Image: Flickr/Cannabis Culture

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The Claim: Trudeau supporters online are arguing that the Liberals voted for C-51 because it was an omnibus bill and they had no choice. They say that the NDP is lying when it says they can repeal C-51 because, they can’t, it was an omnibus bill.

Just in time for the holidays, today’s “fact” is brought to you by party loyalists, the ones you might enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with this weekend. These are not arguments necessarily being made by the Liberal Party itself. On Facebook and on Twitter, self-identified Liberal supporters have argued that C-51 simply cannot be repealed, nor could it have been rejected.

C-51, the so-called anti-terror legislation, ruffled up the Liberal Party membership last spring when Trudeau announced that he would support the legislation. Many members tore up their membership cards.

Now, as the Anybody But Harper campaign is starting to coalesce around the Liberal Party, old wounds seem to have healed. What’s emerged online is this line of argumentation that is both false and misleading.

Parliamentary procedure cannot explain why the Liberals voted in favour of C-51. As Trudeau has said he believes the legislation strikes the right balance between protecting people and protecting privacy. Liberals have to defend this argument if they hope to win over Canadians who view C-51 as a threat to their civil liberties.

Was C-51 an omnibus bill? Can C-51 be repealed?

The short answer to both questions is: yes.

Since Bill C-51 is largely a series amendments of previous legislation, a new parliament can easily amend the offensive portions of the law or effectively repeal the Bill by enumerating a list of provisions indicating what would be removed.

In Canadian parliamentary procedure, there is no definition on what constitutes an omnibus bill. Generally, it’s an Act that seeks to amend several different pieces of legislation at the same time. Precedent in Canada has maintained that dividing the contents of an omnibus bill is not in order.

Stephen Harper’s famous omnibus budget bills grouped together legislation that should have otherwise been debated on its own. For example, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which dismantled Canada’s freshwater lakes and rivers protections, was thrown into Bill C-38 alongside 70 other amendments and voted on at once.

Had a party wanted to support Harper’s budget, but oppose the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the omnibus legislation would have made that impossible. Amendments could be made, but in the end, the vote would be for the entire package.

All opposition parties voted against C-38, the omnibus budget bill.

Unlike Harper’s omnibus budget bills, C-51 was an appropriate use of an omnibus package. C-51 is a sweeping piece of legislation, enhancing the powers of surveillance of many federal departments. It amends the Income Tax Act so that CRA can give a person’s income tax information to CSIS if they believe this person poses a national security threat. It changes the Fisheries and Department of Oceans Act such that a person under their jurisdiction who the Minister believes might be a threat to Canada, may have their information shared with CSIS and other departments.

“What normally happens when an opposition party doesn’t like a bill is negotiation,” says Parliamentary correspondent Karl Nerenberg. This happened with both the infamous 2008 budget that almost led to prorogation, as well as 2011’s Refugee Protection Act. “The normal parliamentary procedure when a government puts poison pills into a bill, is to vote against it.”

Liberal supporters are making a false argument by saying their party had no choice but to support the bill, since they knew Harper’s majority would pass it anyway. “It’s unprecedented,” says Nerenberg.

Parties can hardly be held accountable for the talking points of their members online, but when a particular lie is circulated enough, it’s worth examining. Especially on the issue that most clearly divides the Liberals from the NDP.

Trudeau has vowed to repeal parts of C-51. The NDP will repeal C-51.



With files from Michael Stewart

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Image: Flickr/Cannabis Culture

Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...