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Unenforceable laws are useless

Editorial

Victorial Times Colonist - July 15, 2015

Crafting legislation helps create the impression that a government is doing something, but new laws are pointless if the means aren't provided for enforcement.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet work on more anti-terrorism legislation, critics are worried the new measures will restrict free speech. Not to belittle those concerns, but they might be only theoretical, given the Harper government's track record of talking tough legislatively but falling short, because of its miserly ways,n ensuring that new legislation is enforceable and effective.

Parliament has enacted nine different pieces of legislation on terrorism since 2001, says Senator Colin Kenny, former chairman of the Senate national-security committee.

More laws to combat terrorism are futile if existing measures can't be properly enforced. Kenny, who met with the Times Colonist's editorial board this week, said it's strange that the Harper government is moving ahead with legislation that wasn't sought and isn't providing more funding for police and intelligence services.

"CSIS [the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service] and the RCMP have come to us saying: 'We don't have enough money to do the job,' " said Kenny.

The legislation being considered would give authorities more power to monitor and arrest suspected extremists, such as people who might follow the example of those who carried out last week's attacks in Paris. But Kenny says Canada already has legislation that allows for pre-emptive arrests. The problem is that agencies are so strapped for resources, they can't keep proper track of extremists or suspected extremists on their lists.

"They already know how many people have been radicalized," Kenny said. He said authorities are aware of 140 Canadians who are overseas fighting with ISIS and more than 90 who are planning to go.

Maintaining proper surveillance of these people is complex, he said. It takes 16 people to plant a bug on a suspect and 32 people to watch that suspect around the clock, he said. CSIS and the RCMP simply don't have enough staff to do that. They need more funds, not more legislation.

Harper and his colleagues talk tough about securing Canada's borders, but fail to deliver on the front lines. Documents obtained by media in 2013 showed that high-tech equipment used by border officials to watch for contraband wasn't very reliable. Ion scanners, used to detect trace amounts of drugs and explosives, broke down frequently, some spending more time being repaired than being operated.

When they are working, larger scanners are able to inspect many vehicles quickly, but it takes four officers to operate one of them, and understaffing has made it impossible to operate them around the clock and in peak periods.

Canine teams are effective at detecting contraband, but in the 2012 budget, the government cut 18 Canadian Border Services Agency dog teams. It also cut about 150 intelligence officers responsible for alerting border guards to suspect vehicles or people.

Harper loves military symbolism - consider the millions spent on commemorating the anniversary of the War of 1812. He praises the men and women of the armed forces in public, but stints on resources for the military and support for veterans suffering from the effects of their service.

Harper has always talked tough on law and order, yet police services are asking for more resources, not necessarily more laws that are difficult to enforce.

Canadians think threats to national security are growing, from abroad and from radicalized Canadians at home. They want to be reassured that they can live, work and travel in peace and safety.

Before passing new legislation, the Harper government should ensure the resources are available to enforce existing laws properly.