OTTAWA—The Conservative government will amend its anti-terrorism bill to make it clear that its new information-sharing provisions would not target protesters who act outside the letter of the law.
The government will also ensure the information sharing stops short of exchanges with virtually any person for any purpose, say sources familiar with the planned changes.
Another amendment would limit a proposal that would have given the public safety minister the power to order an air carrier to do “anything” necessary to prevent an aviation-related attack. The wording of the provision will be narrowed.
In addition, a new clause would make it clear that Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers do not have arrest powers under the bill—something they have never had.
The sources revealed the changes on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The changes correspond with some—but not all—of the various amendments proposed by the NDP and Liberals.
The Conservatives brought in the 62-page security bill following the murders of two Canadian soldiers just days apart last October. The government says the legislation is needed to prevent future jihadi-inspired attacks on Canadians.
It would allow CSIS to take clandestine measures that violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as long as a judge sanctions the actions. That would see the intelligence service’s mandate extend well beyond the collection and analysis of information.
The bill would also permit much broader sharing of federally held information about activity that “undermines the security of Canada.”
The proposed legislation already says such activity does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.
The word “lawful” will be dropped following concerns the provision could be used to go beyond genuine security threats to ensnare those who hold peaceful demonstrations without an official permit or despite a court order.
Critics also objected to a clause that would allow disclosure of information beyond listed federal agencies “to any person, for any purpose”—language that will be dropped.
The government has always been open to amendments that make sense and improve the legislation, said Jeremy Laurin, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
“All parliamentarians should put politics aside and support the additional tools our security agencies need to combat the jihadi terrorists who have declared war on upon us,” Laurin said.
The New Democrats want the government to go farther and nix the proposed new CSIS powers, bolster review of intelligence activities, and enhance anti-radicalization programs.
Earlier, before word of the federal amendments emerged, NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said his party believes the bill is “dangerous and ineffective” following testimony from four dozen witnesses at the House of Commons public safety committee.
The committee plans to examine the bill clause-by-clause Tuesday, and the NDP laid out several suggested amendments of its own at a news conference Friday.
CSIS assumed many of the RCMP’s security and intelligence functions in 1984 following a series of Mountie scandals—including the burning of a barn where alleged radicals planned to meet. The idea was to have one service, CSIS, gather intelligence and another, the RCMP, build a criminal case and make arrests.
“There’s a good reason for keeping the collection of intelligence separate from the enforcement functions of the RCMP,” Garrison said.
The NDP, which plans to vote against the bill, would completely rewrite the information-exchange provisions to ensure they cover only actual threats to Canadian security. The party would also restore the inspector general of CSIS, a watchdog role that was abolished three years ago.
The Liberals plan to support the bill, but have also suggested amendments to bolster review and ensure charter rights are respected.
During question period Friday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay signalled the government had no plans to waver on core elements of the legislation.
“This is a bill aimed directly at giving our security agencies the necessary support, tools, legislation and resources to go after people who are directly targeting Canada.”