Over the past few months, Canadians have become acutely aware of the threat to public safety presented by potential terrorist attacks, both at home and abroad. MPs were all shocked by the events of Oct. 22 in Ottawa, but when we went back into session the next day we stood united and committed to work together across partisan lines to meet those threats.
In doing so, we tried to send a strong signal that we will not let those who would use violence to disrupt our democracy win by sacrificing the very rights and freedoms we cherish in the quest for security.
The Conservative government, however, has decided to do just that with its new anti-terrorism bill. Bill C-51 is now being rushed through Parliament by Stephen Harper’s government.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Harper has chosen to play politics with our security and to use fear to try to stampede Canadians in his direction. Canadians are right to be concerned and thousands turned out across the country last Saturday to let the government know they are watching.
There is no doubt that protection of public safety must be a top priority of any government, but at the same time governments must also defend our shared values and freedoms. After careful review of the legislation New Democrats decided to oppose Bill C-51. In contrast to Tom Mulcair’s principled stance against the bill, the Trudeau Liberals have decided to support the Conservatives arguing that sacrificing some of our freedoms to meet the threat of terrorism is necessary and that any problems in the legislation can be fixed later.
Bill C-51 proposes measures that are sweeping, dangerously vague and therefore likely to be ineffective. Under the new bill, CSIS’ mandate would be expanded to “disrupt” activities of people and groups that it believes pose a threat to Canada. Unfortunately for Canadians, the Minister of Public Safety is unable or refuses to describe what this will mean in practice. It is clear that this bill risks lumping together legitimate dissent and protest with actual terrorism.
What presents further cause for concern is the serious lack of oversight for CSIS. Even before the proposed expansion of CSIS’ mandate there have been concerns raised regarding shortcomings when it comes to oversight body for this secret organization. As well the Conservatives need to explain how they think the RCMP, the CBSA, and CSIS can meet the threats we face when the Conservatives are continuing the significant budget cuts each have struggled with annually since 2012. It makes no sense to expect these organizations to execute a broader mandate with fewer resources.
Canada should be following a similar path to that of the United States, where the Obama administration has been engaging with community and faith leaders and counter-radicalization experts to find solutions at the grassroots level to the radicalization that is most often the basis for these threats.
Anyone planning to use violence against others must be stopped, but such measures must be effective and must not erode our fundamental freedoms.
Along with individuals and organizations across the country, including four former Prime Ministers and five former Supreme Court Justices, New Democrats continue to raise serious concerns over this far reaching legislation and its effects on the rights of Canadians.
Protecting freedom and security are not mutually exclusive. New Democrats will continue to hold a principled stance against bill C-51 or any other bill that erodes the basic values that make us Canadian, particularly if a bill fails to responds effectively to the threats we face.
Randall Garrison is the Member of Parliament for Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca and Official Opposition critic for Public Safety.