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OTTAWA — Canada’s security intelligence agencies need more clarity, not resources, in order to safeguard the country, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said.
“CSIS needs clarity in the way they can proceed,” Blaney said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. “While they have all the existing capability to keep us safe and gather the intelligence, we as politicians have the clear duty to make sure we are providing clarity in law and clarity in legislation so CSIS can operate in a frank and fully legal manner.”
Earlier this month, the minister said the Conservative government intends to amend the law governing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in an effort to give the spy agency more authority to track terrorists overseas.
Blaney was supposed to table that bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday — the same day a gunman fatally shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial in Ottawa before storming the halls of Parliament where he was shot dead.
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The RCMP indicated the gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had become radicalized. But he was not among the more than 90 individuals being monitored for suspected terror-related activities, officials said.
Two days before Zehaf-Bibeau’s rampage, Martin Rouleau ran down two Canadian Forces soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., killing one of them. Officials said they were monitoring Rouleau, who had his passport revoked after he tried to travel to Syria. There was not, however, enough evidence to charge him with any offence, they said.
Although the Conservatives were already planning to table the bill last week, the timing is delicate in light of last week’s attacks, said Jeremy Littlewood, assistant professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“If it’s ready to go, maybe this is the time for a discussion. But we do need to ensure there is a cool discussion about legislation and not a knee-jerk reaction based on emotions,” said Littlewood, who is also a member of the Canadian Research Network on Terrorism Security and Society.
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“Our experience in democracies [is] if we put counter-terrorism or anti-terrorism legislation on the books in a very hasty manner, we often regret that at a certain point in the future, and it’s very hard to undo,” he said.
That said, this could be a good time to discuss potential amendments, Littlewood said, considering issues “are fresh in our minds,” and the public and politicians are willing to concentrate on them.
In the days following tragedies like those Canada suffered this week, there is often an overwhelming desire to figure out why the events occurred. Although pieces of each attacker’s life are coming together, there still is no certainty regarding the motivations of either.
“I think we’ll have to accept they did it for political reasons,” said Jytte Klausen, who teaches at Brandeis University and founded the Western Jihadism Project.
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“I think there is evidence from both of these incidents that the perpetrators were planning this for some time. They were online, they were participating in chat rooms and posting things on social media,” she told Tom Clark. “They also appear to have had personal connections in their radicalization process that brought them to adopt and change certain behaviours; they became alienated from their families, etcetera. Those are all pretty typical behavioural profiles of people who end up carrying out violent incidents.”
Both men who carried out last week’s attacks were Canadian. Rouleau had his passport revoked to stop him from travelling to Syria and Zehaf-Bibeau was experiencing delays in obtaining his.
Had either been allowed to travel, would Canada not have had to endure the slayings of two soldiers?
It’s likely these men would have committed attacks regardless of whether they were on national or international ground, Klausen said.
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For many radicalized individuals, it doesn’t matter where they commit their attacks, so long as they get it done, Klausen said.
“For personal reasons, they very often are very attracted to becoming these romantic warrior figures in insurgencies abroad, and they will often try to do that first,” she said. “But if they then are in one way or another thwarted in their objective, they will turn around and do something at home … I think it’s important to accept that whether or not they do it at home or they do it abroad, it’s just part of what the philosophy of the militants do.”
No matter the powers, the clarity and the insight, however, it’s unlikely any country, including Canada, will become immune to attacks, Littlewood said.
“It’s unrealistic to expect we can eradicate terrorism,” he said. “Democracies manage terrorism. It’s a fact of life we have to live with it.”
With files from Nick Logan
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