Is it time to invoke the War Measures Act?

·Politics Reporter

'Let's bring back the War Measures Act.’

That has been a common sentiment on social media following the two deadly terrorist attacks, this week in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa.

The War Measures Act, which was first introduced during World War 1, gave Canadian governments sweeping powers during times of war or insurrection.

It was last invoked by prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1970, in reaction to two kidnappings by the terrorist group, Front de Liberation du Quebec. The legislation allowed authorities to suspend civil liberties and detain more than 400 people suspected of being involved in the so-called FLQ crises.

The Act was repealed in 1988 and replaced by the Emergencies Act which includes more legislative checks and balances and bars security officials from detaining or imprisoning based on their race, religion, national or ethnic origin.

Could something like that be used now? Should it be?

There seems to be a growing number of people who believe it should be — and not only on social media.

"We know there’s 88 [ radicalized Canadians] at large," David Menzies from the Sun News Network said on the John Oakley show on AM 640 radio in Toronto.

"I’m absolutely astonished right now that law enforcement is not kicking down the doors under the 1988 Emergencies Act…and incarcerating these scum bags.

"They say ‘we don’t have the resources to monitor 88 people 24 hours a day.’ Guess what Johnny, you sure do when they’re all in one room."

And, jurisdictional issues aside, Toronto City councillor and mayoral candidate Doug Ford also believes authorities should do more.

"I understand there are over 90 people on this watch list that the RCMP have been watching," he said at a mayoral debate on Wednesday according to the Globe and Mail.

"If you’re asking me, I’d be rounding up all 90 of them and finding out, because they came from the same cell. This is unacceptable. We can’t tolerate it in this city. I wouldn’t tolerate it and I’d make sure we rounded up every one of these characters."

That sentiment is reasonable: There are approximately 130 Canadians who have gone abroad to fight with terrorist organizations and at least 80 have returned to Canada; the RCMP are monitoring 90 people suspected of being involved with extremism-related activities; and authorities have revoked the passports of several individuals including that of Martin (Ahmad) Couture-Rouleau’s, the radicalized 25-year old man who ran down two soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

Experts that we spoke to, however, suggest that ‘rounding up’ those individuals would be an over-reaction.

"There are powers in the original Anti-terrorism act of 2001 since renewed that allow for preventative arrest, for a short period of time up to 48 hours. These powers are only to be used in emergencies in the face of suspicion of an imminent terror threat,” University of Ottawa security expert, Wesley Wark, told Yahoo Canada News.

"Collaring all individuals under current investigation would not only be an abuse of power it would also be operationally counter-productive as some of these investigations will be in their early stages and some might be developing fruitful relations with target persons.

"The job of security and law enforcement agencies is to prioritize threats, develop intelligence knowledge, engage in disruption of plots, and for law enforcement ultimately develop evidence that can be used in court."

[ Related: Stephen Harper says “Canada will never be intimidated” after attack in Ottawa ]

Like Wark, a University of Toronto law professor suggests that Canada already has many laws in the books to deal with such security threats.

"There are preventive arrests provisions but they require reasonable grounds to think a terrorist act will take place and reasonable suspicion that the person will commit the act," Kent Roach told Yahoo Canada News.

"There are also many terrorist offences including leaving Canada with the intent to commit a terrorist act abroad."

Roach referenced a blog post published at Just Security where he argues that “the issue appears to be the enforcement of the criminal law rather than the need for more criminal law.”

"Couture-Rouleau was one of 90 people in Canada reported to have been radicalized, and Canadian security officials were monitoring him. The suspension of his passport re-affirms the need for western democracies to think creatively about how to control those like Couture-Rouleau who are apparently sympathetic to the aims of the Islamic State. There is a need to balance due process with the need for security," wrote Roach.

"In these debates, it should not be forgotten that Canada has legal provisions that allow preventive arrests and peace bonds to be imposed on suspected terrorists. These provisions are infrequently used, and in many cases, a terrorist prosecution where the accused face reverse-onuses to be released on bail would be preferable. Bail in Canada can be denied on both public safety and public confidence grounds."

[ Full Coverage: Soldier dead after gunmen fires at National War Memorial ]

While neither of the experts is expecting the government to over-react, the Tories will be seeking new terrorism fighting tools for public safety officials.

Last week, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney indicated that he’ll introduce legislation to give CSIS more spy powers “to allow our security and intelligence service to better operate and investigate threats from abroad.”

And, on Thursday morning, Harper added this.

"In recent weeks, I have been saying that our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest," Harper said in an address to the House of Commons.

"They need to be much strengthened. I assure members that work which is already under way will be expedited."

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