Comment: Why anti-terror bill is unnecessary and dangerous

This is an edited version of Victoria MP Murray Rankin’s speech in Parliament Monday.

I rise with great sadness to debate Bill C-51. I am sad because the Conservatives appear to be using national security as a wedge issue, using fear to divide us at the very time Canadians rightly demand non-partisan collaboration to keep us safe.

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In a touching speech following the shooting incident in Parliament in October, the prime minister said: “In our system, in our country, we are opponents but we are never enemies. We are Canadians, one and all.”

Then he introduced this bill in a campaign-style rally away from Parliament. He used rhetoric of war and spoke in front of the largest Canadian flag I have ever seen.

I understand the threats to security in our country. For many years, I was legal counsel to the Security Intelligence Review Committee. I received a top-secret clearance and conducted terrorism hearings. A couple of years ago, the current minister of Foreign Affairs, then justice minister, appointed me as a so-called special advocate to do national security work under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act where national security issues arise. I understand the need to take action on national security. Would that we can do it while holding hands across the aisle, as we did in October.

The government has failed to make the case for the new powers it seeks. This is another omnibus bill by the Conservatives that would expand the powers of CSIS dramatically but would fail to strengthen oversight and review powers.

The government has failed to give a single example of how the amendments it seeks in Bill C-51 would be used. It has added offences such as “communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general.” Most lawyers I have consulted have no idea how words as vague as “terrorism in general” appear in a legal text.

The government has refused calls for more oversight of our national-security apparatus, notwithstanding that information-sharing among many departments would now be permitted, despite the privacy commissioner’s serious concerns.

We will have had only three days to debate this important bill. Notwithstanding that former prime ministers, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and all sorts of experts have looked at it and said that it is unconstitutional, the government appears to be willing to bull ahead.

When I was at SIRC, I was proud, after consultation with all three of the parties in the House at the time, to work under Rosemary Brown, former B.C. cabinet minister, wartime security expert Saul Cherniack and others — Liberals, NDP, Conservatives — all working in the national interest.

What does “consultation” mean now? Apparently, the leader of the Opposition gets a phone call from someone saying: “We’re going to appoint this person. How do you feel about that?” There is no one in whom the official Opposition would have any confidence in this work. The proof of the pudding is that the person who was appointed to chair the SIRC, with little or no vetting, is now serving time in a Panamanian jail.

Let us talk about lack of money and lack of new powers to deal with the kinds of new powers that have been given to CSIS, such as disrupting. This was supposed to be an intelligence agency. Does nobody remember what happened when barns were burned in Quebec and we said, after the McDonald Commission of Inquiry, we should have an intelligence-gathering agency. CSIS will not be that anymore. The Conservatives are turning that agency into another law-enforcement agency. That is not what was intended in CSIS.

One really has to ask what the Conservatives understand by the rule of law. They would amend Section 42 to apparently allow the agency to decide what is contrary to the charter or unlawful. Apparently, the service would be able to take measures that would contravene the charter and other laws if it were authorized by a warrant.

It would provide new powers that are frightening to many people. The job of the official Opposition is to inform and engage with its communities. All opposition members do that. This Friday night there will be a town hall meeting in Victoria, which I know will be packed with national security experts, my colleague, the member for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, the NDP public safety critic and me, all speaking to this.

The government will tell us not to worry, that lawful advocacy, protest and dissent does not matter, that the act will not affect dissent. If people are blockading a road, if Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King were engaging in civil disobedience, that is, by definition, unlawful.

People might be blockading a road on a mountain. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was arrested in the Burnaby protest against Kinder Morgan. He has reason to fear once these powers are used against him, which will spread across 16 government agencies and possibly go abroad as we share information with intelligence agencies around the world.

People are concerned, especially when the Conservatives call us who opposed, for example, the Enbridge pipeline, eco-terrorists or foreign-funded radicals. Does anyone think there is a reason why people in my community might be worried? We are worried. Canadians should be worried. This is overkill and it is unnecessary.

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