PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday announced that a re-elected Conservative government will take additional steps to stop the flow of foreign fighters to and from Canada. He said that building on previous counter terrorism measures implemented under him, a re-elected Conservative government will create a new category of banned foreign travel zones known as “declared areas”. Declared areas will be designated regions within foreign countries where listed terrorist entities such as ISIS are engaged in hostile activities, and are recruiting and training followers. New legislation will make it a criminal offence for Canadians to travel to such areas.
“Foreign fighters pose a direct threat to Canada, both through their terrorist actions overseas and especially if they seek to travel to Canada to carry out attacks here at home,” Harper said. “The creation of a category of banned foreign travel zones will provide Canadian law enforcement with further tools to better protect Canadians from individuals who have travelled to these dangerous areas and who intend to return to Canada to commit terrorist acts.”
Harper outlined the urgency of these additional measures in the face of the terrorist threat posed by ISIS and its followers:
- In 2014, the Government was aware of 80 individuals who had returned to Canada after engaging in terrorist activities. At the time, 130 individuals were also believed to be outside of Canada supporting terrorist activities overseas.
- Canadian members of ISIS have appeared in Internet videos vowing to travel to Canada to murder Canadians. ISIS and its followers have engaged in mass murder, beheadings, persecution of religious minorities, and desecration of some of the world’s most important holy sites.
- Australia, a close ally that has already passed similar legislation, has banned travel to two regions where ISIS is active: al-Raqqa province in Syria and Mosul district in Iraq.
This measure will build on previous steps taken by Harper to combat terrorism including making it a criminal offence to leave Canada to engage in terrorist activity; revoking Canadian citizenship from dual citizens and denying it to permanent residents who are convicted of terrorism; making it illegal to promote terrorism; and giving authorities additional powers to disrupt planned attacks on Canadian soil.
Harper explained that there may be limited legitimate reasons that a Canadian may travel to declared areas such as providing humanitarian aid or professional journalism. Canadians who can demonstrate they have travelled to declared areas for defined legitimate purposes would not be prosecuted under the new legislation.
Harper alleged that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair intend to ignore the threat posed by ISIS by immediately ending Canada’s military mission against the terrorist organization. “Justin would rather make excuses for terrorists and focus on the so-called root causes of radicalization. He lacks the maturity to defend Canada against serious threats,” he said. “Thomas Mulcair believes that our men and women in uniform have “no place being in Iraq” and that we should engage in “diplomacy” with terrorists.” He noted that Mulcair’s dangerous ideology would make Canada less safe.
Harper also stated that diplomacy and studying root causes would not stop ISIS. “I will not privilege the interests of terrorists who have vowed to come to Canada in order to kill Canadians over the rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Harper. “Canadians did not invent the threat of jihadi terrorism, but Canadians also know that we cannot make the dangers of the world disappear by simply denying their existence.”