The Counter-Terrorism Framework in Canada

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(Disponible en français : Cadre de lutte antiterroriste du Canada)

Canada is not immune to terrorism. According to Global Affairs Canada, a number of international and domestic terrorist groups are present in Canada. Some are engaged in terrorist activity here, while others are active beyond our border.

Canada has a number of tools that respond to several different terrorist threats. These tools range from community outreach and engagement programs to security intelligence, forfeiture of terrorist property, border controls and international cooperation.

This HillNote examines several terrorism-related threats faced in Canada, and in each case, identifies some of the relevant counter-terrorism tools to provide a snapshot of the nation’s existing counter-terrorism framework.Image showing the scales of justice, balancing collective security and rights and freedoms with a protective measures gageThe threat: Radicalization

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Community outreach and engagement

The Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security is an advisory body of Canadians from diverse communities. It was created to engage the government and Canadian communities in a long-term dialogue on matters related to national security. The Roundtable provides advice to the ministers of public safety and justice on the impact of national security policies and programs on communities.

The RCMP and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have also put in place initiatives to counter terrorism and radicalization that seek to engage Canada’s ethnic, cultural and religious communities.

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Criminal offences

A number of criminal offences in Canada target terrorism-related activities (Criminal Code, Part II.1). Traveling to train terrorists, or recruiting for a terrorist group, for example, can result in criminal charges. As in other countries, the glorification of terrorist activities was recently added to the Criminal Code. Terrorist propaganda can also be removed from the Internet with a court order.

Other tools available to police are surveillance and search powers, including court orders allowing wiretaps, searches and the production of computer data.

The threat: Planning terrorist attacks

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Security intelligence and sharing information

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) uses human sources to investigate threats to Canada’s security. Since 2015, it has had clear powers to operate overseas and be more proactive in disrupting terrorists. CSIS has more than 280 arrangements with foreign agencies to support its foreign operations.

The Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) engages in targeting and intercepting foreign communications, decrypting or decoding them, and analyzing their content to see what they reveal.. It also provides operational assistance to law enforcement and CSIS. CSE interceptions are authorized by the Minister of National Defence.

Illustration showing a pair of binoculars with the relationship between security intelligence organizations in Canada shown in the lenses. Copyright: Library of Parliament.

Several government agencies other than CSIS, the CSE and RCMP are involved in collecting and sharing information. They include the Department of National Defence, Armed Forces, Global Affairs Canada, Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA), Transport Canada, Canada Revenue Agency and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).

They support terrorism assessment activity by concerned departments, agencies and working groups such as the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre. Intelligence resulting from collection and analysis is disseminated domestically and internationally through information sharing arrangements.

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Preventive arrests, interrogations and peace bonds

Police may preemptively arrest and detain a person, for a maximum of seven days, when doing so is likely to prevent a terrorist activity from being carried out. A peace officer may also apply for a court order to compel an individual believed to have information relating to a terrorism offence to appear at an investigative hearing to answer questions. The court can impose a recognizance with conditions on a person who might commit a terrorism offence. These provisions expire in 2018.

Finally, the minister of public safety may revoke or cancel a passport if it is necessary to prevent the commission of a terrorism offence or for other national security reasons.

The threat: Financing terrorism

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Tracking, listing and forfeiture of terrorist property

FINTRAC tracks financial transactions related to terrorist threats to Canada. Financial dealings with any property or interest owned by a terrorist group (that is, an entity found on one of the three lists established by the government of Canada and the UN) are prohibited.

The ministers of public safety and national revenue can deny charitable status under the Income Tax Act to prevent support for terrorism. The Department of Finance leads Canada’s representation in negotiating and implementing international standards to combat terrorist financing through bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force, the G7 and G20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Map of the world showing listed terrorism entities and global terrorism index score
Sources: Map prepared by Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 2016, using data from Public Safety Canada, “Currently Listed Entities“, Listed Terrorist Entities; Institute for Economics & Peace, “Annex A: GTI Ranks and Scores, 2015”, Global Terrorism Index, 2015; and Natural Earth, 1:50m Cultural Vectors. The following software was used: Esri, ArcGIS, version 10.3.1. Contains information licensed under Open Government Licence – Canada.


The threat: Risk to offend or re-offend

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Special sentencing provisions

Core terrorism offences in the Criminal Code include participating, facilitating and instructing terrorist activity and harbouring terrorists. To protect society, denounce the commission of terrorism offences and deter anyone from committing such crimes (even outside Canada), the law provides for an extraordinary sentencing regime.

For example, sentences for terrorism are to be served consecutively and offenders may serve a longer period before being released on parole. In addition, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has recently been given authority to revoke a dual national’s citizenship upon a conviction for a terrorism offence (Bill C-6 would remove this ground for revocation).

In prison, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) manages individuals convicted of terrorist offences or inmates associated with extremist groups to assess and mitigate any potential risk to public safety and national security.

The threat: Attacks on critical infrastructure

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Security measures, prohibitions and controls

The illicit manufacturing of explosives and trafficking in explosives and components of ammunition are prohibited. A number of statutes control the production, possession, use and transfer of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material and explosives.

The Export Control List restricts the export and transfer of certain goods and technology. This includes the export of weapons and any article of a strategic nature that could be detrimental to the nation’s security. The National Energy Board can also order owners of pipelines to take increased security measures.

The threat: Attacks on the transportation system

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Transportation security

Transportation security measures are generally directed at aircraft or aviation facility operators, vessel or marine facility operators, railway companies or the importers, handlers or transporters of dangerous goods.

People suspected of posing an immediate threat to aviation security and those who might travel by air to commit a terrorism offence may be prohibited from flying (No Fly List). Directives may also be issued in situations involving threats, emergencies or risks, such as a direction to evacuate an aircraft or to a vessel not to enter Canada.

