OTTAWA — The Liberal government's sweeping national security bill has cleared a key legislative hurdle despite the concerns of the two main opposition parties.
MPs voted 168 to 125 Monday to approve the bill in principle and adopt changes made during an early committee review.
The bill fleshes out Liberal campaign promises to soften contentious anti-terrorism measures brought in by the Harper government after a gunman stormed Parliament Hill in October 2014.
However, the Conservatives say the Liberal bill will make it harder for security agencies to do their work, while New Democrats argue it gives agencies licence to impinge on civil liberties — prompting opposition MPs from both parties to vote against the legislation.
MPs put forward dozens of amendments during the committee review, but few were adopted.
"The committee's mandate was to improve the bill," Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus told the House of Commons last week.
"In the end, the government chose to reject all of our amendments."
Threats to Canadian security are evolving and must be addressed, NDP public safety critic Matthew Dube recently acknowledged during debate on the bill.
"However, one thing is for sure: right now, the ability of these agencies to act is outpacing the protections that Canadians have for their rights and freedoms, and their privacy.
"That, for me and my party, is completely unacceptable, because at the end of the day, if we truly want to defeat these threats and what they stand for, if we truly want to stand on the other side of that terror and on the right side of history, it means standing up for Canadians' rights and freedoms."
The bill would limit — but not eliminate — powers that allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to actively disrupt terror plots.
It also opens the door to new paths for security services in data-crunching and cyberwarfare, and bolsters accountability and review through creation of a super-watchdog.
The Conservatives gave CSIS explicit authority to derail terrorist threats, expanding on the service's traditional intelligence-collection mandate. However, many Canadians expressed concerns that such disruption activities could violate the Constitution.
The Liberal legislation requires CSIS to seek a warrant for any threat reduction measure that would limit a right or freedom protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it clarifies that a warrant can only be issued if a judge is satisfied the measure complies with the charter.
The bill amends other elements of the Conservative legislation, tightening provisions on information-sharing among federal agencies, redefining terrorist propaganda and narrowing a general prohibition against promoting terrorism offences to the crime of counselling someone to commit a terrorist offence.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale sent the bill to committee before second reading with an eye to welcoming additional changes before the bill received second-reading approval in principle.
Many of the resulting committee revisions amounted to wording clarifications.
One of the biggest changes is aimed at ensuring Canadian spies don't breach privacy by randomly sifting through public data.
It would mean information in which Canadians have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" is not included in the definition of "publicly available" data.
— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press