Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says the arrest of two men in a foiled terror plot is a reminder of the dangers Canadians face — and the need for strengthened legislation.
“Today’s arrests demonstrate that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada,” he said in a press conference.
Investigators believe the men were supported by al-Qaeda elements in Iran, though police said they don't believe it was state sponsored. They will face numerous charges, including conspiring to interfere with transportation facilities and conspiring to murder persons for the benefit of a terrorist group.
The arrests come after a year-long operation dubbed Operation Smooth, involving RCMP, CSIS, FBI and police services in Ontario and Quebec.
The RCMP announced on Monday afternoon that there was no imminent danger, though officials noted the individuals “had the capacity and intent to carry out these criminal acts.”
Toews lauded all law enforcement agencies involved in the bust.
“Operation Smooth is an example of Canada’s long-standing and productive intelligence sharing relationship with domestic and international partners,” Toews said. “This is a key component of Canada’s counter-terrorism strategy and fundamental to protecting Canadians from terrorist threats.”
The minister also used the arrests as an occasion to promote the Harper government, which he says remains “unwavering” in its commitment to prevent, counter and prosecute terrorism.
“The first responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens,” he said. “Our government takes the responsibility very seriously and we have strengthened the legislative and operational framework of our security agencies to carry out that mandate.”
The arrests come on the very day that the House of Commons debated — with heightened urgency after the Boston bombings — a controversial anti-terrorism bill introduced in the Senate last year.
CBC reports that the S-7, Combating Terrorism Act, would allow for so-called “preventative detention,” meaning a suspect accused of terrorist involvement could be held in custody for three days without a charge being laid. The person could be jailed for 12 months if they refuse to cooperate.
It would also allow for “investigative hearing” in which someone believed to have knowledge of a terror act could be forced to answer questions or face a possible prison sentence of 12 months.
Those two provisions were instituted by the Chrétien government after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, but expired after five years and were not extended in 2007 because of the opposition of Liberals led by Stéphane Dion.
The legislation also creates a new criminal offence that would apply to people leaving the country for the purpose of creating certain terrorist acts abroad.
The NDP, which opposes the bill, questioned the timing of the debate before Monday’s news.
“They could have brought this forward weeks ago, months ago,” said Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar told CTV’s Question Period. “Sadly, what they’re doing here is that they’re using this as an opportunity to, in some ways, look like they’re doing something.”
Terrorism has been a hot political issue since last week’s attack at the Boston marathon. Shortly after, new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told Peter Mansbridge that it is important to think about what may fuel terrorism.
“We have to look at the root causes,” he said. “Now, we don't know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue.
"But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, where do those tensions come from?"
Trudeau’s words prompted a thinly veiled jab from Stephen Harper, who was overseas at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.
“When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes,” he said. "You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible."
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