This morning the Commissioner of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, appeared before the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security to talk about the ongoing investigation into the actions of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Ottawa on October 22, 2014. He also showed the Committee part of a video that Zehaf-Bibeau made just prior to shooting Cpl. Cirillo at the National War Monument. The Commissioner explained that a total of eighteen seconds had been edited out of the beginning and end of the video, due to concerns about impact on the ongoing investigation.
Next week the Committee will begin hearings on Bill C-51, the government’s sweeping proposed anti-terror legislation. Commissioner Paulson was clear that the release of the video was in response to the Committee’s request and that it is not intended to influence the Committee’s consideration of the Bill.
The Commissioner’s testimony did not suggest that our current laws are inadequate to the task of fighting terror. To the contrary, the Commissioner stated that there was no legal impediment to the investigation or gathering of evidence in relation to Zehaf-Bibeau. Had he survived his attack on Parliament Hill, Zehaf-Bibeau would have been charged with existing terrorism offences under the Criminal Code.
In terms of the necessity and the potential impact of Bill C-51, a few important points come out of the Commissioner’s appearance:
- Zehaf-Bibeau had applied for a Canadian passport but was told his application was being reviewed. The Commissioner noted that there is a Task Force involving a number of agencies (including CSIS, CBSA, CIC, etc) to share this kind of information. This directly contradicts one of the proposed rationales for the new law. The government’s backgrounder on the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act (part of C-51) states that there are barriers to information sharing and provides as an example that “Citizenship and Immigration Canada is limited in its proactive sharing of passport and immigration and related information with national security agencies.”
- Bill C-51 creates a new offence of advocating or promoting terrorism offences in general and allows for seizure and deletion of “terrorist propaganda”, including materials that advocate or promote terrorism. If the Bill is passed, would Canadians (including Parliamentary Committees) be denied the opportunity to see this video? Could a Court order that it be deleted from Canadian internet sites? The new law would have a significant impact on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Is this appropriate?
- Commissioner Paulson stated that Zehaf-Bibeau did speak to friends and family about his views and that there were missed opportunities (by some of these individuals), to recognize concerning behavior and report it. The Commissioner also stated that people are sometimes concerned that going to the authorities will result in jail or punishment for the individual they are concerned about. These concerns will only be heightened by Bill C-51’s new offence of advocating and promoting terrorism – which applies to both public statements and private conversations.
- Commissioner Paulson did express some concerns about the process for obtaining a peace bond, pointing to the recent Montreal case as an example. In that case, the Crown sought a terrorism-linked peace bond against a young man, with the consent of the Attorney General. The hearing for the peace bond has been put off for a month. Although the Commissioner could not say exactly why this is the case, he did suggest the proposed legislation would be helpful. Bill C-51 would lower the thresholds for obtaining a terrorism-related peace bond. However, even with the changes proposed, individuals must still have an opportunity to consider the case against them, which may require a delay in a hearing. The Bill also does nothing to address the allocation of court resources.
The events that occurred in October 2014 were tragic and it is important that the public have information about what happened and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it. The threat of terrorism needs to be addressed, but Bill C-51 is not the answer. CCLA continues to state its firm opposition to the Bill. Although we have unfortunately not been invited to appear before the Committee, we will be submitting a written brief which will be available on our website shortly.