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Security consultations suggest preference for freedoms over new powers

OTTAWA — Protection of individual rights and freedoms trumped the idea of additional powers for security agencies and police among participants in federal consultations on national security, says a newly released summary of the exercise.
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OTTAWA — Protection of individual rights and freedoms trumped the idea of additional powers for security agencies and police among participants in federal consultations on national security, says a newly released summary of the exercise.

Most who took part also advocated a focus on preventing terrorism by countering radicalization through promotion of diversity in Canada, better support for new immigrants and at-risk groups, and improved social programs.

A majority of those who were prepared to accept some new measures and powers for agencies insisted there be additional oversight, transparency and checks and balances, says the summary, prepared independently for the government from thousands of submissions.

The consultation garnered more than 58,000 responses to questions online and over 17,000 emails, as well as input at town halls, roundtables and other events.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Friday the information would inform important decisions about protecting national security and safeguarding rights and freedoms.

The Liberals plan to introduce legislation as early as this spring to revamp the Conservative anti-terrorism bill known as C-51 and possibly propose other measures that flow from the security consultation.

The Liberals promised during the last election to repeal "problematic elements" of C-51.

The omnibus legislation gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service explicit powers to disrupt terrorist threats, not just gather information about them. It also expanded information-sharing among federal agencies, created a new offence of promoting the commission of terrorist offences and broadened the government's no-fly list powers.

The Trudeau government has committed to ensuring all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to preserving legitimate protest and advocacy and to defining terrorist propaganda more clearly.  

It has also pledged that appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list will be subject to mandatory review.

The consultation summary says it was "widely felt" that current safeguards around CSIS's threat reduction powers are "insufficient to ensure the agency acts responsibly and effectively."

The report notes that public opinion research in Canada and elsewhere has shown a consistent decline over several years in the level of trust people have in a range of institutions, including the military, police, politicians, the media and the judiciary.

"This growing level of distrust in key institutions involved in national security and law enforcement was clearly evident throughout the consultations."

Many individuals and organizations were skeptical of security measures proposed in a federal discussion paper and expressed concerns about how these would affect individual rights and freedoms, the summary adds.

"Furthermore, most of the participants who took part in the online consultations, as well as many experts and organizations, are reluctant to accept new powers and tools to enhance Canada's investigative capabilities in a digital world."

A clear majority of respondents had an expectation of privacy in the digital realm equal to or higher than in the physical world.

"Many participants consider their activities online and on their computers to be 'very personal' or 'intimate' and a window into their inner selves," the report says.

A majority of participants opposed giving government the capacity to intercept personal communications, even if a court authorizes the interception, and were against any moves to weaken encryption technology.

In the online consultations, seven in 10 respondents considered their basic subscriber information — such as name, home address, phone number and email address — to be as private as the actual contents of their emails, personal diary, and medical and financial records.

Almost half said such information should be provided only in "limited circumstances" and with judicial approval.

However, there was "a strong alternative view" that law enforcement faces crucial delays and roadblocks that are impeding investigations, the summary says.

Those who supported this view said investigators need court-authorized, timely access to basic subscriber information, both online and on digital devices, to ensure authorities are "best able to investigate criminal activity and keep Canadians safe."

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

The Canadian Press



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