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Goodale plans spring legislation to revamp controversial anti-terror law C-51

Last Updated Mar 21, 2017 at 6:20 pm EDT

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Goodale says the Liberals plan to introduce legislation this spring to revamp the Conservative anti-terrorism bill known as C-51.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – The federal Liberals plan to introduce legislation this spring to revamp the Conservative anti-terrorism bill known as C-51, the public safety minister says.

The package could include other measures that flow from the government’s recently concluded national security consultation, Ralph Goodale said in an interview.

The Liberals promised during the last election to repeal “problematic elements” of omnibus security legislation ushered in by the previous Conservative government after a gunman stormed Parliament Hill.

C-51 gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service explicit powers to disrupt terrorist threats, not just gather information about them. It also created a new offence of promoting the commission of terrorist offences and broadened the government’s no-fly list powers.

The Trudeau government has committed to ensuring all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to preserving legitimate protest and advocacy and to defining terrorist propaganda more clearly.

It has also pledged that appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list will be subject to mandatory review.

The Liberals have faced persistent pressure from the NDP and civil libertarians to move quickly on the changes, but the government opted to consult widely and take its time.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the national security consultation, and there was “a tremendous amount of consensus” on the Liberal platform promises, Goodale said.

The larger challenge is figuring out what else to include in the package of national security reforms, he said.

“There’s a lot of input that we need to weigh very carefully. And we’re doing that now to assess just exactly the thrust and direction of the consultation. And on the basis of that analysis, I will be taking proposals before cabinet for legislative changes,” Goodale said.

“I’m hopeful that we can get a good, solid legislative package in the public domain for the House and the Canadians to see later on this spring.”

Given the scope of the exercise, it’s unclear whether other security-related bills will follow.

“If we can make it all fit within one piece of legislation so that it can advance all simultaneously, that would be helpful. But it also raises questions of how much is digestible all at once, too,” Goodale said.

“I just don’t know yet — whether we’ll be able to get it all done at once. Or whether it will take maybe two or three pieces of legislation to get it done.”

Two other commitments are nearing fruition — a special committee of parliamentarians to oversee intelligence activities and a federal office that will focus on national counter-radicalization efforts.

MPs who studied a bill to create the committee of parliamentarians made several amendments to bolster its powers. Opposition parties expressed dismay when the government recently nixed some of the changes, including the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Critics say the prime minister will wield too much power over the committee and that it will lack the tools to get to the bottom of intelligence scandals and failures.

Goodale denies the bill has been gutted, arguing it is only prudent to place some limitations on the committee’s powers given the extreme sensitivity of the files it will probe.

“I think it’s a matter of gaining experience and credibility. There’s quite a very substantial learning curve here,” Goodale said.

“If something goes wrong in the handling of the information, the consequences are not trivial.”

Committee members will have a “powerful platform” to voice concerns if they feel the government is unfairly denying them information or obstructing an investigation, he said.

“The problem for the government will not go away until those MPs and senators on this committee have had their concerns assuaged. They will have a unique ability to blow the whistle.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter