It’s easy to imagine Bill C-51 actually undermining Canada’s anti-terrorism strategy


When the Tories unveiled their anti-terror bill late last month,  it struck us as less outrageous than  mysterious.  The threat is real enough, as recent events in Paris, Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., have reminded us. But Canadians have been given precious little information on which to decide whether the threat justifies the measures contained in Bill C-51.

This is especially true in the case of C-51’s prohibitions on “advocating” and “promoting” terrorism — terms that, worryingly, are not defined in the bill. In other jurisdictions, such laws have led to obvious abuse and prosecutorial overreach. Nor do they seem to have had any positive effect on the home-grown terrorism situations in the United Kingdom and France, to name just two. Moreover, as law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach argued in Tuesday’s National Post, it is easy to imagine such a law actually undermining Canada’s anti-terrorism strategy.

The RCMP’s counter-violent extremism (CVE) program tries to connect and intervene, if necessary, with people who hold radical views before they turn to violence. Profs. Forcese and Roach imagine an all-too-plausible scenario of the police reaching out to an imam, hoping to engage his parishioners — some of whom, the imam knows, have some pretty radical views but, he believes, no inclinations to violence. If he accepts the RCMP’s invitation, might some of his flock “advocate” or “promote” terrorism in police presence? What might happen to them then? Nobody knows. Any good lawyer would probably tell this imam to politely decline the RCMP’s advances, as the professors say.

On an even more basic level, we happen to live in a time when remarkable numbers of people who are in the process of being radicalized take to public social media to pontificate and boast and scheme. That’s a hugely valuable source of intelligence, and a valuable opportunity to intervene with people before they do any harm. Knowing that such people unfortunately exist, it is unclear to say the least why we would provide them with a legal incentive to clam up.

Whatever the terrorism promotion and advocacy provisions turn out to mean, it’s safe to say the immense majority of Canadians have no reason to fear falling foul of them. That might make them politically saleable, even without a compelling case for them having been made. But the reasonable suspicion these laws could in fact be worse than useless should give all Canadians serious pause, not just staunch civil libertarians.

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