Travelling to areas identified as terrorism “hot spots” will become a crime for Canadians if the Conservatives are re-elected this fall.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the campaign promise in Ottawa on Sunday, expanding on the current rules that make it illegal to leave the country with the aim of taking part in terrorist activities.
“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 is vowing that anyone who travels to the so-called declared areas would experience the full force of the law, but that exceptions would be made for people who have legitimate reasons to go, including journalists and humanitarians.
“There will be exceptions in the law for those legitimate reasons. I don’t think people who 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 trained terrorists return to this country.”
Listen to Dalhousie University law and Human Rights professor Wayne McKay, on the proposed law:
Not the first Commonwealth country to enact such a law
The law would be similar to one introduced in Australia last year, which sets a jail term of 10 years for anyone caught travelling to designated parts of Iraq and Syria.
Critics say it contradicts the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty, and violates civil liberty and mobility rights. Opposition leaders have also voiced similar concerns with the proposal.
“Canada is a country that protects people’s rights,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said in reaction to the legislation. “And anytime a government wants to limit those rights, it needs to answer a lot more questions than Mr. Harper actually answered this morning.”
Not a top issue?
Trudeau also suspects Harper is trying to distract voters from the economy, which polls suggest is the top issue for most.
Following a campaign rally in Vancouver Sunday afternoon, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said “there is very little evidence” that the proposal “would have any concrete effect” on stopping Canadians from being radicalized, since most travel through other countries to get to the hot spots.”
He also says Harper should have tackled the issue of youth radicalization with the anti-terrorism bill C-51 passed by the government earlier this year.
The Conservatives have not said why the legislation wasn’t introduced before the election began, and haven’t outlined any specific areas, though regions of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State are expected to be included.
Originally published on AM980 LONDON.