Senate committee puts a spotlight on terrorism

Daniel Lang The Senate's standing committee on national security and defence is examining security threats facing Canada. Cyber-espionage, critical-infrastructural threats, terrorist recruitment and financing and operations, and prosecutions will come un

by Daniel Lang

The Senate’s standing committee on national security and defence is examining security threats facing Canada. Cyber-espionage, critical-infrastructural threats, terrorist recruitment and financing and operations, and prosecutions will come under scrutiny.

The first part of our study is focusing on terrorist threats to Canada and Canadians. It is a timely endeavour. Canadians deserve to know what is happening in our country and what can be done to prevent terrorists from targeting and using Canada as a haven to spread their hate and violence.

Following the murder of Canadian servicemen Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, our committee heard recently from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS Assistant Director of Intelligence Michael Peirce.

Here is what we learned.

In 2010, there were 50 terrorist organizations operating in Canada. Today, the government has designated 53 organizations as security threats. Senators were told that, in 2010, CSIS was tracking 200 individuals believed to be involved in terrorist-related activity. Today – according to a broad and necessarily imprecise approximation shared by Commissioner Paulson -“we can talk about thousands of police occurrences where people will have identified individuals who will require a response.”

Such numbers are in addition to the 80-plus radical Islamists who have returned to Canada after providing support to terrorists abroad. And they are above and beyond the 140 Canadian-connected individuals who are currently abroad, 90 or so in Syria and Iraq.

The committee also gained insight into terrorist financing, a burgeoning issue. Assistant Director Peirce testified that there are two broad ways of financing terrorists whom CSIS is tracking. “One is financing for individuals within Canada, for example, who want to travel to engage in jihad. Those are relatively small sums but very operationally important.”

The second approach: “financing that flows from Canada to terrorist organizations.” “That kind of financing,” he said, “is very dependent on the kind of terrorist organization.”

We were told that organizations and individuals in Canada attempt to “operate under cover of different purposes, ostensibly raising money for humanitarian purposes in Syria and Iraq, and they may well be actually funneling that money to a terrorist organization.”

Terrorist financing from individuals ranges from “moderate” sums of up to $10,000 and “when you’re talking organizations, you are talking six-figure sums.”

In the face of these compelling concerns, we were told that Canada has had 17 terrorist convictions since 2001, under the Anti-terrorism Act. While the government should be commended for these successes, clearly more needs to be done to address what is happening in Canada.

This would include the need to confront, charge, and detain those spreading hate and financing terrorism. We need to use all tools necessary to stop those who are materially supporting terrorist organizations and terrorist activity – including applying the full force of the law to those undertaking what lawyers call “acts preparatory” to related terror crimes.

Canadians want a clear and honest picture of what terrorist threats we face. Where is the danger coming from? How are Canadians being encouraged to embrace radical Islamism? What support systems are facilitating radicalization and terrorism? And most importantly, what preventive prosecution and other counter-terrorism strategies can be employed to head off terrorist violence?

While addressing these issues, we must protect the privacy of Canadians, ensuring that excessive security intervention not unduly interfere with citizens’ traditional right to go about their lives and business, freely and unencumbered.

In the coming weeks and months, our Senate committee will focus on these issues in a careful, reasoned and bipartisan manner that puts the interest of Canada and Canadians first. We will strive to deliver an initial report by the spring of 2015.

In the meantime, Canadians are invited to tune into the national-security committee hearings, airing live, Mondays at 1 p.m. when Parliament is sitting at http://sen-parlvu.sen.ca and repeated on CPAC.

Daniel Lang is the Senator for Yukon and chairman of the Senate’s standing committee on national security and defence.