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Q and A: Senator Kenny on terror legislation

Ottawa Citizen - January 14, 2015

By Dylan Robertson

A founding member and former chair of the Senate national security committee says the government is politicizing terrorism by proposing redundant laws. Senate Liberal Colin Kenny spoke to the Citizen's Dylan Robertson.

Q. The government has indicated a new anti-terrorism bill will include preventative arrests( ). What do you think of that?

A. I have a list of eight bills with the word "terrorism" in the title since 9/11. It's a whole lot of legislation, none of which seems to do very much.

If you go back to 2001, the Anti-terrorism Act seems pretty comprehensive. Preventative arrests are dealt with in that act. It seems sort of strange that the government is forging ahead on legislation that isn't being asked for, and isn't providing more funding, when (spy agency Canadian Security Intelligence Service) CSIS and the RCMP don't have enough people to chase down the bad guys.

Q. Tell me more about that.

A. We had both the RCMP and CSIS testify about how many people it takes to plant a listening device: somewhere between 15 and 17 people. Or how many people it takes to follow someone 24/7; beyond a week you're talking 32 or 34 people.

They also have to track about 90 people who have either returned from working with a terrorist group, or want to. The agencies have made it very clear that they don't have enough folks to accomplish that.

If government wants to do something more about terrorism, they've got to up the spending.

My colleagues ask why Canada isn't arresting more people, but you need to have cops to collect the evidence. And arrests may not be the entirely appropriate measure. I think almost anyone would suggest we need both intervention and arrests.

Q. What laws did people ask for at the Senate committee?

A. Police are concerned with how people are designing cellphones and computers so that when you do go to a judge and get a warrant even manufacturers have difficulty getting into what's inside the machine.

And the RCMP have asked for a lower standard for peace bonds( ), to convince a judge that somebody should be restrained for a while.

Q. Why, then, is the government suggesting preventative arrests?

A. The government sees this as a wedge issue, and they hope to appear as strong, forceful people in favour of taking action against terrorists. I think they hope their opponents will be concerned about civil rights, but I suspect the opposition will instead talk about redundancy.

I think we have an increasingly concerned populace. The handling of this issue is, at least in the government's mind, fundamental to their re-election.

Q. Gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau took a video that the RCMP says includes his political motives. Why do you think the force backtracked last month( ) on releasing that video?

A. The government's got a position on the motive, and they've told the cops what the motive is. The guy's a terrorist? The cops didn't have that point of view until they were told 'This is your position.' You have a government directing cops how to answer a question about criminal matters.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. ) )