As part of the anti-terrorism initiative, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a trifecta of measures aimed at beefing up the country’s ability to thwart violent jihad. Some of these measures had previously been announced in the budget, including more money for Canada’s spy agency and more scrutiny of foreign visitors.
NDP member Randal Garrison, MP from Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca, said the program is a “worrying expansion” of the biometrics collection program for visitors.
“It raises some obvious and serious questions about how the information will be handled and who it will be shared with,” Garrison said. “How will these policy impact international business activities, our tourism industry or visits by immigrant family members? There are far too many unanswered questions.
Under the new measures, the federal government will commit $137 million more over five years to Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, along with $41 million more a year afterward. The additional funding, Harper said, would allow CSIS to beef up its frontline capacity to counter terrorist threats and activities.
Some experts have argued the earmarked money simply isn’t much given the current threat environment, especially with legislation giving the agency more power to stop Canadians from joining terror groups abroad, disrupt bank transactions, and secretly interfere with radical websites.
The government also plans to expand biometric screening to all foreign citizens needing visas to come to Canada including those who require work or study permits and immigrants. The procedure is already required for travelers from 30 countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Egypt, but would now apply to visitors from a further 150 others.
Harper said Canada already has access to biometric data collected by other countries and would share its data with them, but said privacy and legal standards will be in place to protect Canadians.
The identity verification measures, which require legislative changes, are expected to take effect in 2018. Harper said the government would kick in $313 million over five years to support the new requirement.
Under the current system, applicants must pay a biometric fee of $85 per person, in addition to the application fee. According to a Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson, this fee would be extended to visa applicants from new countries added to the list requiring biometric screening.