Steven Blaney: It's Time To Stop 'Under-Reacting' To Terrorism

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OTTAWA - The federal public safety minister is warning that it's time to stop "under-reacting" to the threat of terrorism.

Steven Blaney's unusual caution in the House of Commons begins to hint at the political tensions re-emerging in the wake of last week's two deadly attacks on members of the Armed Forces — and on Parliament itself.

The Conservative government introduced legislation Monday that gives Canada's spy agency new powers to monitor and track those suspected of plotting terrorist attacks.

The Opposition New Democrats are urging a full public debate, with time for security experts to testify to parliamentary committees, before the government expands security powers that could curtail civil liberties.

The NDP would also like to see the results of government-commissioned research on the radicalization of Canadian youth — put out to tender by the Conservatives earlier this month — before more laws are enacted.

"We cannot sacrifice one core value for another," NDP deputy leader Libby Davies said in the House of Commons.

Blaney was not prepared to concede the point.

"The first responsibility of the government is to keep Canadians safe. We will not over-react," he responded in the daily question period.

"But it is also time that we stopped under-reacting to the great threats against us."

Blaney stressed the Harper government "will be seeking support from all parties in the House of Commons and the Senate to move this legislation forward as quickly as possible."

Security agencies were given sweeping new powers following the U.S. terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, amid a fierce debate over civil liberties.

Police currently have the power to make a preventive arrest of anyone suspected of planning a terrorist attack. They can also order people they believe have information about a past or future terrorist act to appear before a judge.

The tenor of NDP and Liberal questions Monday in the House suggest the opposition parties fear that the Conservatives will use last week's shocking crimes to further broaden the state security apparatus.

The government has been highlighting the terrorist threat since last Monday, before the first attack in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., which took the life of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, was even public knowledge.

Conservative backbencher Randy Hoback asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper about "unconfirmed reports of a terrorist attack" in the Commons on Oct. 20.

Then, following Wednesday's attack in Ottawa that killed honour guard Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the prime minister took to the national airwaves. Canada won't be cowed, he said, by acts of terror inspired by twisted ideology and linked to Canada's military involvement in the Middle East.

In both instances, the government was well ahead of the police in labelling the attacks as terrorism.

Both attackers were troubled young Canadian men who had converted to Islam, raising public questions about whether mental illness was as much behind their actions as jihadist ideology.

The RCMP has said the two attacks were not co-ordinated and there's no evidence of a wider terrorist network at play.

"I'm not persuaded at all that mental illness is what's driving these things," RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told a Senate hearing Monday.

"What's driving these things is a sort of distorted world view of what's happening around these individuals — perhaps coming to fruition on the back of somebody who has some mental challenges."

Green party Leader Elizabeth May, however, is openly questioning the Conservative focus on new security bills. She suggested Monday that government investments in mental health and addiction counselling "might also improve public safety."

Michael Zehaf Bibeau, the Ottawa gunman, committed a "criminal act," Blaney replied.

"He has targeted one of the symbols that makes us very proud as Canadians and he was acting on a political decision," said Blaney.

"This is clearly a terrorist act."

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Steven Blaney's first name.

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