TORONTO (AP) – Canada announced a new anti-terror law that will allow anyone suspected of being involved in a terror plot to be detained without charge for up to seven days.
The law announced Friday will also make it a crime for people to call for a terrorist attack, even if they don’t make a specific threat, and empower Canada’s spy agency to thwart attacks directly in a significant expansion of their powers.
Work on the law began in October after a gunman killed a soldier at Canada’s national war memorial and then stormed Parliament. The attack in Ottawa came two days after a man, said to be inspired by the Islamic State group, ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot to death.
The new law still has to be passed in Parliament but Harper’s Conservative government has a majority of the seats so passage is all but ensured.
Under current law it is a crime to make a specific threat. The new law will make it a crime for a person to call for terror attacks on Canada generally or to promote or advocate others to carry out terrorism elsewhere.
“We cannot tolerate this any more than we tolerate people that make jokes about bomb threats at airports,” Harper said. “Anyone engaging in that kind of activity is going to face the full force of the law in the future.”
The penalty will be a maximum of five years in prison. Authorities will also be able to remove terror-related material from any Canadian website.
Harper said extremists have declared war on Canada and it would be a grave mistake to ignore their threats. “Over the last few years a great evil has been descending upon our world, an evil that has been growing more and more powerful, violent terrorism,” Harper said.
Under the current law those suspected of being involved in a terror plot can be detained for up to three days. The new law extends that to seven days provided police get a judge’s permission.
The new law will also allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s spy service, to directly approach terror suspects in order to disrupt their plans. CSIS is currently permitted only to collect intelligence and pass the information on to police.
The spy agency will now be able to cancel plane or other travel reservations made by Canadians suspected of being involved in terrorism. The new activities by CSIS will require approval by a judge. Police already have many of these powers that CSIS will acquire but the government wanted the spy agency to be able to act quickly if they see a threat.
Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, said the law that makes it a crime to encourage terrorism will likely not hold up in court. He called it too vague.
“There is a potential that it will chill expression,” Roach said. “It could be seen as disproportionately targeting the Muslim community and expressions of general support for terrorism in some parts of the world.”
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said it targets those who advocate terrorism with intent and doesn’t deal with glorification. MacKay said his government wants to work with other countries to remove terrorist material that’s coming from websites outside Canada.
“We need to work toward a system that will allow for the removal or at least the blocking of information that is provocative and that is aimed at promoting terrorism,” MacKay said. “That will require international protocols and a greater level of cooperation with our international partners.”