News Canada

MPs debate tougher terror laws

By Jessica Murphy, Senior Washington Correspondent

Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen. (QMI Agency/Svjetlana Mlinarevic)

Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen. (QMI Agency/Svjetlana Mlinarevic)

OTTAWA - Parliamentarians debated enacting tougher counter-terrorism laws in Canada on Monday against the backdrop of an alleged terror plot short-circuited by the RCMP.

MPs started two days of debate on the Combating Terrorism Act, which beefs up terror laws by, among other provisions, increasing penalties for knowingly harbouring a terrorist.

It would also give law enforcement new powers to force people to appear for investigative hearings and for preventive arrests in certain terrorism probes.

Public Safety parliamentary secretary Candice Bergen urged MPs to quickly pass the legislation, which has been kicking around Parliament in one form or another since 2007, and is actually an update of legislation Liberals enacted in 2001.

Those laws expired in 2006 under a sunset clause.

But the debate centred less on the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation and more on the politics of the debate's timing.

Opposition parties accused the Conservatives of using the Boston Marathon bombings as a cover to buy time on a politically uncomfortable Liberal motion that was scheduled to be before the House Monday.

In a surprise move Friday, the Tories bumped a Liberal opposition day to mid-week, insisting it was necessary to debate the proposed terror law in the wake of last week's bombings.

It was slammed by rivals and pundits as a political manoeuvre against a Grit motion that would lend a hand to Tory MPs who've raised grievances about their members' statements being censored by the party - but places them in the position of possibly voting in favour of a rival party's motion.

"I want to express how disgusted I am by this," NDP MP Dany Morin said. "It stinks of partisanship."

Grit MP Kevin Lamoureux raised a skeptical eyebrow at the last-minute switch to the House schedule, noting the terror legislation languished on the order paper for months until it suddenly became a priority Friday afternoon.

What's the reason the Tories gave? he asked.

"The Boston tragedy. Well, the Boston tragedy occurred on Monday. Why didn't you have it Wednesday, Thursday, Friday last week?" he said.

Opposition MPs also raised concerns about whether the proposed bill properly balances civil liberties with public safety.

Bergen said it contains "strong and numerous safeguards," including annual reporting by provinces and regular parliamentary reviews.

The first day of debate coincided with an RCMP announcement the force had arrested two men involved in an alleged terror plot to derail a VIA rail train.

 


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