Enabling aid in terrorist-controlled areas
Testimony on Bill C-41 at JUST committee
Hello everyone! We’ve been busy getting ready for the launch of our new course, but I’ve also found some time to provide some commentary to a committee studying a new Bill - An Act to Amend the Criminal Code… This bill will enable aid to areas controlled by terrorist groups (such as Afghanistan). You can watch my testimony at the link, or you can read what I submitted below. Next week, I’ve got a look at Canada’s national inherent risk assessment set up for the newsletter, and I might add in a deep dive on a terrorist group or network. Stay tuned!
There was one thing I didn’t get a chance to say during my testimony, and it was to explain some of the dynamics of terrorist financing through aid organizations. As you’ll see if you watch the full testimony, the humanitarian organizations want a broad exemption for their work. I have an issue with that, in part because the aid - terrorism connection becomes something of a self-licking ice cream cone. As aid organizations work in areas controlled by terrorist groups, they get taxed. Those taxes enable terrorist organizations to conduct more operations, kill more civilians, and drive the requirement for more aid. You can see the cycle developing. Now, I don’t think stopping all aid to an area will stop a terrorist group, but in some circumstances taxation on aid might be a significant line item in the terrorist budget. We need flexibility to respond to that.
Thank you very much for the invitation to appear here today. I want to start by sharing some information on why I think these changes to the criminal code are important. I then have a few amendments to offer, and I’ll conclude with a comment about a lingering issue that these changes raise, specifically relating to our listing of terrorist entities.
This amendment came about because of the situation in Afghanistan, but it has much broader implications globally. I estimate that about 8% of countries worldwide have terrorist groups operating in them that control some territory – not the full country, of course, unlike the case of Afghanistan, but some part.1 This legislation will enable aid activities in these regions by Canadian organizations, which in turn can help increase stability and provide alternatives to engagement in violence.
It's important that this amendment be calibrated with the current threat of terrorist financing activity. My research shows that 42% of terrorist groups around the world use taxes, including those on aid and humanitarian activities, to finance themselves.
This is part of why a humanitarian carve out (as some have proposed) is much too broad in my view. It would create many opportunities for terrorist groups to exploit Canadian organizations and profit from their aid activity. The current amendments allow Canada to calibrate our aid and foreign policy to take into consideration the type of terrorist group operating in a region, the activity that they’re undertaking, and international security threats. This essentially allows Canada to turn the dial up or down on international aid according to the security situation and calibrate our foreign policy.
While I do offer broad support for this amendment, there are a few areas that need further attention.
First, it would be beneficial and expedient for Global Affairs Canada to create a list of countries and geographic areas where terrorist groups control territory, and provide it publicly. This would allow aid organizations to immediately determine whether their activities fall under the scope of this legislation.
This isn’t more work: this is something that Global Affairs Canada will have to do anyway for its internal work in order to process applications.
Yes, there are political sensitivities around that, but I’m confident that Global Affairs can word this in a way that minimizes those issues.
My second issue relates to the issue of security review, and specifically section 10(a); the language around “links” to a terrorist group is far too vague. “Links” is neither defined in law, nor is it a good analytic term. If there is something specific that the drafters of this language have in mind, they should include that here; otherwise, this line should be struck. Does “links” mean having once met someone who has been convicted of a terrorist offence? Or does it imply an ongoing relationship. Specificity is key here .
The third issue I see here is that FINTRAC isn’t in the list of entities that may provide assistance to the Minister of Public Safety, which is a curious omission given their role in countering terrorist financing. I suggest that they are either included in the legislation or the regulations. Further, it would be prudent to specify that FINTRAC”s assistance relates to their strategic analysis enabled under section 58 of the PCMLTFA, which allows them to provide information on the nature and extent of terrorist financing activities inside and outside of Canada. (This differentiates it from disclosure of information under section 55 of the PCMLTFA.)
Finally, I want to address one last thing. The amendments talk about terrorist groups, not listed terrorist entities. This is language that hasn’t been lost on members of this committee. This language is a necessary inclusion because there are many terrorist groups operating around the world that are not listed entities in Canada. But let’s be clear here: this language about “groups” is partly necessary because our process for listing terrorist entities is broken. It’s not transparent, there is no identifiable methodology that Public Safety Canada uses to nominate groups for inclusion, and the public information provided to support those listings is the weakest in the five eyes. Canada should reform the listings process with an eye to making it robust enough to support these amendments to the criminal code, and not necessitate the inclusion of terrorist “groups” which is actually too broad to be useful. We should be able to rely on our list of terrorist entities, but we can’t because it’s not inclusive or responsive enough to geopolitical realities.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today, and I look forward to taking any questions you might have.
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The list includes: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Colombia, DRCongo, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Western Sahara, Yemen, etc.