Reality check: Does Canada need a law banning travel to terror hotbeds?
WATCH: Week two of the federal election campaign kicked off Monday with federal leaders trading barbs over terrorism. Stephen Harper came out swinging, saying opposition plans to provide humanitarian aid in the fight against ISIS – without military intervention – is like “dropping aid on dead people”. But critics swung back. Vassy Kapelos reports.
The Conservatives’ latest election pledge, to outlaw Canadian travel to terrorist hotbeds, is already raising more questions than it answers.
Does Canada need this? Why wasn’t it included in the sweeping anti-terror law passed in June? What legal ambiguities are raised when the government starts allowing for exceptions, as it already has said it would?
The proposal —which is so far nothing more than a campaign pledge and has not been drafted into a bill— will make exemptions for Canadians travelling to terrorist regions intending to fight against terrorists the Conservative campaign said Monday.
“The legislation is not intended to prosecute individuals who can prove they have been working with groups fighting against ISIS or other enemies of Canada,” a spokesman for Harper’s campaign wrote in an email.
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That exemption alone makes the proposed law unviable, said University of Ottawa law processor Craig Forcese.
“That there will be an exemption for persons fighting ISIS will make the proposal unworkable, because it will require proof of who you’re fighting for in a complicated theatre where alliances are not always clear,” he said.
The very concept of exempting certain people from a piece of legislation goes against the nature of criminal offences, namely that they are intended to apply across the board, said University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach.
“The rule of law is supposed to apply to everyone equally,” he said. “Presumably, terrorism is about saying certain conduct is unacceptable, no matter whose side you’re on. So it seems that if we wanted to say our citizens should never go abroad to fight foreign wars, then at least the starting point should be that that apply to all wars and all sides.”
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In short, Roach said, law is not designed to designate certain people as enemies. Rather, it’s an instrument intended to apply equally to everybody.
“I support the idea that we have terrorism crimes, but one of the reasons I support that is because we should say we don’t care who you’re fighting for or what your cause is, violence against civilians is wrong,” he said.
Apart from that, the policy would be redundant —or at least it should be.
The federal government passed four offences in 2013 focused on terrorism travel and, just a few months ago, passed its contentious anti-terror bill, C-51.
“You’d think if [the Conservatives] though this was a good idea, they would have included it in C-51,” Roach said, noting the Criminal Code already has 15 terrorism offences. “It’s difficult to understand why they think the laws already enacted are inadequate.”
The last point is especially poignant considering Canada already has laws making it illegal to travel abroad to fight foreign wars, including fighting for ISIS.
“So why double down with a designated-area list,” Forcese asked. “It basically amounts to saying, ‘and we really, really are making it criminal to fight for ISIS.’”
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