OTTAWA - The federal government refused Monday to be specific about its efforts to neutralize the growing threat of Islamic extremism both at home and abroad — even in the face of an ominous new threat levelled directly at Canada.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is calling for supporters to kill westerners, be they military or civilian, from countries involved in the battle against ISIL in northern Iraq — including Canadians.
Canada's decision to send special forces "advisers" to join the fight against ISIL is likely what prompted its inclusion on the global hit list, observers said, though the prime minister noted that such threats have been on the radar of security agencies for a long time.
But there were calls Monday for far more disclosure about what exactly the government plans to do about it.
Though the government has readily said they believe more than 130 Canadians are involved in terrorism abroad, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander cited privacy concerns in refusing to say how many passports he has revoked to prevent would-be attackers from moving around the globe.
The government also refused to disclose the status of a military mission it is joining in northern Iraq.
Canada is sending 69 special forces personnel to serve as advisers to Iraqi forces battling ISIL militants, in addition to humanitarian assistance. That mission is only supposed to last 30 days, although it remains unclear when that time frame began — or even whether the clock has indeed started running.
"With any credible terrorist threat, the government must take appropriate security measures, but this must not become an excuse for rubber-stamping the Conservatives' ill-defined military mission in Iraq," MP Jack Harris said Monday during question period as he asked the government for more detail on the time frame.
None was forthcoming.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested the government was still exploring further contributions to that mission and is also looking at what more it can do domestically.
The House passed legislation last year making it a criminal offence to leave Canada for the purpose of committing terrorism — a law the United Nations Security Council said Monday it now wants all of its members to copy.
But when asked specifically what more Canada was doing, Harper demurred.
"We have, as you know, strengthened laws in this country to deal with these kinds of threats," Harper told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
"We are currently in the process of examining these laws and examining other means we may have to monitor and to take action against both organizations and individuals who may undertake activities that are potentially threatening to Canadians."
The ISIL statement, contained in an audio recording, was released in Arabic by the group's media arm, Al-Furqan, and appeared on militant sites used by the group.
The Associated Press reported the speaker sounded like that of previous recordings attributed to Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani.
In the 42-minute recording released online late Sunday, al-Adnani called on Muslims everywhere to kill anyone whose country takes part in the attack.
"If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that joined a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be."
The global reach of ISIL through social media is what makes threats like these particularly chilling, said Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former Canadian intelligence officer who now heads up an Ottawa-based cybersecurity company.
"They have been capable (of recruiting) young people without speaking directly to them face to face," Jueau-Katsuya said.
"If they've been capable ... through the Internet to reach them, I wouldn't be surprised that they convince some of these people that instead of travelling to the Middle East to stay here and simply attack us here."
Canadians need to know more about how far the government is willing to go to counter potential terrorism, said Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who was once the minister responsible for national security.
"We have defined a way of ensuring we protect ourselves against these radicalized individuals, but we also have to find a way to make sure that justice prevails in terms of a person's right to fair play," Easter said.