Writing in the Globe and Mail, Macdonald-Laurier Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Perrin says that this week’s shooting in Ottawa does not mean the government should allocate more powers for countering lone wolf terrorism.
Rather, Perrin argues, the government already has all the tools it needs.
“We should remember that we have well-designed terrorism offences that have already successfully prosecuted terrorists before they have been able to cause a massive loss of life as they had planned.”, he writes.
By Benjamin Perrin, Oct. 24, 2014
For years, CSIS has been publicly warning us that “lone-wolf” terrorists are one of the biggest threats facing Canada. Since they act alone, driven by an extremist ideological cocktail, they are harder to detect, track, and predict than terrorist groups. These warnings tragically became reality this week. However, our laws are up to the task and we must resist the urge to overreact in the coming days.
The freedoms that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo died honouring at the National War Memorial are the same freedoms that will see us through this brutal awakening. The real threat of terrorism has always been, and will remain, not just the tragic loss of innocent life. That is but a means to an end for terrorists. Their real ambition is to use our fears to trade enhanced security for reduced freedom. They succeed not through their actions, but our reactions. Their goal is a world of authoritarian states – theirs an extremist Islamic state, ours a secular police state. How do we respond to their violence without falling into this trap?
Michael Joseph Zehaf-Bibeau who killed Cpl. Cirillo in Ottawa on Wednesday, and Martin (“Ahmad”) Couture-Rouleau who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu on Monday share much in common. Both are reportedly radicalized Canadian citizens who murdered servicemen and planned on travelling abroad. While Couture-Rouleau had his passport seized because authorities considered him to be a “high-risk traveler” who intended to go abroad to engage in terrorism, Zehaf-Bibeau had applied for one and was undergoing an RCMP background check. Both were freely roaming about Canada.
Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau may be home-grown lone-wolves, but they’re not isolated cases. The RCMP has disclosed that up to 90 Canadian citizens are being monitored as part of 63 national security investigations. There’s a dilemma with seizing their passports: while it stops them from engaging in terrorism abroad, they can simply answer the Islamic State’s call to wage terrorism on our soil.
“For every individual that we prevent, every extremist that we prevent from going overseas to engage in extremist activity, is one more individual that we have to investigate closely because they’re radicalized to the point that they want to leave,” noted Jeff Yaworski, a CSIS official to a Parliamentary committee.
When dealing with foreign nationals who are at-risk of engaging in terrorism, Canada has a security certificate regime that, since being amended, has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. It is being used today to keep suspected foreign terrorists detained in our prisons, subject to oversight by the courts. But, it doesn’t apply to Canadian citizens.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, in 2013 Parliament created several new crimes including the offence of leaving Canada to engage in acts of terrorism, which would land terror tourists in jail for up to ten years. The Criminal Code also provides that where there’s a reasonable fear that someone will commit a terrorism offence in Canada, they can be subject to strict conditions, including electronic monitoring, geographic restrictions on their movement, participating in de-radicalization programs, and weapons prohibitions. If such a person refuses to abide by the conditions, they can be imprisoned for up to twelve months. Every effort must be made to put potential home-grown terrorists under these orders or charge them, where the evidence warrants.
A potential major impediment, however, to using these tools is the Supreme Court of Canada decision earlier this year in Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Harkat. In that case, the majority ruled that the identity of CSIS human sources is not to be routinely protected. The dissenting judges rightly warned that the majority decision could have a “profound chilling effect” on CSIS’s ability to recruit informants, many of whom risk their lives to share vital information to protect us. Fortunately, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has recently announced plans to change this through proposed legislation, effectively reversing the majority decision in Harkat.
We should remember that we have well-designed terrorism offences that have already successfully prosecuted terrorists before they have been able to cause a massive loss of life as they had planned. Parliament has also renewed extraordinary powers allowing for preventative arrest and investigative hearings of suspected terrorists.
Canada has a robust set of laws to confront terrorism, including this new breed of home-grown, lone-wolf terrorist. The answer of how we respond to the tragic events of this week is about holding fast to our values and freedoms as we adapt and learn from these attacks, which we should be under no illusion are likely to test us again.
Benjamin Perrin is a law professor at the University of British Columbia, former special adviser for legal affairs and policy in the Prime Minister’s Office, and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.