OTTAWA — The Liberal government's promised changes to a controversial anti-terrorism law likely won't come until next year, once officials have digested an array of public suggestions on revamping national security.
The government opened an online consultation Thursday, soliciting feedback on everything from sharing information and preventing attacks to conducting surveillance and ensuring intelligence agencies are accountable.
The consultation, which can be found at canada.ca/national-security-consultation, runs until Dec. 1.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale makes a funding announcement during a visit to an immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que., on Aug. 15, 2016. (Photo: Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told a news conference in Edmonton the government also hopes House of Commons and Senate committees will hold public hearings on the national security framework.
It means any legislation flowing from these reviews would not be tabled until December at the earliest and more likely in late winter or spring 2017.
In the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to repeal "problematic elements" of omnibus security legislation, known as Bill C-51, ushered in by the previous Conservative government. The bill gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service explicit powers to disrupt terrorist threats, not just gather information about them.
The legislation also created a new offence of promoting the commission of terrorist offences and broadened the government's no-fly list powers. In addition, it expanded the sharing of federally held information about activity that "undermines the security of Canada."
'A lot of people feel shut out'
The Trudeau government has committed to ensure all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, preserve legitimate protest and advocacy and define terrorist propaganda more clearly.
The Liberals also plan to introduce new measures they say will do a better job of balancing collective security with rights and freedoms.
Conservative public safety critic Erin O'Toole recently cautioned against tampering with the new CSIS power to derail threats at an early stage.
Goodale defended the Liberals' unhurried approach Thursday, saying the government wanted to take the necessary time to "get this right" after the Conservatives rushed legislation onto the books without properly consulting Canadians.
"A lot of people felt shut out, and we promised to give them the opportunity to be heard."
'Tweaks' not good enough: civil liberties group
Goodale, flanked by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, released a "green paper" outlining 10 key areas of consultation as well as a lengthier explanatory document.
But he stressed the discussion would not be limited to topics the government has flagged. "It's up to Canadians to decide what they want to discuss."
Civil society groups welcomed the public consultation, but stressed a need for a wide-ranging examination.
When C-51 was introduced, Canadians took to the streets in the thousands to express concerns about new CSIS powers, said Micheal Vonn, policy director at the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
"We need serious, evidence-based reform, not legislative tweaking," she said. "And we are confident that this is what the government will be hearing from the Canadian public and experts in the course of these consultations."
The wording of the consultation appears far more focused on addressing the concerns of police rather than the needs of the public, said OpenMedia, a group that fights for Internet freedoms.
"Many of the issues are framed in a highly one-sided way that ignores the reasons why the public is so concerned about Bill C-51 in the first place, notably its impact on the health of our democracy," said David Christopher, OpenMedia's communications manager.
"That said, this consultation is a step in the right direction and we'll be encouraging as many Canadians as possible to take part."