People who call for terrorism attacks, even if they don’t counsel a specific act, could face up to five years in prison under new legislation the federal government wants to pass into law.

For instance, an individual in Canada who posts a video online that includes the phrase “Attack Canada” could be charged with advocating or promoting “terrorism offences in general.”

Individuals could be also charged even if they’re making general references to terror attacks in other countries.

The proposed new charge is part of a series of anti-terror measures the Harper government introduced Friday in a bill it says is necessary to protect Canadians in the wake of deadly attacks on soldiers last October that also led to a gunman storming Parliament.

This Anti-Terrorism Act represents the most sweeping increase in power for Canadian security agencies since legislative changes passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The new criminal code offence for promoting terrorism is a marked departure from the current situation, in which police can only take action when an online posting refers to a specific attack, such as killing a particular category of individuals or targeting a precise location.

Other measures include:

  • Giving Canada’s spy agency the power to intervene and disrupt threats to national security at home and abroad, a major change from its existing mandate where it merely collects intelligence and hands off an intervention role to the RCMP.
  • Give courts the power to order the removal of “terrorist propaganda” from websites operating using Canadian Internet service providers.
  • Making it easier for authorities to restrict the movements of suspected jihadists, meaning they can apply to a court if they only believe terrorist activity “may be carried out.” The previous threshold called on law-enforcement authorities to state they believed an act “will be carried out.”
  • Extending the length of time authorities can detain suspected terrorists for up to seven days from three.
  • Relaxing the threshold needed to prevent suspected jihadis from boarding a plane, allowing the Minister of Transport to bar those whom the government believes are heading abroad to take part in terrorist activities.
  • Granting government departments explicit authority to share private information, including passport applications, or confidential commercial data, with law enforcement agencies.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said these changes are necessary given what he called the war declared by jihadists following a “distortion of Islam.”

“Over the last few years a great evil has been descending over our world,” Mr. Harper told an audience in Richmond Hill, Ont., Friday. “Jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced.”

Mr. Harper said Canada is a target because its democratic freedom.

“Canadians are targeted by these terrorists for no other reason than that we are Canadians,” he said. “They want to harm us because they hate our society and our values. They hate pluralism, they hate tolerance and the freedom we enjoy.”

He said the measures could not necessarily prevent a terrorist act in Canada, but that they were necessary to reduce the risk of one. “Bad things sometimes happen…terrorists themselves will adjust to the legislation,” he said.

Mr. Harper defended the legislation when asked whether the new powers given to police infringed on other rights.

“We do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians you take away civil liberties,” he said.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s role is currently restricted to collecting intelligence, analyzing and reporting on dangers to Canada, but the new legislation rewrites its mandate to allow CSIS agents to take action to foil security threats.

Ottawa is building in judicial oversight for this new CSIS power, however, and will require the agency to obtain a court warrant to flex its new muscles. As long as a judge approves, CSIS agents would be able to cancel someone’s travel reservations, for instance, or disrupt a banking transaction or electronic communications.

The new power would lift a fundamental restriction on CSIS’s activities and gives the agency a measure of authority that’s currently reserved for police forces. CSIS, a civilian agency, was created in the early 1980s after an inquiry into the RCMP security service’s illegal activities and civil-rights abuses recommended that policing be separated from intelligence gathering.

The government justifies these changes to CSIS by saying that the agency is often the first in Canada to detect a threat because it’s continually gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance, and is therefore best placed to act to disrupt a new threat before it can grow.

CSIS would still not be a law enforcement agency after these legislative changes. It would not be granted authority to arrest or detain people, for instance.

Today, CSIS informs the RCMP when it detects terror threats and hands the matter off, letting the Mounties conduct their own investigation. Ottawa argues that Canada needs to be able to act more quickly in an environment where terrorist threats can rapidly escalate from concepts to planning to execution, sources say.

The Conservative government holds a majority of seats in the Commons and the legislation is expected to pass easily.

Ottawa is also planning a more robust government financed campaign to thwart radicalization in young people, separate from the legislation being unveiled Friday.

Steven Chase And Daniel Leblanc
Ottawa — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jan. 30 2015, 12:37 PM EST
Last updated Friday, Jan. 30 2015, 2:39 PM EST