PM Harper admits proposed anti-terror law would not have stopped Ottawa attack

Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted the anti-terror bill tabled in the House of Commons Friday would not have stopped the Oct. 22, 2014, attack in Ottawa.

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted the anti-terror bill tabled in the House of Commons Friday would not have stopped the Oct. 22, 2014, attack in Ottawa.

The Ottawa attack spawned an internal federal review that led to the creation of the new anti-terror bill, yet the new powers it gives law enforcement agencies in Canada would not have been able to stop Michael Zehaf Bibeau.

Bibeau was gunned down by RCMP officers and former Sgt.-at-Arms Kevin Vickers inside Centre Block on Parliament Hill. Bibeau ran onto Parliament Hill, past the RCMP security cordon, and hijacked a ministerial car after shooting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo dead at the National War Memorial.

The Harper government’s press package accompanying the announcement of the new anti-terror bill mentions the Ottawa attack as an example of how “the world is a dangerous place.”

Harper was asked by a reporter during a press conference in Richmond Hill, Ont., Friday if the proposed law would have been able to stop the twin October attacks in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., which were committed by Canadian citizens enthralled by ISIS’ version of jihad.

Harper said the new bill would likely not have been able to stop Bibeau.

“In the case of the incident in Ottawa it is a little more difficult to speculate how a case like that would be handled in the future under these laws…The fellow in Ottawa, Bibeau, was not on the police radar,” said Harper.

A photo of Michael Zehaf Bibeau, 32
A photo of Michael Zehaf Bibeau, 32

The prime minister, however, said it may have stopped the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu attack because the perpetrator was well-known to the RCMP.

“There is no doubt, that specifically, some of the powers in here…a greater ability to detain those suspected of imminent terror acts, the ability to detain people like that, to respond to them more quickly, it is, I would say no doubt, that situations like St-Jean in the future, that police will have more and better tools to deal with that situation than they had in October,” said Harper.

Two days before Bibeau stormed Parliament Hill, a Quebec man named Martin Couture-Rouleau rammed and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Couture-Rouleau was shot and killed by police.

University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran said it’s problematic the new anti-terror bill would not be able to stop the stated motivation for its creation, which was the Ottawa attack.

“This bill was announced after Zehaf-Bibeau went postal, but it’s just a pretext because the bill has nothing to do with that incident,” said Attaran, who is an expert on law enforcement and terror issues. “Sure, Zehaf-Bibeau terrorized Parliament, but he was just a crazy man with drug problems. If (The Canadian Security Intelligence Agency) had powers to ‘disrupt’ terrorism that would not have stopped him because you can’t stop crazy.”

The bill gives major new powers to CSIS by allowing the spy agency to disrupt security threats as long as it has “reasonable grounds.” Under the proposed bill, CSIS would still need to get a warrant from a court whenever it planned to launch disruption operations. The warrants would last for 120 days.

The new bill would also give the agency powers to work with foreign intelligence agencies on operations targeting and diverting things like shipments of dangerous chemicals to extremists. It would also give CSIS the ability to get an “assistance order” that could, for example, force a landlord to let agents bug a tenant’s apartment. CSIS would also be able to launch cyber disruption operations for “counter-messaging” or hack radical websites and Twitter accounts.

“This worries me because CSIS is so extremely paranoid,” said Attaran, who listed people like Tommy Douglas, Norman Bethune, Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker who have come under state surveillance in the past. “What is going to happen in ‘disrupting’ irksome but honourable people today like First Nations, anti-pipeline activists or even Mennonites?”

List of now-dead Canadians who were under state surveillance

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Attaran said parts of the bill that target anything that “promotes” terrorism could also impact journalism, like The Globe and Mail’s Talking to the Taliban series that featured interviews with the Taliban.

“The bill says that a court can order the deletion of any information from a computer that promotes terrorist propaganda,” said Attaran. “Could this have been used to make the Globe delete its story from the Web? Yes.”

Attaran also said he’s concerned about another section of the bill that seems to promote snitching.

“If you ‘fear’ that someone might commit a terrorism offense you can denounce that person to a judge who has the power to lay a peace bond on that person or even jail that person for up to 12 months without a trial,” said Attaran.

The Harper government weakened oversight of the spy agency when it scrapped the CSIS Inspector General position in 2012 and Attaran said he worries the agency’s new powers could lead to the same scenario that created the McDonald Commission.

The commission was created in 1977 to investigate the RCMP’s disruptive and illegal operations against the FLQ. The commission’s findings led to the creation of CSIS.

“We have gone full circle since the McDonald commission,” said Attaran.

Harper, however, said during his press conference that these new powers for law enforcement were necessary because “a great evil has been descending on our world” and it has been “growing more powerful.” Harper called this growing evil “jihadi terrorism.” He said it was “one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced.” The prime minister said “violent jihadism” sought to harm Canadians in their “cities” and “neighbourhoods.”

When he was opposition leader, Harper criticized former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien for not joining the U.S. in its war on Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington DC which left nearly 3,000 dead.

The Iraq war is blamed for creating the fertile ground that gave rise to ISIS after Sunni-Shiite tensions exploded following the pull-out of U.S. soldiers. The Syrian civil war next door gave beaten but hardened Islamist fighters renewed strength and they capitalized on the growing Sunni alienation from Baghdad.

Western forces, including Canadian Special Forces soldiers and jets, are currently trying to reverse ISIS territorial gains in Iraq. ISIS also controls extensive territory in Syria.

-with files from The Canadian Press

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4 thoughts on “PM Harper admits proposed anti-terror law would not have stopped Ottawa attack

  1. The big problem is the police always extremely abuse any power they are given. They will be investigating and interrupting everybody.

    next order of business for the PM, construction of concentration camps, I mean work camps…

  3. VERY misleading, obviously biased headline. Prime Minister Harper did not “admit” anything, as though this were a black and white question.

    According to your story, he said “it is a little more difficult to speculate”. That’s not an “admission”.

    Indeed, in the days following the October attack the RCMP themselves said that with greater abilities to act on information and detain suspects they could at that time only ‘monitor’, there is much more that could have been done. Would that have meant that CSIS or the RCMP would have picked up on Bibeau’s threats, claims and rantings? In such a fluid environment, as the PM said, it would be speculation and difficult at that. But given all we learned afterward about him and and all the people who saw him as a loose jihadist cannon, it can be seen that he might have been picked up on the radar.

    However, it’s refreshing to see that Harper actually understands the facts in these cases and will candidly say that some things are not sure things. Your headline writer should only be as careful. The attributory words used by journalists — ‘said’, ‘responded’, ‘claimed’, ‘admitted’, etc. — are very powerful and meaning laden. They need to be used with care so as to not mislead. This headline should be changed to reflect what the Prime Minister actually said, not sensationalism.

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