One should not have to choose between public safety or civil liberties

On October 22, 2014, shortly before 10 a.m., a man murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo in cowardly fashion at Ottawa’s cenotaph. He then continued on to Parliament, where he was shot dead by the Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers.
In a few minutes’ time, the gunman attacked two important national symbols: the National War Memorial, which commemorates those who fell defending our values and our rights, and Parliament, the heart of our democratic system.

Two days earlier, another attack had targeted two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, resulting in the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

These events shook us all deeply, me included. As a young mother, the gun battle in Parliament was a particularly stressful event. When I heard the two series of shots inside Centre Block while I was meeting with my colleagues behind closed doors, my first reaction was to worry about the safety and wellbeing of my daughter and my husband. This worry was replaced by anxiety during the long hours spent under lockdown.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the violence and brutality of the acts committed should not lead to an ill-considered and rushed rewrite of our policies.

Regarding the newly announced public safety measures, there is a risk that the Conservatives will introduce bills to strengthen police powers to arrest, detain and engage in surveillance—at the cost of our civil liberties.

Protecting Canadians and their rights is our responsibility as legislators. We must resist the temptation to use recent events to pass legislation hastily.

This is not the time to panic. The NDP does not believe in governing based on anxiety and fear. As MPs, because we were victims of this attack, we must be especially sure to take the time to carefully consider the appropriate response.

Prudence is the best course. The NDP knows that, in order to protect the public without compromising civil liberties, the House of Commons must be consulted and important decisions made after proper debate and consultations with experts and the public.

Remember that Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act—passed 13 years ago (and passed again last year in keeping with its sunset clause)—already gave police stronger tools, such as preventive detention. While protecting our communities must be a priority, we cannot sacrifice our civil liberties in the process.

We must defend both our democratic principles and our rights. To do that, we need to attack the root of the problem: the radicalization of these individuals.

As we try to understand and respond to the events of the past few weeks, we have a responsibility to engage in respectful debate. Despite our political affiliations, a sense of unity emerged among MPs during the shooting. While we will disagree on the ways to respond to these incidents along political lines, only together will we overcome this challenge. Canadians are watching us, and we will not let them down.