SOWK candidates talk Bill C-51

Local candidates give their two cents on the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act.

Bill C-51 was passed by the Senate on June 9 despite very vocal protests from across the country, including a rally in Castlegar in May.

With the federal election coming up in October, South Okanagan-West Kootenay (SOWK) candidates weighed in on the controversial piece of legislation.

The bill, named the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2105, changes pieces of the federal criminal code and expands the reach of Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).  The bill gives CSIS authorization to actively pursue terrorist threats outside of Canada’s borders, while also allowing the federal government to collect and share citizens’ personal information, widens the definition of terrorism to include acts or opinions in opposition to Canada’s resource economy and much more.

The federal Liberal Party, headed by Justin Trudeau, has been in support of the bill over the last few months, but the SOWK liberal candidate, Connie Denesiuk, believes C-51 was passed unfinished.

“I think that there are a couple of practical things in the bill, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the bill, but I do recognize the other side,” she said, adding that it needed amendments which were shot down by the Conservative majority in Ottawa ahead of the Senate vote that passed the bill. “It was going to go through anyways, but our revisions and recommendations were rejected. Who is going to police the police?”

Liberal representatives proposed additions, or amendments, to the bill, implementing a system for oversight and regulation, and a sunset clause, which would stop the bill from having any effect after three years unless any active legislation was made to keep it law.

The New Democrats have been publicly against the bill since it was first proposed, and the SOWK NDP candidate, Richard Cannings, says even with the Liberals’ proposed amendments, the bill still isn’t right for Canadians.

“Frankly, oversight and a sunset clause wouldn’t be nearly enough to mitigate the dangers of this bill,” he said. “For New Democrats, voting to send C-51 to the Senate simply was not an option. The NDP proposed a series of amendments to C-51 to scrap the offending provisions, none of which were adopted.”

Conservative candidate for the SOWK riding, Marshall Neufeld, disagrees with his opponents, and says the bill will help keep Canadians safe against an international terrorist threat.

“The international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada. I believe it is the first duty of any government to keep its citizens safe and it is for that reason the government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act,” he said. “Canadians are being targeted by jihadi terrorists simply because these terrorists hate our society and the values it represents. This is why the Conservative government put forward measures that protect Canadians against jihadi terrorists who seek to destroy the very principles that make Canada the best country in the world to live.”

Neufeld referenced the killing of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec last year to highlight his support for the bill, specifically the changes made to police agency’s ability to detain suspects without formal charges.

“Short term preventative arrests have existed in Canada without abuse by law enforcement prior to the Anti-terrorism Act,” he said. “Previously a judge had to be convinced that a suspect was, with certainty, about to commit a terrorist act. This was a very high legal bar. Now, a judge must be convinced that a terrorist act may be carried out and that the arrest, ‘is likely to prevent the carrying out of the terrorist activity.’ If this legislation had been in place last year, then the perpetrator who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent on October 20th would almost certainly have been in jail as the police continued their investigation of his activities.”

Regardless of what the Conservatives hope to accomplish with the bill, Denesiuk says it was put forward to bury some bigger issues than domestic and foreign terrorism and Cannings agrees.

“I think C-51 is an effectively played distraction mechanism,” she said. “It was a very well delivered plan to distract people away from the dismal state of the economy and the lack of job creation. The bill has gotten people riled up, but that was exactly the Conservative plan – to get people upset so they wouldn’t be paying attention to what they ought to be paying attention to.”

Cannings echoed her statements.

“If I were a Conservative strategist, I’d certainly be hoping to distract voters from the current state f the economy,” he said. “Canada has lost 200,000 jobs since the recession and Stephen Harper’s plan just isn’t working. Harper…is using the politics of fear to get ahead. We feel strongly that Canadians don’t have to choose between security and their rights – even in an election year. Unfortunately, Bill C-51 is more of a reflection of the politics of fear than a response to a threat.”

Denesiuk says that under the current government, the annual budget has been an economical mess, and they are running out of ideas for how to fix it.

“The Conservatives have had seven consecutive deficit budgets and the only way they are balancing the budget this time around is by scraping together clawed back money from veterans, employment insurance, the military and selling off General Motors stock,” she said. “They are cobbling all of these things together to get enough money to balance the budget, but you can’t do that a second year. All those pots were scraped dry and they don’t automatically replenish.”

With protests in Castlegar and other municipalities across Canada, Denesiuk is pleased that voters are sharing their displeasure with the legislation, but wants to make sure everyone is fully informed about what it entails before forming an opinion.

“I agree with many of the concerns that I have heard, loud and clear. But, the opinions aren’t always as well informed as they should be about different components of the bill,” she said, “One person came to me and shared her concern about how Bill C-51 was going to be hard on climate change. She said it to me, and she said it to others. That is a pretty big misconception. It just demonstrates some of the misinformation that accompanies the bill.”

Neufeld also sees plenty of misinformation being spread about Bill C-51, even while knocking on doors in Trail.

“As I have been going door-to-door in the riding, I have found that people have a general misunderstanding about the legislation,” he said, adding there are some politicians who aren’t truly representing what is in the legislation. “I have found that most people are much more supportive of the legislation once they find out what is actually contained in it.”

To read more about Bill C-51 and what it means, visit www.parl.gc.ca.

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