Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ottawa mulls boosting police power

Proposed legislation moved up after attack

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OTTAWA -- Lessons can be learned by the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing investigation, Canada's public safety minister said Sunday.

"I'm certain police forces right across Canada are re-examining their plans in order to determine what can we do better in order to prepare for this type of possibility," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told CTV's Question Period Sunday.

Today, federal politicians will begin debating a proposed law that would bolster police power following a terrorist attack.

The Boston bombings killed three people and wounded more than 180, prompting a massive U.S. security operation involving thousands of police officers.

One suspect is dead and the other is in custody.

Canadian security forces are equipped and prepared to respond to these kinds of incidents, Toews told the TV program.

One important lesson is that all levels of policing and government must work together in the event of a terrorist attack, Toews said.

"We can always learn from this type of horrific experience," Toews said.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons will debate legislation today that would give police more powers in the event of a terrorist attack.

Various versions of the Combating Terrorism Act have been kicked around Parliament for at least the last five years, and the one currently under debate was introduced in the Senate in February 2012.

It would create a new criminal offence that would apply to people leaving Canada for the purpose of committing certain terrorist acts abroad.

Toews would not give an example of when the elements of the new law might have been useful in the past, but he said law enforcement officials have requested them.

Nor would he comment on ongoing investigations into the case of four young men in London, Ont., implicated in a bombing at a gas plan in Algeria earlier this year.

He said if there was a threat to public safety connected to that investigation, the public will be informed.

At least 50 Canadians have tried to travel from Canada to Somalia, the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal areas, Syria and Yemen in recent years to engage in terrorism-related activities, Canadian security agencies estimate.

"The spectre of these young people returning to Canada -- with combat experience and thoroughly radicalized views--is a serious national security concern," Michel Coulombe, the deputy director of operations for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service agency told MPs studying the bill last year.

The bill had been ready to receive a third debate in the Commons since February, and on Friday was suddenly placed on the calendar this week.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar questioned the timing.

"They could have brought this forward weeks ago, months ago," Dewar told question period.

"Sadly, what they're doing here is... using this an opportunity to in some ways look like they're doing something."

The Liberals have indicated they will support the bill, though the decision to have it debated today and Tuesday has pushed back a motion of their own, which would strip party whips of their power to decide which MPs are allowed to make member's statements in the House of Commons.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2013 A7

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