Why I will be voting against the new “anti-terrorism” legislation

In a previous column, I called for the spirit of dialogue and goodwill the emerged following the attacks of October 22nd to win out over any hasty efforts to tighten up security legislation. Unfortunately, rather than show leadership, the Conservatives have exploited the climate of fear that has been present as they chose to introduce their freedom-stifling Bill C-51.

Even worse is that the Harper government is making a mockery of the democratic process and is acting dishonestly. The government invoked closure of the debate after only 24 hours of study in order to limit examination of the bill. Now, the Conservatives are spending their time lecturing witnesses in committee, even going so far as to repeatedly try to undermine their credibility.

And yet, there is a very long list of those opposed to the bill: Supreme Court justices, former prime ministers and provincial premiers, lawyers, jurists, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the Privacy Commissioner and former members of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), just to name a few. They all share the same view: we don’t have to choose between security and our freedoms.

What is in Bill C-51?

Bill C-51 is 62 pages long and amends 13 statutes, and it includes the following provisions:

  • It broadens the definition of what is a “threat”: it goes well beyond terrorism to include, for instance, interference with critical infrastructure.
  • It greatly expands CSIS’s powers: wiretaps, monitoring of emails and even the power to secretly detain individuals abroad, as the CIA did a few years ago. The bill does nothing to expand oversight of intelligence agencies.
  • It allows 17 federal departments and agencies to share personal information deemed necessary to protect national security and makes it easier to open secret files on ordinary Canadians, a clear privacy violation according to Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien.

Here’s an example. Say a group from Suroît bands together to oppose the construction of an oil pipeline. Under the bill, they could be deemed a threat. Why? Because they would be “endangering” the economic stability of Canada and public safety. Their emails and phone calls could be monitored, and their tax records could be shared among various government agencies, including CSIS. The risk is that anyone who disagrees with government policies could be tracked.

Where the NDP and I stand

Let’s be realistic: there is no question that terrorism poses a very real threat, and it is up to governments to act responsibly and effectively. But as security expert and former CSIS official Michel Juneau-Katsuya pointed out, “there aren’t enough resources to monitor the individuals already identified. Now that this list will grow, who will be able to monitor these new individuals?”

Government budget cuts are preventing the relevant agencies from taking action, and the government is forgetting one important part of prevention: fighting the radicalization of young Canadians. There is nothing in this bill that would do that.

Something else that concerns me is the reaction of certain opposition parties. The Bloc Québécois has come out in favour of the bill even though, ironically, the sovereignty movement could be included in the definition of “threat.” As for the Liberals, they have given the Conservatives a blank cheque by promising to vote for it, even if their amendments are defeated. When faced with a bill that sacrifices our rights, the Liberal leader’s response goes to show that he is not ready to practise what he preaches. It’s the politics of “do as I say but not as I do.”

Canadians can count of the NDP to defend our rights and freedoms. Tom Mulcair is a man of principle who will not be bullied by Stephen Harper. We do not see freedom and security as opposites. We are calling for intelligent oversight, better allocation of resources, and programs to fight radicalization in at-risk communities. It is time that the Conservatives listen to experts and to citizens. You can be sure that we will use all the tools at our disposal to oppose this dangerous bill. We are working to protect Canadians’ right to not have their freedoms unduly curtailed, especially by the government.

I encourage everyone to come out and show their opposition to Bill C-51 by signing the petition.