New Democrats: Leading the Charge Against C-51

The Conservative government likes to pretend the Official Opposition is on the sidelines when it comes to Bill C-51. In fact, New Democrats have been on the front line — leading the charge — opposing Conservative schemes to ram the bill through Parliament at all costs. If this government were really serious about security, they wouldn’t shy away from meaningful study and debate of their sweeping new bill.

The NDP knows that public safety is the priority of any government and we are not alone in our opposition to Bill C-51. A growing list of eminent Canadians are adding their voices to the chorus of those saying the Conservatives’ so-called anti-terror legislation goes too far. Four former prime ministers are concerned with the bill’s broad measures; the Privacy Commissioner – an Officer of Parliament – lacks the power and resources to provide oversight of C-51; and Canada’s reputation is being tarnished as international media report the Conservative bill could open the door to human rights abuses.

Last week, New Democrats were calling on the government to allow a full range of experts and others concerned about the bill to testify at committee in order to develop practical amendments that will strengthen oversight and protect Canadians’ freedoms. Instead, the government decided to cut off debate and to play more politics that puts our freedoms at risk.

As New Democrats oppose C-51 and the Liberals vote for it, more than a hundred of Canada’s brightest legal experts from institutions across the country sent an open letter to all members of Parliament expressing their “deep concern” about C-51. They call the Conservative bill a “dangerous piece of legislation in terms of its potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada’s democracy.”

The NDP believes we need responsible approaches to protecting Canadian values and freedoms, as well as our personal safety.

The government wants to give CSIS a huge new mandate without improving its oversight. Today the government says the best way to protect our fundamental freedoms is to rely on our independent judiciary. But regular attacks on Canada’s courts when they don’t rule in the government’s favour show the Conservatives’ disdain for an independent judiciary. The issue here is that judges cannot be asked to replace the role of civilian oversight for our nation’s security. It is also hard to understand why the Minister would object to Canada’s elected officials providing security oversight, when you consider how one of their appointments to head the Security Intelligence Review Committee is now sitting in a Panamanian jail.

The NDP and Canada’s legal experts are also concerned by the overbroad and unnecessary provision around encouraging “terrorism offences in general.” As the NDP has stressed, the language in the bill is vague and sweeping and could have significant unintended impacts on freedom of speech.

C-51 also lacks concrete measures to address the important issue of radicalization of youth. New Democrats, like all Canadians, have been shocked by recent atrocities perpetuated by terrorists. We have also witnessed outrageous acts of partisanship and Islamophobia by MPs who attack those that don't share their narrow Conservative ideologies. Some in government circles even crassly considered the “strategic opportunity” of the October shooting attacks in Ottawa to advance political objectives.

On the night of the Parliament Hill attack, Tom Mulcair spoke to the nation and said that violence should never make us more fearful of our neighbours or less confident in ourselves. The Prime Minister has chosen a very different approach by labelling those opposed to C-51 – including the NDP – as “extremists” and by making the Muslim community a scapegoat in political debates to divide Canadians.

This approach is particularly disappointing considering the emphasis and expense the government has placed in creating its Office of Religious Freedoms. The mandate of this office includes “protecting and advocating on behalf of religious minorities under threat, opposing religious hatred and intolerance, and promoting pluralism.” Why doesn’t the Prime Minister extend this same commitment of protection to those living in Canada?

Stephen Harper wants you to choose between your safety and your freedoms. That’s a false choice. You can count on principled and experienced leadership from Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats, to fight for both.

Canada’s New Democratic government will be committed to protecting Canadians from the threat of terrorism, but we will do so never losing sight of the rights and freedoms that make Canada among the best countries in the world.