Bill C-51 Backgrounder # 4: The Terrorism Propaganda Provisions

Proposed s.83.222 of the Criminal Code creates a new concept of “terrorist propaganda”. It also allows judges to order deletion of “terrorist propaganda” from the internet.

We support the concept of deletion orders for “terrorist propaganda” in principle. We believe they can have a role as part of a balanced and evidence-based counter-radicalization strategy that aims both to reduce the supply of terrorist material and (even more importantly) the demand for it.

However, the details matter. We remain concerned about the breadth of the definition of “terrorist propaganda”. It includes cross-referencing to the new speech crime proposed by bill C-51. As we discuss in backgrounder #1, that new offence risks sweeping in too much speech that is not tied to violence or threats of violence.

We think instead the terrorist propaganda concept should be anchored to existing terrorist crimes, which capture already the vast range of actually dangerous speech.

Such an approach would ensure that deletion orders were appropriately focused on material proximately related to actual and threatened violence, as opposed to extremist and objectionable ideas that advocate the use of political violence for any number of causes, including ones that many would regard as “mainstream” (e.g., contesting the Assad regime in Syria).

The first part of this backgrounder will examine the definition of “terrorist propaganda” set out in bill C-51 and the procedures it contemplates for deletion of this material from the internet.

The second part will discuss consequential amendments that would add the broad new category of “terrorist propaganda” to the Customs Tariff that allows officials with the Canadian Border Service Agency to seize obscenity and hate propaganda at the border. The last part of this backgrounder will also discuss how the proposed deletion procedures will fit into what is known in the research literature about counter-radicalization programs.

This backgrounder will suggest that the focus of the “terrorist propaganda” should be drawn more narrowly in bill C-51 to include material that is already criminal – something it accomplishes in part by simply by listing material that counsels the commission of terrorist offences. The much broader and vaguer reference to material that advocates or promotes “terrorism offences in general” should be deleted from the bill.

[Note: We have posted this paper for immediate download on SSRN. While SSRN catalogues the paper for inclusion in its holding, this page will be watermarked “Under review by SSRN”. Readers will still be able to access the paper.]