Backgrounder: Nuclear Terrorism Legislation

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Delivering on International Nuclear Terrorism Commitments

The 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) establishes measures related to the prevention, detection and punishment of offences related to nuclear material. In 1986, Canada ratified the CPPNM and became a States Party.

In 2005, States Parties to the CPPNM adopted, by consensus, the CPPNM Amendment calling for the protection of nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage and transport. The CPPNM Amendment also provides for expanded cooperation between and among states regarding rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offences.

In Canada, the physical protection measures contemplated in the CPPNM Amendment are already in place through the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Security Regulations. However, Canada has not yet implemented the new criminalization requirements of the CPPNM Amendment.

Additionally, in 2005, the international community negotiated and concluded the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT). The ICSANT covers a broad range of criminal acts and possible targets, including threats and attempts. The ICSANT further stipulates that offenders shall either be extradited or prosecuted, and encourages States to cooperate in preventing terrorist attacks by sharing information and assisting each other with criminal investigations and extradition proceedings. Canada has signed, but not yet ratified, the ICSANT.

At the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., the Prime Minister, along with other world leaders, committed to work toward ratification of the CPPNM Amendment and the ICSANT. Several domestic and international nuclear security initiatives were also announced at this Summit. The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit is currently taking place in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Ratification, which is the formal international act by which Canada signifies its consent to be legally bound by the terms of the Convention, can only take place once the necessary domestic implementing legislation is in force.

Enhancing the Domestic Legal Framework

The implementing legislation proposed in this bill calls for amendments to the Criminal Code to create four new offences related to nuclear terrorism, including:

  • possessing or trafficking nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or committing an act against a nuclear facility or its operations, with the intent to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment;
  • using or altering nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or committing an act against a nuclear facility or its operation, with the intent to compel a person, a government or a domestic or international organization to do, or refrain from doing, anything;
  • committing an indictable offence for the purpose of obtaining nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device or to obtain access or control of a nuclear facility; and
  • the threat to commit these offences.

Three of the proposed offences call for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment – a level of punishment consistent with similar terrorism offences in the Criminal Code. The proposed threat offence carries a maximum penalty of fourteen years imprisonment.

In addition, since the two conventions are being added to the definition of terrorist activity in the Criminal Code, a number of terrorism provisions would apply to them, such as consecutive sentencing and reverse-onus bail.

Finally, the proposed reforms are not intended to criminalize existing lawful activity, use or possession of nuclear and radioactive material or devices.

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Government of Canada
March 2012