Last Friday, the federal Conservative government introduced its new anti-terror legislation. Per CBC’s summary, the bill does four main things:
· Lower the threshold of proof for arrests.
· Give Canadian Security Intelligence Service the power to "counter-message" or "disrupt radical websites and Twitter accounts," whether in Canada or elsewhere.
· Allow CSIS to apply for a court order to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet.
· Allow for some court proceedings to be sealed.
Now, compared to what some other countries have done, these new proposed measures are moderately restrained, since there is a greater requirement for judicial involvement before taking down a website. And a lot of these measures seem aimed at preventing potential terrorists from flying to Syria and joining ISIS, or encouraging others to do so.
I am, of course, suspicious of increased limits on speech. And I am extra-suspicious when it comes from this government in particular, which has a bad habit of obfuscating and refusing to answer valid questions. That said, I’m not blind to the fact that preventing Canadian citizens from joining international terrorist groups is a valid use of state power. And while I’m a ‘free speech fundamentalist’, I can also accept the logic in wanting to prevent people from promoting murder.
But my problem, and some other people, comes in the application. Justice Minister Peter McKay says that “advocacy and promotion is the test”. Which seems pretty vague. If we’re going to accept limits on speech, it’d be nice to see, for instance, some examples and clearly establish what can’t be said.
Add to that the whole issue of the government’s rhetoric, which is all about existential threats and accusing the opposition of being soft on terror, not to mention the fact that the Canadian spy agency, CSIS, is not receiving any more funding, and this all starts to look like an election ploy.
Mostly, though, I’m wary for what it represents about Canada. Remember what I said in the wake of the Parliament Hill attack about being resilient? This is what I didn’t mean. This is not being resilient. This is being reactive. The point of terrorism is to effect political change. By that measure, terrorism is having the intended effect. If that effect is used in a limited way to prevent further attacks, to prevent Canadians from killing people elsewhere through other terrorist attacks, then good. But there’s a real risk here that we’re trading freedom in the name of supposed security, and winding up with neither.