OTTAWA – A federal proposal to scrub terrorist propaganda from the Internet risks sweeping in too much speech that has no ties to violent threats, says a new analysis.
The definition of propaganda in the government anti-terrorism bill is dangerously broad, law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach say in their paper.
The bill, introduced late last month, proposes giving the RCMP power to seek a judge’s order to remove terrorist propaganda from websites.
Forcese, of the University of Ottawa, and Roach, who teaches at the University of Toronto, say while they support the idea in principle, it should be rooted in actual or threatened violence.
The Conservatives brought in the bill — which would also significantly expand the powers of Canada’s spy agency — following the daylight murders of two Canadian soldiers last October.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service would become an agency that actively tries to derail terror plots, not just one that collects and analyzes information.
The bill would also create a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terror attack.
The New Democrats oppose the legislation, calling it a serious infringement of civil liberties that will not be effective in reducing terrorism. The Liberals have agreed to support the bill with the caveat that they will bring in stronger oversight of the intelligence agencies should they form the next government.
In the House of Commons, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the jihadi extremists’ threat is real. “That is why we need to move on and put measures in place to keep Canadians safe.”
In their paper, Forcese and Roach support a provision in the bill for deleting Internet material “that counsels the commission of a terrorist offence,” saying it deals with well-understood legal concepts.
“A video that tried to solicit people to bomb is already criminal,” they write. “So too is a video that seeks to recruit persons to a terrorist activity or group.”
However, the professors express concern that written material and audio or visual recordings may be deleted simply on the basis that they “promote” or “advocate” the commission of any “terrorism offences in general.”
Such wording could capture the use of political violence for any number of causes, including ones that many would regard as “mainstream” — for instance, contesting the Assad regime in Syria, they say.
Forcese and Roach also take issue with a little-noticed amendment that would add the category of “terrorist propaganda” to a customs tariff that currently allows the warrantless seizure and detention of obscenity and hate propaganda at the border.
Initiatives that reduce interest in material which promotes or attempts to glorify terrorism are critical, the authors say. But there are no such programs in the legislative package.
They call for “holistic, multi-disciplinary approaches toward counter-radicalization,” citing Britain’s recently enacted Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which requires such a program at schools, health authorities and prisons.
Daniel Hiebert, a co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society, told a Senate committee on Monday it’s important to emphasize such “soft security” approaches in dealing with radicalization, as “hard security” tactics like stiffer criminal penalties are not effective at deterring young people.