MPs debate anti-terrorism law as RCMP arrest 2 for allegedly conspiring to carry out terrorist attack

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews
On Monday, the RCMP announced that they had arrested two men for allegedly conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (pictured here) said Monday’s arrests demonstrate “that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada.”. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – On the day the Conservatives brought back a stringent anti-terrorism bill for debate in Parliament, the RCMP arrested two men and charged them with allegedly conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA rail train.

MPs spent Monday morning debating Bill S-7, first introduced in the Senate last February, which increases powers for investigating terrorism.

The Conservative bill brings back two provisions first introduced by Jean Chretien’s Liberal government after 9-11 and then “sunsetted” or expired five years ago.

Bill S-7 would allow for preventative detention of a suspect for three days without charge. It would also bring back investigative hearings, meaning someone who is suspected of having knowledge about terrorism must answer questions with the risk of going to jail for up to 12 months if they refuse. And it would make it illegal to leave the country with the intent of plotting or committing an act of terrorism – such as going to an al-Qaida training camp.

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Monday afternoon, RCMP announced they had arrested two men who allegedly plotted to derail a VIA passenger train, claiming the men received “direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran.

Watch the video below: RCMP address arrests made in alleged Canadian terror plot

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday’s arrests demonstrate “that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada.”

“Our government remains unwavering in its commitment to protect Canadians and support the global fight against terrorism. Preventing, countering, and prosecuting terrorism is a priority for our government,” said Toews. He didn’t answer questions about the arrest because the case is now before the courts.

Watch the video below: Vic Toews remarks on the thwarted terrorist plot

NDP MP Jack Harris said it’s a “little bit odd” to have the arrest on the same day the legislation was being debated. He said that what is suspicious is that the anti-terrorism laws were put into effect 10 years ago, rarely used, and have now been brought back.

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“Whether the timing of the announcement of the Mounties is predicated by that, that I don’t know,” he said. “I would certainly hope that the minister of public safety didn’t seek an announcement of this kind.”

Harris said the Conservatives often bring in legislation that’s overreaching and unnecessary.

“In times like this, this is when governments do react and quite often these are overreactions,” he said.

Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia, whose party supports S-7, said he hopes that law enforcement and security agencies would not be influenced by the government’s timing on legislation.

“I hope that the law enforcement agencies, the security agencies in this country would not allow that to happen, that they would make announcements according to their own imperatives and timetables,” he said.

“I do think it’s an odd coincidence that we would be debating Bill S-7 the day when we were supposed to be debating the Liberal motion on democracy in the House.”

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Toronto and Raed Jaser, 35, of Montreal are charged with allegedly conspiring to carry out an attack against, and conspiring to murder persons unknown in association with the terrorist group al-Qaida. They are not Canadian citizens, but investigators will not comment on their countries of origin.

The men are set to appear in court on Tuesday.

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With files from Canadian Press

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