Why so few terror financing charges and convictions? Good luck finding out

Why are there so few terror financing charges and convictions in Canada? Not easy to get answers. AP Photo, File

“Under the veneer of safety lies dark secrets.”

So said Joe Oliver earlier this week, talking about terrorism financing in Canada to a crowd in Toronto.

Oliver revealed the number of suspected cases FINTRAC (Canada’s financial intelligence agency) flags for national security agencies has doubled over the last two years.

But what’s way more interesting is how few of those cases actually make it to court.

There are only about a handful of terrorism financing charges laid in Canada…ever, and there have been less than a handful (one lawyer told me three) of terrorism financing convictions…ever.

WATCH: Joe Oliver sounds alarm on terror financing cases
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Let me put that into context: since 2009, FINTRAC has flagged 683 suspected cases of terrorism financing or threats to national security. Of 683 suspected cases, there have only been a handful of charges and three convictions.

What’s the disconnect? Is it hard to prove in court? Is it hard to get enough evidence to lay a charge?

Answers are hard to find.

I started with FINTRAC. A spokesperson there left me a message saying he couldn’t get into the specifics about the numbers the Minister provided.

“It’s all top secret intelligence,” he said, adding the RCMP and Public Prosecution Service would have to answer questions on charges or convictions.

Next up was the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC).

A spokesperson there rightly confirmed the PPSC doesn’t lay charges – the RCMP does. Sometimes they’re consulted for advice, and in those cases they look to answer two questions: is it in the public interest and is there a reasonable prospect of conviction?

So then I turned to the RCMP, asking what challenges there are in bringing forward terrorism financing charges. Here’s what they said:

“The RCMP, along with all impacted Government of Canada partners, contributed to Finance Canada’s National Risk Assessment (NRA). The RCMP supports the findings of the NRA but notes that those findings highlight only the vulnerabilities in the Canadian regime and do not factor in any of the controls that have been put in place by either the private sector or the government to mitigate those vulnerabilities.

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Economic integrity is a strategic priority for the RCMP and we work with any partners – including the private sector to ensure that all efforts are taken to prevent, detect and disrupt crimes that affect the Canadian economy.

Much has been done to address money laundering and terrorist financing in Canada, and the RCMP is taking active steps to identify measures to improve our ability to respond to the threat.”

Okey dokey. No clue what those active steps are, but sure.

Now, this is an issue both the Senate Committee on National Defence and Security and the Standing Committee on Finance are studying.

The Senate committee actually formally suggested to the government that the Department of Justice have a number of lawyers trained specifically in terrorism and financing.

Great, a suggestion! So I asked the Department of Justice if they would consider the suggestion.

Here’s what I got:

“We thank the Senate for their work on this file.

The first duty of any government is to protect the safety of its citizens. That is why we introduced the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 to ensure that our national security agencies have the tools they need to protect Canadians against the evolving threat of terrorists.

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The Department of Justice Canada does not lay charges or prosecute cases. Questions related to possible investigations or prosecutions should be referred to either the RCMP or PPSC, which are the federal agencies responsible for criminal investigations and prosecutions respectively.”

Oh. Been there done that. Better luck next time?

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