parliament adopts Bill C-51, and is calling on the government to quickly adopt new measures to fight terrorism and improve its existing counterterrorism operations.
The committee on national security and defence has voted in favour of the legislation, but it is also calling on the government to consider the advice of some of the bill's critics, including former Supreme Court judge John Major and academic Craig Forcese, to improve its anti-terrorism framework.
(For more on Bill C-51, read The Globe and Mail's in-depth explainer: Privacy, security and terrorism: Taking a closer look at Bill C-51)
Conservative Senator Daniel Lang, who is the chair of the committee, said it would be impractical to impose a sunset clause on some of the elements in the legislation that would nullify the measures unless they were specifically reapproved by Parliament. The best solution, he said, is for the Senate to give itself a mandate to look back at the legislation within five years of its adoption.
Mr. Lang said the legislation will have practical consequences, and the Senate offers a "non-partisan" forum to analyze whether the legislation has lived up to its promises.
"The decision by the committee to unanimously adopt observations on the bill, as well as its commitment to review it within five years of Bill C-51 receiving royal assent, speaks to the quality of work done by the Senate," he said.
The legislation has faced a barrage of criticism since it was introduced in January by the government in response to terrorist attacks in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu that targeted soldiers and Parliament.
Bill C-51 would beef up the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, criminalize the promotion of terrorism and provide the RCMP with new powers of preventive arrest. The bill also eases the transfer of information between some federal agencies and criminalizes promotion of a terrorist attack.
But critics have charged that it goes too far and risks ensnaring environmentalists and aboriginal people in the fight against terrorism.
The bill will now head for third reading in the Senate. The next step will be obtaining royal assent, which is expected to happen before the dissolution of Parliament in June ahead of the Oct. 19 general election.
The Senate committee on national security and defence was convinced by a recent appearance from Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney that some of the concerns raised by witnesses at the committee would be addressed by the government.
In particular, Mr. Blaney said he would ensure that whenever CSIS obtains a warrant to disrupt potential terrorist activities, the agency would report on the matter to its watchdog, the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
He also said the agencies that will benefit from new powers under C-51 will complete a "privacy impact assessment" to ensure that the rights of Canadians are protected.
The Senate committee feels that the government needs to take additional steps in the fight against terrorism. In particular, it called on the government to create a team of expert lawyers to prosecute terrorism cases. In addition, the committee said some judges should receive specialized training in the field to hear these cases.
The committee also called on the government to criminalize membership in a terrorist entity.
In a statement, Mr. Blaney thanked the committee for its contribution to the legislative process, promising that the government "will thoroughly examine" its observations.