Hon. Wayne Easter (Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to address the House on matters of national security. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to the people of Canada to represent, to serve and to debate. As a minister I have a responsibility to inform and that is my purpose here today.
We live in a world still scarred by the events of September 11, 2001. Since then, the world and Canada have taken great strides to enhance security. Terrorist networks have been disrupted, but they are still capable of striking. The attacks in Bali, Saudi Arabia and Morocco are proof of this. That is why it is more important than ever to ensure we do whatever we can to protect Canadians, our countries, and our friends from the threat of terrorism. That is why it is as important to understand what is going on halfway around the world as it is to understand what is happening in Canada.
Canada is not immune from the threat of terrorism. In fact, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, whose public report I have tabled today, is aware of emerging terrorist threats and tactics that could have severe consequences for Canadians. The possibility that chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons could be acquired and used by terrorist groups must be taken seriously. We cannot be complacent and simply believe that it could not happen.
In November last year, the media reported widely on a statement attributed to Osama bin Laden, including Canada among countries deserving, from his perspective, retribution for supporting the war on terror. We must acknowledge that Canada is threatened by terrorism. Simply wishing otherwise will not make it go away. That said, there is a need to balance the interests of the state and the broader community with the rights and freedoms of individuals.
Canada has become increasingly involved in the campaign against terror. From the listing of entities, to the freezing of assets, to the signing and ratification of international agreements, our efforts to combat terrorism have been both comprehensive and balanced. We continue to work with our international partners, especially those in the G-8. In fact, the Prime Minister just attended one such meeting in this ongoing effort.
On December 24, 2001, the Anti-Terrorism Act was brought into force. It has new and strong powers, and provides government with the ability to create a list of terrorist entities based on intelligence reports and information that the entity either has carried out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity. So far, we have listed 26 entities and work continues to identify and list more. The consequences of dealing with a listed entity are severe. In addition to seizure and forfeiture of property, penalties include up to 10 years imprisonment.
As required under the new legislation, the government has already reported to Parliament on the use of the new provisions in the act. As we have said before, we want to ensure our law enforcement and security intelligence agencies have the tools they need to protect Canadians, and we have done so while respecting the fundamental rights of Canadians to privacy. Safeguarding the public against the threat of terror remains the service's first priority, with Islamic extremism being at the top of the list in its counterterrorism program.
The September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States clearly demonstrated the threats posed by these groups. But the global security environment constantly changes and we must be aware of that. We must stand on guard against these dangers and adapt to the challenges they pose.
We must ensure we have the best people, the best information, and the most up to date technology and legislation to fight these threats. We have been active on all these fronts. Advances in communication and transportation as well as increased trade and migration have affected every part of our lives. They have also affected how we must protect ourselves against terror.
It is increasingly clear that no one agency or single government can fight this threat alone. Partnerships and cooperation are at the heart of our efforts to maintain safety and security. As far as CSIS is concerned, I am pleased to confirm that this cooperation already existed before, but has been solidified since, especially with agencies in the United States, our neighbour and friend. CSIS maintains relationships with departments and agencies at all levels of government in Canada and with more than 230 foreign agencies in over 130 countries.
Since September 11, 2001, CSIS has significantly increased its information exchange with its partners, but it has not changed the fundamental way it works. Security intelligence is still collected, analyzed, and reported to government according to the same methods and procedures laid down in the legislation that created the service as a separate, civilian, security intelligence organization nearly 20 years ago. However, the war on terror has intensified the pressures and demands on the service, and it has focused the attention of the world. We are part of a global effort to keep our countries and our communities safe, free, and free from fear.
Our war on terrorism is a war against those who create fear by murderous means, those who would indiscriminately inflict harm on our people, and those who seek to attack our way of life through violent means and hide in the very freedoms that our society provides.
Let me be perfectly clear. The war on terrorism will continue and undergo even more changes in the future. Recent events remind us that Canada is not immune from the threat or from acts of terrorism. That is why CSIS and its partners will continue to work to disrupt support of terrorism financing networks in Canada, deny refuge in this country to members of terrorist organizations, and ensure the security of all Canadians.