Canada is poised to take part in a global push to strengthen domestic anti-terror laws amid growing concern about the threat of Islamic State militants.
Members of the UN Security Council are expected to adopt a binding resolution aimed at curbing the trend of foreign fighters who travel to join extremist organizations such as Islamic State. The resolution would require countries to enact domestic laws banning suspected militants from travelling and will be championed by U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting of the powerful UN body on Wednesday afternoon.
Canada has been invited to attend the UN session. Although Ottawa has not said whether it will support the UN measure, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday that Canada's anti-terror laws are undergoing a review. As well, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Ottawa is already revoking passports from people who have travelled abroad to take part in terrorist activities.
The Islamic State group, which is fighting to establish a Sunni Islamic state and already controls parts of Syria and Iraq, is a top concern for world leaders as they gather in New York for the UN General Assembly. The issue could also become a key test for the Security Council, which has at times struggled to address major conflicts because of disagreements among the five permanent members.
While Canada is not a member of the Security Council, the government is expected to play a role in the Wednesday afternoon meeting, a source familiar with the matter said. A list of speakers was not immediately available on Monday, but the UN said many heads of government are expected to participate, suggesting Mr. Harper could make an appearance.
Security officials in Canada estimate that more than 130 citizens have travelled abroad to participate in terrorism or fund extremist activities, including dozens who may have joined Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Monday that the government sees the Islamic State group as a "barbaric terrorist organization" that is engaged in evil actions. Asked about support for the planned Security Council resolution, Jason Tamming replied, "We support any efforts to stop extremists from going abroad to engage in terrorism."
The U.S., Canada and many European countries already have laws prohibiting citizens from travelling abroad to join extremist groups. It is an offence to travel for terrorism-related purposes and Ottawa has the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals, Mr. Tamming said.
But Mr. Harper suggested Monday that those laws may not be enough to deal with changing global threats.
"We have, as you know, strengthened laws in this country to deal with these kinds of threats," he said. "We're currently in the process of examining these laws and examining other means we may have to monitor and to take action against both organizations and individuals who may undertake activities that are potentially threatening to Canadians."
Mr. Alexander said along with revoking passports, the government is also invalidating travel documentation for individuals law enforcement believes are planning to leave Canada to become foreign fighters.
"If we don't do it, we put ourselves at risk," Mr. Alexander told reporters in Ottawa on Monday, noting the government also has the power to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism. "It's part of our responsibility, both to our own population and to the international community."
The minister wouldn't divulge how many passports have so far been affected, citing privacy concerns and national security.
Mr. Obama has tried to portray his decision to send U.S. warplanes back to bomb Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria as just one part of a new, global struggle.
"We won't hesitate to take action against these terrorists in Iraq or in Syria," he promised in his weekly address to Americans. However, to placate a war-weary public, he added: "This is not America's fight alone. I won't commit our troops to fighting another ground war in Iraq, or in Syria."
The travel bans planned by the Security Council could be difficult to enforce, especially in countries like the United States and Canada, which don't conduct exit checks on departing travellers and have constitutional protections including freedom to enter and leave for citizens not convicted of a crime.
The resolution may also help push other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to do more to stop foreign fighters from joining the militant group. It may also aid countries in sharing more travel information and intelligence.
The proposed UN ban would define suspected militants broadly enough that veto-wielding nations like Russia and China, who regard secessionists as terrorists, may be willing to back the idea.
With reports from Paul Koring, Bill Curry, Kathryn Blaze Carlson and Associated Press