An alleged al-Qaeda-backed plot to derail a Via passenger train in the Greater Toronto Area is a reminder of the threat that terrorism still poses to Canada, and the need for continued vigilance, including some tough legislative measures currently being debated in the House of Commons.
The threat can come from anywhere. It can be imported. The allegations in the Via plot involve two men, ages 30 and 35, said to have received "direction and guidance" from al-Qaeda terrorists, apparently based in Iran, according to the RCMP. They are not Canadian citizens (the RCMP would not say where they are from).
Or the threat can be homegrown, as in the Toronto 18, later reduced to 11, mostly young people raised in Canada who were convicted of plotting major bombing attacks. Or the threat can begin here and be directed at foreign countries. Four Canadians from London, Ont., have been implicated in terrorism in North Africa, including two young men who were killed after reportedly taking part (one as a ringleader) in the deadly gas-plant attack in Algeria in January. And two Canadians are suspected of involvement in a bus attack last July on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
The Conservative government's proposed Combating Terrorism Act makes it a criminal offence to leave Canada to commit a terrorist crime in another country, which is sensible and probably should have been on the books already, and includes two contentious elements: preventive detention of suspects for up to 72 hours, where a terrorist attack is believed imminent, and compelled testimony to avert a potential attack.
We argued in a online editorial on Monday that the timing of bringing this act to the House of Commons this week was purely political – calculated to embarrass Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau over his foolish comments last week about the "root causes" of the Boston Marathon bombings. The law was introduced in February, 2012, and last Friday was put on the House agenda for debate this week.
The content of the law, however, is a slight and necessary rebalancing of security and civil liberties, with built-in protections including annual reports to Parliament on the use (if any) of the provisions. We supported preventive detention and compelled testimony when a Liberal government included them in the Anti-Terrorism Act passed three months after 9/11. And we supported their renewal when they lapsed automatically owing to a five-year "sunset" clause. That these clauses slipped through the cracks and were not renewed, often owing to petty political squabbles for which there is plenty of blame to go around among the major parties, was scandalous.
Osama bin Laden is dead, and nearly 12 years have passed since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It is not time for the West to drop its guard. What happened in Boston can happen here.