OTTAWA — Canadians have no right to travel to regions of the world controlled by terrorist groups, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday in promising a broader legal crackdown on what he called “terror tourism.”
The policy promise, made during a campaign stop Sunday in Ottawa, would expand federal laws that make it a crime for Canadians to head overseas to fight alongside groups officially identified by the federal government as a terrorist organization.
“There is absolutely no right in this country to travel to an area under the governance of terrorists. That is not a human right,” Harper said.
“We’re not under any illusion here what just about everybody going to an area like that is doing. That’s the reason to pursue this particular policy that’s been used in other countries.”
Harper unveiled the promise in a speech to supporters in Ottawa, referencing the attacks last year in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa where ISIS-inspired Canadians murdered two members of the military.
Michael Zehaf Bibeau stormed Parliament Hill on Oct. 22 with a loaded rifle seconds after shooting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo three times in the back at the National War Memorial.
Two days prior to that attack, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed after being struck in a hit-and-run attack southeast of Montreal.
The Tories have tried to frame part of their election campaign as a question about which of the three major federal party leaders is best adept at keeping Canadians safe, with Harper taking jabs on Sunday at NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as being softies.
The two, however, have taken aim at Harper over civil liberty questions arising from the Conservatives’ controversial anti-terrorism law, Bill C-51, which has also been a focus of debate among Canadians on social media in the early days of the campaign.
The latest proposal is likely to stoke more debate and questions.
The proposal is based on a law already in place in Australia, which raised concerns from critics in that country that it would upend the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty.
Australia has designated parts of Iraq and Syria as no-travel zones and sets a jail term of 10 years for anyone caught violating the law that was enacted last year.
Similar to Australia, the Conservatives are promising to enact a law that would establish “declared areas” — regions of the world where terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant hold control and use their base to recruit and train followers. The proposal didn’t identify any countries in particular outside of Iraq, but Harper said it would target “the most dangerous places on Earth where governance is non-existent and violence is widespread and brutal.”
The proposed law would see national security agencies tracking Canadians who travel to those areas, and force those returning to Canada, or to a country with which Canada has an extradition treaty, to prove they were in the region for humanitarian reasons, or as a journalist covering the conflict.
Harper said that “theoretically” there could be legitimate reasons for Canadians to travel to these areas, including a diplomat under “certain, rare circumstances.”
“There will be exceptions in the law for those legitimate reasons,” Harper said. “I don’t think people that have legitimate reasons will have difficulty showing those, but we know what other people are doing there and this is something we’ve got to nip in the bud before terrorists, trained terrorists, return to this country.”
Harper repeated and defended the pledge at a rally of Conservative faithful near the Quebec City airport later Sunday afternoon.
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Jordan Press, The Canadian Press