03/10/2015 09:11 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT

Bill C-51: Steven Blaney Says Concerns About Liberties Are 'Ridiculous'

OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney is trying to assure Canadians that proposed anti-terrorism measures won't run roughshod over civil liberties.

In his testimony Tuesday at committee hearings examining the federal legislation, Blaney dismissed concerns the new provisions would allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to squelch or infiltrate environmental protests that fall outside the letter of the law.

The planned measures are needed to protect the public from extremists who hate Canadian values, Blaney said during a meeting of the House of Commons public safety committee.

The international jihadi movement has "declared war on Canada" and other countries around the world, Blaney told MPs Tuesday as they began hearing testimony on the federal legislation.

The committee plans to hear from more than 50 witnesses over the next few weeks.

The Conservatives brought in the bill, which would broaden CSIS's mandate, following the murders of two Canadian soldiers last October.

The legislation would give the spy service the ability to actively derail terror plots, make it easier for police to limit the movements of a suspect, expand no-fly list powers and take aim at terrorist propaganda.

In addition, the bill would relax the sharing of federally held information about activity that undermines the security of Canada.

In a brief this week, Amnesty International Canada added its voice to those who say the bill would go beyond genuine security threats to ensnare those who hold demonstrations that are technically illegal.

Neither the new disruptive powers nor the information-sharing provisions apply to "lawful" advocacy, protest or dissent, but some fear the bill could be used against activists who demonstrate without an official permit or despite a court order.

Blaney denied the bill would allow CSIS to trample liberties, telling the committee he wanted to "set the record straight."

"These allegations are completely false and, frankly, ridiculous."

With regard to the information-sharing measures, the word "lawful" is "intended to be read narrowly and to exclude legitimate forms of protest that are not contrary to (the) Criminal Code," Blaney said.

"In other words, not having a municipal permit for a protest would not lead to an otherwise lawful protest being captured by this legislation."

Further, Blaney said, the threshold for CSIS to engage in disruptive tactics is met only if there are reasonable grounds to believe a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada — the same definition governing CSIS's intelligence-gathering for the last 30 years.

Amnesty International argues the fine print of that decades-old limitation on CSIS is vague and overly broad, and when linked to the new powers of disruption, "would have direct consequences for an individuals right to privacy, liberty and security of the person."

The spy agency would need a court warrant whenever proposed disruption measures violate the charter of rights or otherwise breach Canadian law.

The government has pointed to this requirement when critics say the bill should include new safeguards.

Judicial approval of a warrant does not amount to oversight of CSIS, said Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter, who noted the bill does not provide an explicit means of following up on the spy service's activities.

"Where is the oversight after the warrant is granted?" Easter asked.

NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison pointed out that some disruptive techniques would not require a warrant at all.

Blaney painted that as a welcome step, saying it would allow CSIS to intervene with the parents of a child who was being radicalized by extremist thinking.

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