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It was an anti-terrorism bill that was derided as authoritarian, “dangerously vague” and borne of Conservative paranoia. And one of the first acts of the Trudeau government was to make do on a campaign promise to rewrite it.
But in hindsight, 2015’s Anti-Terrorism Act seems almost tailor-made to combat Canada’s sudden new reality of having explicitly pro-terror rallies regularly hitting the streets of its major cities.
Known as Bill C-51 – and derided as Canada’s Patriot Act – the legislation consisted largely of granting CSIS the powers to disrupt terrorist plots, rather than just investigate them. Detention powers were also broadened; with police now able to detain someone who “may” commit a terrorist attack, rather than someone who “will.”
But one of C-51’s most controversial clauses was a measure to criminalize the “glorification” “and “promotion” of terrorism.
The Criminal Code already made it a crime to “abet” terrorism – as is the case with all crimes. “Every one who counsels another person to be a party to an offence is a party to every offence that the other commits,” reads one of the very first sections of the Criminal Code of Canada.
But C-51 would add an entirely new section prescribing prison terms of up to five years for “communicating statements (that) knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general.”
It also gave judges the power to issue a warrant for the seizure of “terrorist propaganda” even without a criminal charge – effectively putting pro-terror materials in a similar legal category to child pornography.
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“Terror glorification” was also made a condition of parole. Any offender presenting an “undue risk of committing the new glorification of terrorism” was to face more stringent conditions in when and how they got out of jail.
“The proposed offence will fill a gap in the criminal law by making it a crime for a person to knowingly promote or advocate the commission of terrorism offences in general,” said then Justice Minister Peter MacKay at the time.
To paraphrase MacKay’s explanation of the clause to a Parliamentary committee, it was already illegal to tell someone to bomb a train station, but C-51 made it illegal to say that “someone should bomb a train station.”
It’s difficult to know how the Canadian judiciary would have interpreted the minimum threshold of “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences.” But the events of the last week have seen one of Canada’s most explicit surges of potential examples.
Since the Oct. 7 massacres of more than 1,000 civilians in Israel by Hamas, Canada has seen dozens of rallies in all its major cities to cheer the attacks as an act of “resistance” and to call for the destruction of Israel.
Although perennially framed as “pro-Palestinian” rallies or “ceasefire” marches, organizers have often been explicit in praising Hamas fighters as “martyrs,” or in targeting Jewish businesses and organizations.
The group Toronto4Palestine – one of the most active rally organizers – broadcast a video of masked demonstrators seeming to intimidate diners at Café Landwer, a Toronto restaurant that’s Jewish-owned and has Israeli locations.
At an Oct. 9 rally in Vancouver, Harsha Walia – former director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association – told a crowd, “How beautiful is the spirit to get free that Palestinians literally learned how to fly on hang gliders.” The “hang gliders” being an apparent reference to the paragliders that Hamas terrorists used to swoop in on an Israeli music festival where they massacred more than 250 people.
A representative with Free Palestine Halifax – the organizer of a march last weekend in Halifax – told local media rather explicitly that her event was calling for the eradication of Israel.
“Jews can continue to exist, the Zionist ideology cannot,” said Yara Jamal who no longer works for CTV Atlantic. When pressed if the “Zionist ideology” referred to the State of Israel, she responded, “The state, no, cannot exist.”
Major rallies have also routinely featured the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – an explicit rejection of a “two-state solution” in favour of Israel’s total eradication. Notably, European governments are already pushing for the phrase to be recognized as an explicit call to violence.
C-51 was drawn up in the wake of the 2014 terror attack on Parliament Hill. On Oct. 22, 2014, a 32-year-old Quebec City-born Islamist used a lever-action rifle to murder Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a ceremonial sentry at Canada’s National War Memorial.
The gunman was then able to gain access to the Centre Block of Parliament. At the time, the building was filled with almost all of Canada’s senior political leadership – including the prime minister – but the attacker was killed by a barrage of shots fired by both Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers and RCMP Const. Curtis Barrett.
