TORONTO — Prime Minister Stephen Harper played up his tough-on-terrorism credentials Thursday, announcing a trifecta of measures aimed at beefing up the country’s ability to thwart violent jihad.
The measures, some previously announced in the budget, include more money for Canada’s spy agency and more scrutiny of foreign visitors.
“Jihadi terrorists have threatened Canada and Canadians by name and with a clarity that leaves no room for doubt,” Harper told a room filled with hand-picked observers.
“We are increasing our capacity to detect terrorists and terrorist plots, to choke off the financing that supports them, and to secure our borders against known and suspected terrorists who wish to enter.”
Among those on hand for the pre-election announcement at a north-end hotel were victims of terrorism, including Cindy Barkway, whose husband Dave died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
“I truly hope that Canadians will be safer from these combined efforts,” Barkway said to applause.
During his speech, Harper repeated a familiar refrain: that his Conservatives are the only party that can be counted on to protect the security interests of Canadians.
“There’s a lot of talk about the terrorist threat,” Harper said. “Our Conservative government chooses to do something about it.”
Under the new measures, the federal government will commit $137 million more over five years to Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, along with $41 million more a year afterward. The additional funding, Harper said, would allow CSIS to beef up its frontline capacity to counter terrorist threats and activities.
Some experts, however, have argued the earmarked money simply isn’t much given the current threat environment, especially with legislation giving the agency more power to stop Canadians from joining terror groups abroad, disrupt bank transactions, and secretly interfere with radical websites.
Recognizing that terrorists “need cash,” Harper also announced that Canada’s tax authorities will put more emphasis on uncovering terror-related financing and the charities and organizations behind the money flow.
The Canada Revenue Agency would get $10 million over five years to help it identify and shut down charities that finance terrorist activities.
The government also plans to expand biometric screening to all foreign citizens coming to Canada — Americans are exempt — including visitors who need visas, work or study permits and immigrants. The procedure is already required for travellers from about two dozen countries — such as Afghanistan, Syria and Egypt — but would apply to visitors from almost 150 others.
Harper said Canada already has access to biometric data collected by other countries and would share its data with them, but said privacy and legal standards will be in place to protect Canadians.
Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said protecting biometric information from inappropriate use is crucial.
“We would be very concerned if the information obtained for border control or immigration purposes was then used for other purposes or would be shared with other countries,” Therrien said in Ottawa. “We expect that there would be very clear rules on the transfer of that information for other purposes or to other countries.”
The identity-verification measures, which require legislative changes, are expected to take effect in 2018. The government will kick in $313 million over five years to support the new requirement but user fees will help recoup some of those costs.
Barkway, who was five months pregnant with her second child when 9/11 happened, said many more people — including other Canadians — have become victims of terrorism since that day.
Governments, she said, have to enact effective policies to prevent such atrocities.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press