FIXING BILL C-51

By Andrew Cardozo

P1090758

Uncovering what the Liberals would do to C-51
(Posted October 15, 2015)

“Repeal Bill C-51”, is the little sign that has been added to NDP lawn signs in target ridings this week. The anti-terrorism bill continues to dog the Liberals especially in ridings where there is a two-way battle with the New Democratic Party. It is a major barrier for many soft New Democratic supporters to cross over to the Liberals as their party falters. It could keep the Liberals from winning.
Justin Trudeau says they support some aspects of it and if elected, they will repeal or amend other aspects. After much criticism he seems to have made some headway in positioning his party as the one that recognizes that the threats facing Canada are serious while at the same time recognizing that security measures should not breach the rights of Canadians. As such, security measruees can best balance the two competing objectives, through parliamentary oversight and sunset clauses that limit the shelf-life of such laws.
Wayne Easter, the Prince Edward Island MP and one-time Solicitor General was the Liberal point-man on the bill as it went through Parliament and he spells out the likes and dislikes in some detail.
The three most important elements of C-51 which got the support of his party are:
• Information sharing: Cross-government information sharing about security threats, especially among federal security related agencies, which to date have been prevented from transferring such information.
• Air travel: Measures to further secure air travel
• Preventative detention: Criminal Code amendments to allow the extension of “preventative detention” of those suspected of plans to commit a terrorist offence, albeit with the approval of a judge.
These are the aspects which would not be repealed, which is what distinguishes the Liberal position from the NDP’s.

That said, there are other elements of C-51 which Easter says they committed to rapidly amend if they get into government, and these include adding:
• Parliamentary Oversight: Creating a Parliamentary Committee of MPs to provide oversight of all the anti-terrorism laws and policies contained in this Act and elsewhere. This would include overseeing the spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which oversees electronic and other communications, and reviewing the activities of federal departments and agencies in relation to intelligence and national security.
• Legislative review after three years: Requiring a mandatory legislative review of all the anti-terrorism laws and polices after three years in addition to instituting a three-year sunset of terrorism related provisions in the Criminal Code.
• Charter guarantees: Amending the CSIS Act to ensure that warrants obtained respect Charter of Rights protections, and that CSIS is reviewed in a more robust manner by its watchdog, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). The watchdog is currently so underfunded that it can barely do its job.
Some of the other issues they want to add, include more specific definitions of the commission of a terrorism offence, terrorist propaganda and threat to security.
And they want to require CSEC to obtain a warrant prior to engaging in surveillance of Canadians when it is deemed by the court to be necessary for national security; and further they would require CSEC’s collection of meta data to be reviewed.
On perhaps the only aspect of agreement with the NDP, they want to address the issues of home-grown radicalization. To be specific, Easter says they want to amend the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Act creating the office of a “Community outreach and counter-radicalization co-ordinator”.

With the dizzying panapoly of security organizations – CSIS, CSEC, SIRC, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and I didn’t even mention the RCMP, the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, the courts and the Privy Council Office – the need for some people somewhere to provide comprehensive oversight of all these moving parts, is so important.

Ottawa Centre Liberal Catherine McKenna, who is in an uphill battle with incumbent New Democrat Paul Dewar, put out a note to constituents saying, “A Liberal government will repeal all sections of C-51 that come in conflict with our charter. We’ll fix the bill to ensure adequate parliamentary oversight, mandatory legislative review, and to prevent use.”
In the end, Easter provides the details of Trudeau’s point, that the NDP have no security concerns, short of domestic radicalization and would simply repeal the Act in its entirety. But he is up against simplistic solutions that are always easier to explain than balancing competing values. C-51….gone. Senate…gone. Deficit…gone.

(Note to reader: The term “Bill” applies to a draft law to be considered by Parliament. Once it passes into law it is known as an “Act” and it officially does not carry the number any longer. It is usually known by its name but in this case there are actually two new Acts within it and amendments to several other existing Acts. The official name is 45 words long and has 65 sections and various sub-sections. So “Bill C-51” remains a convenient handle.)
Andrew Cardozo is president of the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.

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