At the time, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney framed C-51 as a direct response to the 2014 attacks. “The international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada and our allies,” he said upon tabling the bill, adding “I remember I was sitting in the caucus room when we heard gunfire and the terrorist being killed just steps away.”
Civil libertarians and progressive groups roundly decried the bill as an overreaction. “Bill C-51… would expand the powers of Canada’s spy agency, allow Canadians to be arrested on mere suspicion of future criminal activity, allow the Minister of Public Safety to add Canadians to a ‘no-fly list’ with illusory rights of judicial review, and, perhaps most alarmingly, create a new speech-related criminal offence of ‘promoting’ or ‘advocating’ terrorism,” read a critique at the time by the civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby.
But at the time, even though Conservative fortunes were fading, their bill had widespread support among the Canadian public, with one Angus Reid Institute survey finding 72 per cent in favour. The most popular measures, meanwhile, were the ones about “glorifying terrorism” – with 91 per cent saying they backed provisions to “make it illegal to promote terrorism.”
The Liberals at the time actually struck a middle ground on Bill C-51; unlike the NDP, they voted for it – albeit with the promise that they would amend it the next time they formed government.
That amendment came less than two years later. CSIS would keep a lot of its expanded powers, but the threshold for preventive detentions was raised – and the “glorification” provisions were dropped entirely.
The amendment changed “promoting terrorist offences” to “counseling terrorism offenses” – which effectively put the law right back where it had been prior to C-51.
In a Wednesday post to X.com, former Conservative Senator Linda Frum noted that Toronto’s Queen’s Park was set to host a rally entitled “Glory to Our Martyrs” – one of many organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, a group that has frequently cheered the Oct. 7 attacks as an act of “resistance.”
“In 2015 PM Harper tried to make it a crime to glorify and promote terrorism. Trudeau blocked his efforts and here we are,” she wrote. “There exists no law in Canada to prevent this orgy of celebration for the beheading of babies and the rape and execution of little girls.”
IN OTHER NEWS
While the Trudeau government may seem aloof to public opinion, they are fully aware that nobody likes them anymore and they are slowly lurching towards a historic, Kathleen Wynne-sized electoral defeat. Thus did we have their attempted turnaround on housing affordability, with the Liberals now positioning themselves as champions of de-regulating housing construction. And now the Liberals are cutting the carbon tax … sort of. Home heating oil will henceforth be exempt from the tax for the next three years. It doesn’t really make any sense from a carbon standpoint; if you’re trying to disincentivize fossil fuels, you would presumably treat home fossil fuels the same as automotive fossil fuels. But, Canada’s highest concentration of home heating oil users just happens to be in Atlantic Canada, the same region where Liberal sentiment just dropped off a cliff following the July 1 introduction of the carbon tax.
From our department of salacious gossip, the National Post has rounded up all the known instances in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared in public with his wife Sophie, despite the fact that she (according to a recently released family law case) was simultaneously carrying on with an Ottawa surgeon. There are plenty of marriages of convenience in Ottawa, but where this one gets weird is that all throughout this period both Trudeaus were publicly sending out a hefty assortment of mushy Instagram messages (like the one above), detailing how happy and committed they are. The takeaway? The personalities of political figures are often a latticework of projected artifice and you should probably vote for them based on other factors.
Cheering or excusing terrorism has been a remarkably consequence-free activity within the halls of Canadian academia of late, but London, Ont.’s Western University provided a rare exception this week. Aarij Anwer, a volunteer Muslim chaplain at Western, was asked to stop showing up to the university for making online statements that “do not align with Western’s commitment to peaceful and respectful dialogue.” While the university did not specify which comments, he had posted a statement online inferring that key elements of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks were a hoax. “Stop spreading lies of beheading babies or rape of little girls. It’s been debunked. No one is celebrating the murder of Israeli babies,” he wrote. Western also happens to be the university where students were recently found tearing down posters of Israeli hostages, and when confronted, replied, “You started this.”
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