OTTAWA - Conservative MP Michael Chong is calling for stronger parliamentary scrutiny of intelligence agencies — putting himself squarely at odds with his party and the Harper government.
Planned new anti-terrorism measures — which Chong supports — create a need for greater oversight of security agencies by a parliamentary committee of MPs who are "directly and democratically accountable to Canadians," the Ontario backbench member said in a statement on the legislation.
The government bill, tabled in response to the daylight murders of two Canadian soldiers, would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the power to thwart suspected terrorist plots — not just gather information about them.
The legislation would give judges the power to authorize CSIS violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It would also make it easier for the RCMP to obtain a peace bond to restrict the movements of suspects and extend the amount of time they can be kept in preventative detention.
The legislation is being studied by the House of Commons public safety committee, which expects to hear more than 50 witnesses.
Several critics say the increased powers should be accompanied by more robust parliamentary examination of intelligence activities — pleas the government has consistently rejected.
Speaking at an event last month in Surrey, B.C., Prime Minister Stephen Harper categorically rejected the idea of a security-cleared committee of parliamentarians — like those used in Britain and the United States — monitoring spy agencies.
"The model we have in Canada of independent, expert oversight — that's the model we're pursuing," he said. "We're going further in that direction, and we as a government are not interested in politicians doing the oversight."
In his statement, Chong said there has been an alarming increase in the number of “lone-wolf” terrorist attacks around the world in the last year.
It is "clear the attacks in Canada could have been prevented" if authorities had legal tools found in the anti-terrorism legislation, known as Bill C-51, he said.
"However, while I fully support Bill C-51, I also believe we need greater oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies by a parliamentary committee of elected MPs, who are directly and democratically accountable to Canadians," Chong said.
"That greater oversight is even more important as we give these agencies new powers to combat terrorism."
On Oct. 22, Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, an honour guard at the National War Memorial, before rushing into Parliament's Centre Block. Zehaf Bibeau was quickly gunned down.
A short video he made shortly before the attack indicates he was angry about Canadian military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Two days earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau had fatally rammed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. After a chase, police shot and killed the knife-wielding assailant.
It soon emerged the RCMP had been monitoring the man — who harboured jihadist sympathies — for months.
The Mounties even prevented him from travelling overseas, presumably to join militant fighters. But they did not have enough evidence to arrest him or further limit his movements, saying extreme beliefs were not a crime.
Vincent's sister told a parliamentary hearing into Bill C-51 on Monday night she believes measures in the legislation might have helped save her brother's life.
"They would be surveilled and they would be able to talk to their parents, they would be able to stop it," Louise Vincent told the committee. "They can put them in prison — I think preventive prison — for seven days and this way they can make them stop."
However, Vincent told the committee that Bill C-51 should just be the beginning, saying the next step is to understand what is going on.
"We need to understand why this is happening," she said. "We'll need psychologists, we'll need sociologists, we'll need people to try to find out what the heck is going on there, because this is not normal."
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