OTTAWA — Newly appointed Defence Minister Jason Kenney used his maiden speech to Canada’s military establishment Thursday to sing the praises of the federal government’s anti-terror bill.
The country is engaged in a long-term ideological struggle with radical Islam, Kenney told the annual Ottawa gathering hosted by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.
“We need only to look to Copenhagen, to Paris, to Brussels and to Sydney,” Kenney said.
“We need only consider the Toronto 18, the ongoing trials in Vancouver in the plot to bomb for the B.C. legislature and in Toronto against the alleged Via Rail bombers, to know that there is a high probability of future jihadists attacks from within.”
The notion that western civilization and style of government are never going to be challenged is wrongheaded, he added.
“Some Canadians can be forgiven for indulging in that fantasy,” Kenney said.
Canada’s geographic remoteness, prosperity and pluralism “have given Canadians reason to think that we can avoid real threats to our peaceable dominion. Yet we face a global movement that quite literally defies reason.”
Kenney, who took over from Rob Nicholson earlier this month, says the country “shouldn’t overreact to this threat, nor should we underreact.”
He cast the threat of Islamic extremism as a global danger, and pointed to the rampage of the terrorist group Boko Haram across parts of central Africa, primarily in the country of Nigeria.
Bill C-51, which increases the powers of security agencies, notably the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, is being debated by the House of Commons.
New Democrats oppose the legislation. The Liberals have said they will support it, but promise to fix some of the flaws if they form government after this year’s election.
One of the biggest criticisms is that there is little additional oversight of intelligence services being planned to prevent possible excesses. The government says no new mechanisms or bodies are needed beyond what already exists.
The bill is the government’s response to last October’s attack on Parliament and the murder of two soldiers and is meant to counter the threat of homegrown radicalism.
After his speech, Kenney was asked why he feels there will be more attacks, even after C-51 is passed. The threat is constantly changing, he replied.
“The threat is going to keep mutating,” Kenney said. “We have to be flexible in addressing the needs of our police and security agencies to counter the threat.”
The speech left little doubt that the Harper government intends to extend the current combat mission against the Islamic State when it comes up for renewal later at the end of next month.
Kenney hinted as much in television interviews last week.
On Thursday, he said cabinet will soon consider proposals on the mission, as well as the question of whether the government has to go back to the House of Commons for approval.