Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the government is poised to unveil a new set of measures this winter that will tighten up the security of Canadian critical infrastructure.
Speaking before the House of Commons public safety committee on Thursday morning, he faced questions ranging from how new authorizations for the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) will work to combat cyberattacks to whether C-59, the Liberals’ hallmark national security bill, goes far enough in fixing what critics say are the mistakes made in the former Conservative government’s anti-terrorism legislation and the ability of police to prosecute returning foreign fighters.
In particular, Goodale addressed concerns repeated over the past year that Canadian critical infrastructure — such as banking systems, electric grids, health-care databases, and emergency response systems — could be brought down to devastating effect by cyberattacks.
“You will see from the government through the course of this winter at least three specific initiatives to enhance our governance arrangement around how we deal with cyber, enhance the resources that are provided to deal with cybersecurity, and to make our response mechanisms a lot more nimble,” said Goodale in a scrum with reporters following the committee.
“This bill [C-59] does a little bit of it, laying the legal foundation but there are three other initiatives in the pipeline that you will see coming forward this winter.”
C-59 seeks to overhaul the foundations of the Canadian national security landscape through 130 pages of proposed legislation that would do everything from authorizing the CSE to launch offensive cyberattacks against hostile actors to undoing several controversial elements of the former Conservative government’s national security bill, C-51.
The bill also creates a new expert review body that will review national security activities carried out by government agencies and departments and tasks a new Intelligence Commissioner with authorizing the warrants granted to the CSE and CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Greta Bossenmaier, chief of the CSE, said at committee that the bill will specifically allow the signals intelligence agency to “deploy our sophisticated tools to defend a piece of infrastructure being attacked from outside Canada” upon request of the critical infrastructure owner.
However, Goodale acknowledged that would not allow the agency to step in if the attack originates from hackers within Canada.
“No, CSE’s authority is external,” he said.
As part of the committee appearance, Goodale also faced questions around the government’s response to returning foreign fighters.
WATCH BELOW: Goodale says number of returning foreign fighters “essentially the same” as two years ago
Roughly 180 Canadians have left to take part in conflicts abroad and the government has said “about 60” have returned to Canada over the past several years.
Those numbers do not refer specifically to individuals returning from fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and Goodale took aim at efforts by the Conservatives over the past two weeks to paint the government as soft on terror because of its creation of the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, which focuses on preventing radicalization and coordinating tools that can be used to re-integrate extremists into society.
While the tone of the meeting overall was genial and curious, with most of the Conservative members indicating support for the government’s efforts and willingness to listen to ideas on how to improve the legislation, party firebrand Cheryl Gallant took up party talking points by asking the minister to name a favourite piece of poetry being used in extremist counselling.
The Conservatives have focused for weeks on the fact that counter-radicalization centres and family support groups supported through the centre across the country use a variety of counselling techniques, one of which can include poetry.
However, there is no evidence any of the individuals who have actually returned from fighting with ISIS have actually been reading poetry.
In response, Goodale called the characterization a “complete misstatement of the government’s position” and emphasized the challenges in turning intelligence used in monitoring returning extremists into evidence that can actually be used in a court of law.
“You cannot always use what might be perfectly valid intelligence in court proceedings,” he said. “If you have a particular piece of information about an individual and you submit that in a court of law, the defence counsel will want to cross-examine the source of that evidence … if the origin is confidential information from a source in the midst of a terrorism operation or activity, if you disclose the identity of your source that person is likely dead. That’s the challenge in the conversion of intelligence into evidence.”
Goodale also noted that under the Liberal government there have been two charges laid against returning foreign fighters.
There were none laid under the former Conservative government.
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