Canada Tightens Controls on Fund-Raising ; Foreign Minister Axworthy Visited Washington on Friday to Defend Canada's Security Performance

Article excerpt

Under existing Canadian law, there's nothing to prevent someone from holding a bake sale and giving the proceeds to Osama bin Laden.

But that is expected to change. Lloyd Axworthy, Canada's foreign affairs minister, signed the United Nations convention on the financing of terrorism on Thursday. As a signatory to the convention, Ottawa will be expected to bring its statutes into harmony with the convention, which forbids the "transfer or reception" of financial assets for terrorist ends.

Counterterrorism experts have long complained about the relative ease with which they say the approximately 50 terrorist groups and their affiliates operating in Canada are able to raise funds here. Now, experts say, Canada will most likely pass a law making fund- raising for terrorist causes - like bake sales- illegal.

But many methods alleged terrorists use - like extortion - are already prosecutable offenses here. Indeed, the circle around Ahmed Ressam, whose arrest at the US border in mid-December has set off the current concern about crossborder terrorism, apparently has financed its activities by crime: stealing phones and computers from parked cars in Montreal and using fraudulently obtained cards to extract cash from automatic tellers.

Dan Brien, spokesman for Canada's solicitor general, says even in the case of ostensibly legal fund-raising by front organizations, "It's not that Canada's powerless to prosecute," because there are conspiracy statutes that can invoked. But fund-raising for terrorists is not currently a specific offense under the Canadian Criminal Code.

In contrast, under US law it is illegal to provide "material support or resources ... knowing that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out a terrorist offense." It is similarly illegal knowingly to provide "material support or resources" to any group on the United States State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), is one of a number of experts who argue that Canada needs to emulate the US system of designating groups as terrorist organizations. "Once you have a system of designation ... each situation is evaluated on its own merits."

Such a system is reported to be under development in Ottawa. And a spokesman also says that a method for "deregistering" charitable trusts found to be fund-raising fronts for terrorist organizations is "something we're developing policy on."

But others note that Washington's list of terrorist organizations is not free of political considerations. …


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