Map of Canada showing points of entry in the country by modes of transportation (water, land, highways, railways, air). Copyright: Library of Parliament

Sources: Map prepared by Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 2016, using data from Statistics Canada, Table 2-1, “Tonnes of cargo loaded and unloaded on major scheduled services and major charter services, Top 50 airports”, Air Carrier Traffic at Canadian Airports, 2014, 2015; Statistics Canada, Table 13, “Domestic and international shipping — Cargo tonnage loaded and unloaded at 50 leading Canadian ports by sector”, Shipping in Canada, 2011, 2012; Statistics Canada, Table 427-0001, “Number of international travellers entering or returning to Canada, by type of transport, monthly (persons),” CANSIM (database); Natural Resources Canada, Atlas of Canada 1:1,000,000, 1:5,000,000, and 1:15,000,000; and Natural Earth, Cultural Vectors, 1:10,000,000 and 1:50,000,000. The following software was used: Esri, ArcGIS, version 10.3.1. Contains information  licensed under Open Government Licence – Canada.


The threat: Border security

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Border and immigration controls

CBSA officers may conduct searches of people and examine goods at the border. While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conducts admissibility screening prior to or after the arrival of individuals in Canada, CBSA officers may also do so at the border.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada may then issue removal orders on the basis of inadmissibility on security grounds. Security certificates are another process by which non-citizens may be detained and deported. These are issued based on confidential evidence that individuals pose a risk to security; provision is made for special advocates to protect their interests.

The threat: International terrorism

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Cooperation

Canada participates in numerous international forums in which it works to harmonize legal frameworks, build capacity and establish best practices to combat terrorism. Specific initiatives include UN-sponsored terrorism-related international legal instruments addressing such terrorist acts as hostage taking, hijacking, terrorist bombings, and terrorist financing, including UN Security Council Resolution 1373. The RCMP supports capacity building and stabilization efforts to international peace operations, and links Canada to INTERPOL and Europol, the networks of police organizations.

International Fora in which Canada Participates

The threat: Ineffectual implementation of counter-terrorism measures

  • Counter-terrorism tool: Accountability framework

The Canadian counter-terrorism measures framework relies on the actions and interactions of numerous government organizations, agencies and departments. It is not supported by a broad, overarching review mechanism, but rather by specific review mechanisms for three such agencies, namely, CSIS, the CSE and the RCMP.

The conduct of CSIS is reviewed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee. The conduct of CSE is reviewed by the CSE Commissioner, while the RCMP’s conduct is reviewed by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

National Security Protection Framework: Statutory Authorities at a Glance
Measure Authority
Intelligence Gathering and Disruption
Intelligence gathering and disruption activity by CSIS Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act
Foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) gathering by CSE National Defence Act
Investigation and Prosecution
National security offences investigations primarily conducted by the RCMP and prosecuted by the Attorney General of Canada Security Offences Act
Preventive arrest, investigative hearings, peace bonds, and police surveillance and search and seizure powers Criminal Code
Terrorism and security offences and sentencing Criminal Code

Security of Information Act

National Defence Act

Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act)

Terrorist Financing
Terrorist financing: tracking, listing and forfeiture of property and denial of registered charity status



Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act)

Criminal Code

United Nations Act Charities Registration (Security Information) Act

Collection, Sharing, Dissemination and Protection of Information
Collection and sharing of information inside and outside of Canada by federal organizations Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and specific authorities granted in other acts

Privacy Act

Controls on the disclosure of information to protect international relations, national defence, national security and privacy Canada Evidence Act and Personal Information Protection and Electric Documents Act

Access to Information Act and Privacy Act

Specific authorities granted in other acts

Transportation Security
Transportation security measures, directives, screening, inspections and offences, aviation security sharing of passenger information, security assessment, restriction of airspace and Passenger Protect Program (No Fly List) Marine Transportation Security Act

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992

International Bridges and Tunnels Act

Canadian Air Travel Security Authority Act

Aeronautics Act

Secure Air Travel Act

Railway Safety Act

Establishment of railway police Railway Safety Act
Dangerous Goods
Transportation of dangerous goods Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act
Controls on explosives and ammunition Explosives Act
Export Control List Export and Import Permits Act
Controls on the production, possession, use and transfer of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives weapons Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Implementation Act
Orders of the National Energy Board for the safety and security

of pipelines

National Energy Board Act
Border, Immigration and Citizenship Controls
Immigration security screening and detention, removal orders and deportation under security certificates Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Revocation of citizenship for convictions relating to national security Citizenship Act
Searches of persons and goods at border crossings Customs Act and Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorism Financing Act
Protection of Infrastructure
CSE advice, guidance and services in the support of the protection of electronic information and of information infrastructures National Defence Act
Physical security and protection of the parliamentary precinct Parliament of Canada Act
Emergencies and Significant Risks
Declaration of a public order, international or war emergency by Cabinet Emergencies Act (replaced the War Measures Act)

Emergency Management Act and National Defence Act

Interim immediate ministerial orders to deal with significant risks Specific authorities granted in acts such as the Food and Drugs Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
CSIS review by SIRC Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act
CSE review by the CSE Commissioner National Defence Act
RCMP review by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act

Related resources

Public Safety Canada, Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada’s Counter-terrorism Strategy, 2013.

Public Safety Canada, 2014 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada.

Transport Canada, Canada’s National Civil Aviation Security Program.

Public Safety Canada, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Resilience Strategy for Canada, 2011.

Public Safety Canada, Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy: for a Stronger and More Prosperous Canada, 2010.

Authors: Dominique Valiquet and Christine Morris, Library of Parliament

Categories: International affairs and defence

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