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Canada’s New Anti-Terror Bill Gives the Government Sweeping New Powers

Documents called "disruption warrants" will let Canada's spies do just about anything in the name of stopping terrorist attacks.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

Photo via Pixabay

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Under the broad anti-terror legislation tabled Friday, Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), will be given broad new powers to investigate and "disrupt" terrorist plots. Canada's police services will be also able to go after online terrorist propaganda.

When the bill was tabled on Friday afternoon, the Prime Minister vowed to prevent attacks like the ones that hit Ottawa and Quebec in October.


The powers included in Bill C-51 come with little new oversight or transparency. The core of the provisions will allow CSIS to disrupt attacks the organization believes may occur in Canada or abroad.

The government calls them "disruption warrants," and they will let Canada's spies do just about anything. According to the legislation those warrants authorize the spies to "enter any place or open or obtain access to any thing," to copy or obtain any document, "to install, maintain, or remove any thing," and, most importantly, "to do any other thing that is reasonably necessary to take those measures."

To use the new measures, once passed by Parliament, the spies will need to apply to a judge to authorize operations to stop a terrorist attack. The legislation doesn't offer many caveats on that power, instead enabling the spies to take whatever measures they feel are necessary, in Canada or abroad. So long as a judge agrees, it's all fair game—even if it's illegal.

The word install appears to be an indication that CSIS should have powers to install malware and keyloggers, which the government has already moved toward legalizing.

On top of that, the bill offers no new oversight for CSIS. Currently, it is policed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which has been lambasted for being woefully inadequate and staffed by political appointees.

The opposition NDP have already raised concerns about these new powers and the corresponding lack of oversight.


"This is obviously a serious addition to the powers that CSIS would have, and it requires some serious questions," said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar.

The proposed "disruption warrants" are good for up to 120 days, and can be renewed twice. The legislation is explicit that authorities can ignore the laws of Canada and any foreign state while operating under such a warrant.

Also included in the bill are new powers for the government to put Canadians on the no-fly list and keep them there, and to share information about possible security risks with airline carriers and other departments.

The proposed law allows people placed on the no-fly list to appeal the decision. But the bill also gives the minister new powers to ensure that it's harder for people to get off the list—including, as C-51 lays out, the power to introduce evidence "even if it is inadmissible in a court of law." That could include evidence obtained illegally.

What may prove the most controversial part of the bill is the provision allowing police to order what the government deems terrorist propaganda taken off the internet, and allowing the authors of websites calling for terrorist attacks to be arrested and hit with significant jail time.

Police will be able to issue takedown notices, subject to the approval of a judge, to force website hosts based in Canada to destroy comments, blogs, or webpages that are found to promote or glorify terrorist organizations or attacks. People who have posted such material will be allowed to appear in court and defend their postings, although they will open themselves up to self-incrimination if they do so. If they don't appear in court, the judge can decide to order the information to be deleted anyway.


Promoting terrorist attacks on a website could also net you up to five years in prison. The bill says that if someone intentionally advocates or promotes terrorism, "knowing or reckless as to whether it would result in terrorism," it is a crime.

The legislation also allows both Public Works and Citizenship and Immigration Canada to share information proactively, without being asked, to national security agencies, if they believe there is a terror threat.

Immigration handles Canadians' passport information, while Public Works maintains the Controlled Goods Program. The utility of information they might share was laid out in briefing documents provided to reporters: "During a routine inspection, officials discovered that 10,000 large-caliber NATO ammunition rounds were unaccounted for. What's more, a foreign delegation recently visited the facility. Following this visit concerns were raised about potential links to a terrorist organization."

In that hypothetical scenario, the document says, Public Works could contact public safety agencies independently.

Concerns will obviously be raised that, without any legal protections or oversight, letting bureaucrats share individuals' personal information on a whim infringes on privacy. This government has already made it possible for tax agents to share Canadians' personal information if they believe a crime has been committed. These measures essentially encourage bureaucrats to surveil Canadians, even if it's well outside their mandate.


The legislation also seeks to lower the threshold allowing police to investigate and arrest suspected terrorist planners and hold them without charge while they investigate the possible threat.

Police will only need to prove to a judge that an attack "may be carried out," as opposed to establishing that the attack will be carried out, as is currently necessary.

Under the same changes, police can detain individuals for up to seven days without charge. They will also be able to apply for a 'terrorism peace bond' which will allow them to surveil, track, and limit the travel of individuals for up to five years. Police will be able to forbid that person from having a passport, and can even limit their travel to a specific geographic area.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the new legislation in Ontario, alongside Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

He brushed aside criticisms that the bill adds no new oversight while vastly expanding CSIS' powers. He even went so far as to chastise opposition parties for suggesting that security and civil liberties are mutually exclusive.

"[Canadians'] freedom and their security, more often than not, go hand in hand," Harper told a crowd of supporters, continuing that "it was a jihadi terrorist that took away our freedoms," not police officers.

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