rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

As support for C-51 slides, Conservative MP floats oversight fix

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

The government has stacked the public safety committee's schedule this week, hoping to get through all remaining witnesses and approve Bill C-51 before Easter. Meetings resumed Monday night (see CBC's good summary here) and continued Tuesday with morning and evening sessions.

As the public mood shifts against the legislation (support halved between March and February), with the Canadian Bar Association putting out the latest legal challenge (C-51 potentially puts "the entire Charter into jeopardy, undermines the rule of law, and goes against the fundamental role of judges as the protectors of Canada's constitutional rights"), and protests, both traditional (see image above from a March 14 rally in Ottawa) and clothing optional, increasing, the government appears to be spitballing on a desirable endgame, with Michael Chong floating a potential compromise on oversight that will likely appeal to the Liberals.

On March 17, Chong (a Conservative backbencher from Ontario) put out a statement supporting the anti-terror legislation with this caveat:

"while I fully support Bill C-51, I also believe we need greater oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies by a parliamentary committee of elected MPs, who are directly and democratically accountable to Canadians. That greater oversight is even more important as we give these agencies new powers to combat terrorism. It is also why the Senate should pass the Reform Act, to ensure that parliamentary committees can carry out their oversight function free of the control of party leaders and the Prime Minister's office."

Chong's Reform Act, which would give MPs more power to trigger leadership reviews, suspend colleagues and select caucus chairs, passed the House of Commons in February, earning the MP praise across party lines (and some progressive activist groups) for challenging the concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office. Though his statement on C-51 was interpreted as a similarly courageous challenge to the government line, I suspect it is, in fact, a trial balloon, signalling the government recognizes there are limits to the take-no-prisoners approach to passing legislation. (That's different from saying the government wants to make changes to C-51; it might feel, eventually, it needs to.)

"First drafts of complex legislation will not be perfect," said security expert Wesley Wark in his presentation to the SECU committee Tuesday morning. He said the role of committee, then, is to alter legislation to better reflect the Canadian social consensus, and in this case to better balance protecting people from terrorism with safeguarding individual rights. (It's doubtful the Conservative members on committee believe that is true, since they spend more time instructing witnesses where they are wrong about this legislation than listening to their concerns.)

Improving C-51, Wark proposed, would require abandoning amendments to the Criminal Code that would prohibit the promotion of terrorism, reviewing Part 5 (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act) with respect to security certificates (see the Canadian Council for Refugees for more on the issues there), and reconsidering giving CSIS new powers in Canada to disrupt potential threats when the RCMP already plays that role. Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, made a similar point Monday night when she told committee the Via Rail plot conviction proves Canadian police already have the tools they need to disrupt terrorism. (See the CCLA presentation here.)

Also on the list of witnesses Tuesday morning were Aboriginal lawyer and activist Pamela Palmater and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, whose presentations largely reflected the position expressed by the AFN early on: that C-51 is unsalvageable, and that First Nations should have been consulted earlier. Palmater added that there should be a review of existing surveillance of Indigenous peoples by security agencies, a way to investigate abuse in that respect, and to redress.

She also questioned the relative importance of the terrorism threat to Canada compared to the reality of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls. "Where is the Bill C-51 to protect them?" she asked committee. "The bill isn't about terrorism, it's about protecting the status quo," Palmater added with respect to the broad definition of what constitutes a threat to national security in the information-sharing provisions.

If the first week of hearings leaned heavily against C-51, and Canada's legal community seems to agree it goes too far, this week the committee will hear from many organizations favourable to the legislation -- "the threat of terrorism is real" was a common refrain Monday evening; we need to cut off "the head of the snake" was a distant runner up with only two mentions -- as well as current and former police officers who support new information sharing and preventative detention powers.

The testimony from Louise Vincent, sister of the soldier who was run over and killed by Martin Couture-Rouleau last fall, added emotional bite to the government's position. "Patrice Vincent must not have died in vain," she said. "We need this (Bill C-51)." The Conservative Party is also responding to criticism of the terror bill by appealing to members to help "prevent the spread of radical jihad" in Canada, according to The Hill Times.

C-51 will probably be a footnote to the ISIL mission extension announced today by the Prime Minister himself, as it was during the odd niqab and guns debates of the past two weeks. But the presentation from retired Supreme Court Justice John Major should be good. The hearings resumed Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on the ParlVu website.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.