Keeping House: C-51: A loss of rights and freedoms

Alex Atamanenko explains what bill C-51 will mean for Canadians.

There has been a great deal in the news over the past few weeks about C-51, the government’s news Anti-Terrorism Act.  It is another one in a series of omnibus bills and contains 62 pages covering everything from expanding the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to allowing police to seize terrorist propaganda while making it easier to share information between government departments.

On the surface, it appears fairly clear: we are faced with a terrorist threat.  C-51 will make our country a safer place.

The reality, however, is not that simplistic.  I have been monitoring what the mainstream media have been saying about this piece of legislation and have learned that there is a lot of concern about the threat to our rights and freedoms.

As Campbell Clark stated in his Globe and Mail Op-ed: “Two things are clear: First the Conservatives think this bill will help them win an election, and second, they don’t want people to understand it.  That’s a bad combination for a bill that will change things in secret, in ways we won’t know for years.”

In spite of the fact that the two tragic deaths of Canadian service men were not directly related to a “terrorist plot” against Canada, the government has justified C-51 using the threat of a Jihadist invasion.  If we recall, the individuals who murdered our two soldiers were mentally deranged fanatics with no connection to any international terrorist organization.

Canadians have a right to worry about their safety.  It is a duty of a government to address this concern in a responsible manner, and not to play on the “fear factor”.  As our Leader Tom Mulcair stated, “The Prime Minister is telling Canadians they need to choose between their security and their rights – that safety and freedom are mutually exclusive.  Instead of putting forward concrete measures to make Canadians safer and protect freedoms Conservatives have put politics over principle and introduced a bill that is dangerously vague and likely ineffective.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, the RCMP had been engaged in illegal disruptive activities.  The McDonald Commission was created and CSIS was established to collect and analyze information and produce intelligence about potential national security threats to Canada.  Now, with C-51, CSIS will be allowed to engage in this type of activity and do legally what the RCMP had been doing illegally.  This should be of great concern to all Canadians

Those of us that recall the War Measures Act of 1970, remember the sweeping powers it gave the police. Hundreds of innocent people were arrested, interrogated and detained as a result.  This must not happen ever again.

History, as we know, is full of examples of irresponsible leaders rallying their citizens by exaggerating threats to their security.  As a former CSIS officer, Francois Lavigne states, “Some of these tactics are taken right out of the fascist playbook.  Create an enemy that is hard to identify. Make it an enemy that is nebulous and seems to be able to do things that nobody else can.  Don’t define the enemy.  Just identify.  Generate fear around that enemy.  Then, send out the message that the only people who can deal with this enemy are us.”

The Conservatives have defined the “enemy” and are ramming legislation through that is supposedly going to protect us.  They have limited debate at Second Reading and are only allowing 3 meetings at Committee to hear witnesses.

To put this in context, after Sept 11, 2001, the Liberal government held 10 Committee sessions and heard from 80 witnesses before passing major anti-terrorism legislation.  (I find it hard to understand why the Liberals have given unconditional support to C-51).

I must say that I am proud of my party’s principled stand opposing this bill.

We believe that C-51:

Threatens our way of life by asking Canadians to choose between their security and their freedoms;

Was not developed in consultation with other parties, all of whom recognize the real threat of terrorism and support effective, concrete measures to keep Canadians safe;

Irresponsibly provides CSIS with a sweeping new mandate without equally increasing oversight;

Contains definitions that are broad, vague and threaten to lump legitimate dissent together with terrorism; and

Does not include the type of concrete, effective measures that have been proven to work, such as working with communities on measures to counter radicalization of youth.

It is my opinion that this ideologically driven piece of legislation is a very real threat to our rights and freedoms.

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior

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