Canadian laws should make it easier for the RCMP and other security agencies to track suspected extremists by “lowering the threshold” for certain enforcement tools, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said Monday.

“Generally speaking, I’m of the view that in some areas, we need to be able to lower the threshold and perhaps exclude some steps … for example, getting consent from the attorney general in respect to bringing a peace bond against a national security target,” Paulson told the Senate national security and defence committee.

Paulson answered questions from senators in the wake of last week’s deadly shootings in Ottawa, and the attack on two Canadian Forces members in Quebec. 

Paulson also said the RCMP would welcome assistance in getting more information about suspected extremists' Internet registrations and phone records.

He said any such legislative changes need to be “balanced against Canadians’ rightful expectation that they’re free and that they’re safe from the sort of improper application of police powers.”

“But I think there is a balance that can be reached there,” he said.

As Paulson and others testified before the Senate committee, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney introduced legislation Monday to strengthen the ability of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to track Canadians suspected of having become radicalized and wanting to travel abroad to engage in terror.

The bill also gives CSIS more powers to conduct security investigations abroad.

‘Ideological and political motives’

Paulson also testified Monday about the RCMP’s ongoing investigation into Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard at the National War Memorial Wednesday morning. Zehaf-Bibeau then stormed Parliament’s Centre Block, and was shot and killed during a gunfight with police and Parliament Hill security.

The RCMP revealed Sunday that Zehaf-Bibeau left behind a video which contains “persuasive evidence” that he was “driven by ideological and political motives.”

Paulson told the Senate committee Monday that the RCMP is still analyzing the video, but “it will certainly someday be released.”

“I really am inclined to overcome those challenges and get it released as soon as possible,” he said.

Paulson later told reporters that the video was recovered from a device, but did not offer any other details.

In the video, Zehaf-Bibeau was “quite deliberate, he was quite lucid and he was quite purposeful in articulating the basis for his actions,” Paulson said.

He said the gunman made references in respect to Canada’s foreign policy and his religious beliefs.

Paulson also told the Senate committee that investigators are probing whether Zehaf-Bibeau told anyone of his intentions before launching his attack.

The attack occurred two days after Martin Couture-Rouleau struck two Canadian Forces members in a parking lot in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. The second soldier suffered minor injuries.

Couture-Rouleau was shot dead by police after a brief car chase.

Couture-Rouleau was known to law enforcement after his family came forward with concerns that he had become radicalized. He was one of about 90 individuals that the RCMP were monitoring on a high-risk traveller list, and his passport had been revoked.

‘Lone wolf’ threat

Paulson also told the Senate committee Monday that the lone wolf gunman presents “a much more challenging threat” for law enforcement to counter than larger, co-ordinated terror attacks.

Terrorism is one of the force’s “most challenging investigative areas” due to a number of factors, including difficulties detecting the early signs of radicalization and a person’s willingness to commit an act of violence, Paulson said.

The attacks in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., were carried out without advance warning and with “seemingly little to no preparation,” Paulson said.

When asked which poses the greater threat to Canadians, the lone wolf gunman or a larger co-ordinated attack, Paulson pointed to the person acting alone.

“Ironically, the more elaborate the plot is, the more likely it is we are able to respond, and in advance,” Paulson said. Investigators will likely pick up hints or chatter about a larger planned attack, he said.

The threat to Canada is “continually evolving,” Paulson noted, but it is “now predominantly understood to be the single actor that presents a much more challenging threat.”

Paulson said that there appears to be no link between the two attackers, and that the two incidents were not part of a larger co-ordinated attack.

“Unfortunately we are all too familiar with the unpredictability of these events,” Paulson said.

Tracking suspected extremists

A key focus for law enforcement and national security agencies is to ensure Canadians who have become radicalized are prevented from travelling overseas to engage in terror-related activity, Paulson said. “If these individuals return with training and/or battle experience, they will pose an even greater threat to Canada and our allies.”

Asked to characterize the nature of the terror threat to the Canadian public, Paulson replied that it is “serious and present and one that requires all people in the national security business and the law enforcement business, and indeed all Canadian citizens, to be vigilant.”

Paulson also responded to questions about why more can’t be done to watch or detain Canadians who have been identified as having radicalized and who have had their passports revoked.

Couture-Rouleau is a good example of federal law enforcement being suspicious and having some evidence of radicalization and having to translate those misgivings into evidence that will lead to charges, a prosecution and a conviction, he said.

“It’s the transition from the apparent belief and suspicion to the sort of hard core evidence that is tangible, articulable and transferable to a courtroom,” Paulson said.

Michael Peirce, CSIS’s assistant director of intelligence, told the Senate committee Monday that there is a “real threat” of radicalization in Canada, and the spy agency is on the front lines of identifying and tracking suspected extremists who have travelled or plan to travel abroad.

Asked whether there are schools or institutions in Canada where extremist views are being disseminated, Peirce said that CSIS investigates “individuals and their activities.”

“We don’t investigate mosques,” he said, adding that extremists don’t tend to operate “quite so brazenly” within institutions. They are more likely to take young people aside and operate quietly within a community, he said.

Peirce also said that extremist propaganda found on the Internet is a “very powerful radicalization tool.”

With files from The Canadian Press