Thank you, Chair, for the opportunity to present to the members of this committee on behalf of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent for the Jewish Federations of Canada.
We are a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated through local federations across the country. We believe in Canada's foundational values of freedom, democracy, and equality, and are committed to working with government, Parliament, and all like-minded groups to ensure that Canada remains a country where we all enjoy equal protections and opportunities.
In March 2015, I appeared as a witness before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security as it studied Bill C-51. Our testimony began with a statement of fact, “Jews are consistently targeted by hate and bias-related crimes in Canada at a rate higher than any other identifiable group.” Those words are, unfortunately, as true today as they were then.
Statistics Canada recently released its report on 2016 hate crimes, and once again Jews were targeted more than any other religious minority, with 221 incidents. We must, however, keep this in perspective. Canada is a very safe place for identifiable groups and one of the greatest places in the world in which to live as a minority. However, we must also remain vigilant. A single hate crime is one too many.
Whether considering the attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem, a gay nightclub in Orlando, an African American church in Charleston, or a mosque in Quebec City, extreme hate continues to precipitate extreme violence. Jews are often primary targets for terrorist attacks throughout the world: Belgium, Argentina, France, India, Bulgaria, Israel, Denmark, the United States. Understandably, Jewish Canadians are not just concerned about what threats might meet them abroad, but what could happen here at home.
Public Safety Canada's “2016 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada” notes that Hezbollah, the listed terrorist entity widely believed to have carried out the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, has networks operating here in Canada. The notorious 2004 firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal still looms large in our collective memory.
Our community, therefore, takes a keen interest in the government's approach to counterterrorism. We appreciate the opportunity we were afforded to engage in the consultations on Canada's national security framework, both before this committee and with the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. I hope that our recommendations will prove helpful and constructive for the committee.
We'll speak on the expanded oversight for CSIS, but before going there let me just address a couple of considerations with respect to advocacy or promotion of terrorism offences in general.
In the context of the former Bill C-51, CIJA was supportive of measures to empower security officials to criminalize the advocacy and promotion of terrorism and seize terrorist propaganda. CIJA supported these measures as a means of denying those intent on inspiring, radicalizing, or recruiting Canadians to commit acts of terror the legal leeway to be clever but dangerous with their words.
Bill C-59 seeks to change the law's articulation of this offence from “advocating or promoting” to “counselling” a terrorism offence. This doesn't necessarily undermine the intended function of the provision. Justice Canada's background information on the advocacy and promotion offence states, “The offence is modelled on existing offences of counselling and the relevant jurisprudence. It extended the concept of counselling to cases where no specific terrorism offence is being counselled, but it is evident nonetheless that terrorism offences are being counselled.”
The same intended outcome seems to be achieved in Bill C-59, which adds the caveat that the counselling offence “may be committed...whether or not...the person counsels the commission of a specific terrorism offence.” If, as Minister Goodale indicated in his recent testimony before this committee, this change empowers authorities to enforce the law with greater impact, it would seem a reasonable shift. However, we believe there is an oversight in the proposed new language that could narrow the scope of the provision, weakening it substantially.
The existing offence applies to “Every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general”. Swapping out the advocacy and promotion language, this should become something like “Every person who counsels the commission of a terrorism offence”, but it doesn't. Instead, Bill C-59 reads, “Every person who counsels another person to commit a terrorism offence”. With this wording, it appears that the offence could apply only to a specific individual counselling another specific individual.
When it comes to the offence of instructing a terrorist activity, the Criminal Code is explicit. The offence is committed whether or not the accused instructs a particular person to carry out the activity or even knows the identity of the person instructed to carry out the activity. The same standard should apply to the counselling offence. The change of “advocacy and promotion” to “counselling” also impacts on the definition of terrorism propaganda.
Bill C-59 would remove “advocacy and promotion of terrorism offences in general” from the definition, consistent with the change proposed for the counselling offence I've just discussed. However, the all-important caveat that a specific terrorism offence need not be counselled, which is included in the new counselling offence, is lacking here. This should be adjusted for the sake of consistency.
I'll turn to expanded oversight for CSIS.
In our testimony on Bill C-51, CIJA supported the expansion of CSIS's role and responsibilities to include disruption of potential terrorist attacks. While we believed the new mandate was justified, we maintained that enhanced oversight was required to prevent abuse. Just as Canadians stand to benefit from a more robust approach to counterterrorism that emphasizes prevention, we argued that a concurrent increase in the review of CSIS's activities would be beneficial.
Measures to enhance SIRC's ability to provide adequate review are long overdue and are all the more imperative with CSIS's expanded mandate. We supported the refinements to CSIS's expanded mandate that Bill C-59 would put in place and the establishment of a national security and intelligence review agency. Both should help to ensure greater balance in protecting the security and civil rights of Canadians.
In the context of Bill C-51, we proposed several concrete reforms to enhance oversight and accountability for CSIS. The new oversight agency will fulfill our first and perhaps most important recommendation's objective of enabling a review of security and intelligence activities across all government agencies and departments. However, we believe the following three recommendations regarding the structure and composition of the new agency would help ensure it is set up to be as impactful as possible.
First, the chair of the new agency should be someone with experience in intelligence and national security, and should occupy the position on a full-time basis to ensure consistent, professional leadership.
Unfortunately, Bill C-59 states, “The Chair and Vice-chair may be designated to hold office on a full-time or part-time basis”. The bill also states, “Every member of the Review Agency who is not designated as the Chair or Vice-chair holds office on a part-time basis”.
We suggest this be changed to provide the option of other members being brought on full time without requiring a legislative amendment. Given that the workload of the new agency is likely to be significantly greater than that of SIRC, this could conceivably require full-time engagement from all members.
Second, we recommend that the chair of the new agency be designated an officer of Parliament required to provide regular reports directly to Parliament. This mirrors the recommendation we made in the context of Bill C-51 with regard to the chair of SIRC.
The requirement enshrined in Bill C-59 that public reports from the new agency be tabled in Parliament is beneficial, but this reporting is still mediated through the Prime Minister and other ministers. Designating the chair of SIRC an officer of Parliament with a mandate for regular reporting directly to Parliament would send a clear signal that the work of the new agency is independent from the government of the day.
Third, we believe Parliament should have a greater voice in the appointment of members of the new agency.
We welcome the consultation provisions included in Bill C-59 but believe the appointments should also be subject to approval by resolution of the Senate and the House of Commons. This small addition, which is already standard practice in the appointment of officers of Parliament, would further enhance the credibility of the appointments process.
Although this may be more appropriate for your colleagues at the finance committee, it's also important to stress that the national security and intelligence review agency will require the allocation of significant resources, both professional and financial, if it is to be given a chance to succeed in fulfilling its important mandate.
CIJA's testimony in 2015 concluded with a plea for committee members to support a private member's bill that sought to extend hate crime penalties beyond houses of worship to schools and community centres. That initiative failed but was revived in this Parliament in Bill C-305, which passed third reading in the Senate in October.
I am pleased to conclude my remarks today, Mr. Chair, with sincere thanks to each of you for coming together in unanimous support for Bill C-305, a clear example of how elected officials can work together and make a practical difference to protect Canadians.
I hope committee members will consider my remarks today in that same constructive spirit, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to join with you.