Interview article

Senator Hugh Segal

Terrorism in Canada
CLIVE ADDY  |  Jul 15, 2013

Clive Addy: First, might I thank you, Senator, for accepting to do this interview. A few years ago, terrorism was seen as something that happened elsewhere and was performed on and by people other than Canadians. How times have changed! Today and most recently, Canadians have witnessed fellow citizens being involved in terrorist activity, funding and support around the world. Senator Segal, your Special Committee on Anti-terrorism has been most active in this domain. Can you give us your perception of the relative seriousness of terrorism in Canada, both as a direct threat to us and to our allies?

Senator Segal: The nature of the terrorist threat has changed. Recent arrests in Toronto and elsewhere reflect a home grown radicalization challenge which requires important engagement by intelligence, police and community authorities. The Boston marathon event and the allegations made about a possible plan to attack a VIA train speak to new dynamics in the fight against terrorism.

To follow on, Senator, from this theme of terrorism in Canada; on June 6 of this year, your Committee debated the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Jaffer, calling the attention of the Senate to radicalization in Canada, and the need for a national strategy that more proactively addresses terrorism by emphasizing a community-based approach to preventing such radicalization and to facilitating “deradicalization”. Can you provide our readers with some of the major thrusts of this debate and, specifically, what measures taken by whom at what levels seem to be achieving consensus as the right direction to facilitate this deradicalization?

Senator Segal: Senator Jaffer has been a very constructive voice, both in the Chamber and in committee, alerting Canadians of the threat to some Canadian populations posed by agents of radicalization. In the work of our committee, she has encouraged more intense collaboration between police and security personnel with cross cultural community leadership; specifically as it relates to young people. Religious leaders, teachers, coaches and parents are vital strengths in our protection of national security, especially when we can work together and share perspectives. Our Committee, which operates in an utterly non-partisan way, has been very supportive of these areas of cooperation.

What measures, if any, in respect of immigration and refugee procedures and screening, would your Committee consider as worthy of study to reduce the threat of home grown radicalization?

Our Committee reviewed and passed new Government legislation that, it should be noted, originated in the Senate, making it illegal for any Canadian resident to travel abroad for activities, or in support of groups that would be illegal in Canada. This has now been passed by the House and been given Royal Ascent. This legislation deals directly with efforts by some to attract disaffected young people from various communities to go abroad to places like Somalia, for example, to support terrorist groups. Recently reported events in a terrorist attack on a natural gas plant, allegedly involving young Canadians, further underlines the importance of this new legislation.

In the midst of all of this, is the exploding use of technology such as social media to both facilitate and support the perpetration of terror activities, and the corresponding need for police and other security agencies to use this technology to counter the threats. For instance, Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy, dedicated in October 2010, in two “tranches”, some $245 million of new funding to build on significant existing and longstanding government investment in information technology security. How much of this (or more) is necessary and destined to private infrastructure that owns and controls so much of this technology? Is there supporting anti-terrorism legislation necessary to guide them and with which they should comply?

Senator Segal: There are varieties of cyber threat. The use of the internet to transmit radicalizing propaganda, or material information on bomb-making, for example, are threats we have discussed in Committee and on which we have heard testimony from experts at home and abroad, as well as from anti-terrorist units in our largest urban police forces. Both their testimony and our own recommendations underline the vital importance of contextual awareness relative to what is being transmitted via Jihadi sites while avoiding censorship, as well as the consideration of some of the same proscriptions as may apply to the policing of child pornography.

We considered aspects of the cyber threat to our digital infrastructure within hearings dealing with infrastructure security overall – from banking systems to pipelines, transportation and government. As these systems often rely on a mix of private and public system protection, our Committee has called for more research, more collaboration and a more explicit, publicly audited checklist of preventive measures.

The withdrawal of the “lawful access” legislation proposed earlier in this parliament to address the use by police and security agencies of legitimate and lawful surveillance measures against criminal or terrorist exploitation of the internet, and the recent controversy in the U.S. and elsewhere about metadata oversight, indicates that there is still much public debate worth having on the pros and cons of the various approaches to protecting our freedom from fear, within the very freedoms we take seriously in Canada.

Senator, there are major and parallel challenges across Canada in the “Economics of Policing” with both ever-expanding technologies and the changing human face of Canada. Can you share your thoughts on legislation or proposals that you or your Committee might be considering to specifically lessen the anti-terrorism threat and minimize the financial burden?

Senator Segal: In a sense, the way our public markets operate means that many corporations that operate in areas of transportation, energy, communications, banking, etc., have had to meet their insurers’ standard, relative to minimizing exposure to the disruptive threat of various forms of terrorism and cyber system security. The Cabinet Committee on National Security, now with the former Defence Minister and present Attorney General as chair, will, no doubt, have a regular review of this issue on its agenda.

It is not clear that new legislation is required beyond those laws in place with respect to CSIS, CSEC and the rest. Sometimes finding more collaborative ways to enforce legislation as smartly as possible is of compelling value.

One area of specific federal responsibility is the serious issue of nuclear anti-terrorism. As stated by world leaders who attended the 26–27 March 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea:

“Nuclear terrorism continues to be one of the most challenging threats to international security. Defeating this threat requires strong national measures and international cooperation given its potential global political, economic, social, and psychological consequences.”

Can you share with FrontLine readers some concerns and possible measures and legislation that your committee might consider to face this challenge in our ever growing technological and global world?

Senator Segal: Let me first of all report that this last parliament saw the introduction by the Government in the Senate, consideration before our Committee, with expert testimony on nuclear terrorism, and passage by the House of new legislation creating new criminal offences that met Canada’s ratification duties relative to the non-proliferation treaty signed in Seoul. This tough legislation makes it illegal for the unauthorized movement, possession and other use of nuclear materials by unauthorized individuals-with very severe penalties. It has also been signed into law.

Are there any final issues on anti- terrorism that you would wish to share with our readers?

Senator Segal: The one critical area where Canada is an outlier from our NATO and G8 allies is the [complete] absence of any legislative oversight, on national security and defence activities. This means that the lack of a security-cleared legislative oversight prevents senior security, police and defence officials from speaking as frankly as they can in the UK, U.S., France, Australia and other allied countries. This is a serious weakness about which our Committee has made recommendations to the Government to adopt the UK parliamentary approach.

Clive Addy is Executive Editor of FrontLine Security magazine.
© FrontLine Security 2013