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While I was on a television stage August 6 in the Toronto CityTV building on Queen Street West, sparring and trying to get a word in edgewise with the leaders of the Conservative, New Democratic and Liberal parties, south of the border on a more crowded stage stood the seven contenders for the Republican nomination. 

It takes a lot to make Stephen Harper look good, but Donald Trump did it.  He attacked the one female presence in the whole mess — a journalist.  He was crude and rude and attacked “political correctness” as the source of all America’s ills. He has been flailing like a contestant on a reality TV show seeking the title “America’s biggest buffoon,” and yet he runs first in the polling for the Republican nomination. His publication of a rival’s personal cell number, his racist and sexist remarks seem to play to the crowd. That this could possibly be a presidential race is hard to believe. 

Yet, when Stephen Harper launched this election campaign from the steps of Rideau Hall, he denounced his opponents as being willing to risk Canada’s security for the sake of “political correctness.” It remained unspoken that all of the strange non-issues — the niqab, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, describing Islam as an “anti-women culture” — all of these straw men set up to construct an enemy out of prejudice and ignorance are for the use of the grand drama of the election. Those of us who decry the dangerous, anti-democratic, “Anti-Terrorism Act” C-51, are to be pilloried as risking Canada’s security for the sake of “political correctness.”  

Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth.  C-51 is a dangerous piece of legislation. It is doubly dangerous as it both hinders effective police work and blows a hole a mile wide through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ignoring recommendations from two Royal Commissions — into the scandalous abuse of the rights of Mahar Arar and our most serious terrorist attack in the bombing of Air India — C51 is an inexplicably bad law. It sets up a secret police with no oversight; it surrenders basic Canadian privacy laws; it allows for the use of secret evidence obtained by torture. It does all these things while failing to require that the RCMP and CSIS keep each other informed in their inquiries and operations; nor that the Canadian Border Service Agency or CSEC be informed. It is this that makes it likely to trip up investigations and allow terrorists to remain at large and plots to grow.

During the August 6 debate, Stephen Harper made the astonishing claim that there was a board of retired judges to serve in an over-sight role.  That is the first time I have heard of such a body. It certainly is not found in C51. C51 provides a new role for a judge ­­-‑ an unprecedented one: one judge of the Federal Court, sitting alone, can preside over a secret hearing where only one side is represented. CSIS, with no appeal or public record, can ask for permission to violate domestic law and violate the Charter rights of an unsuspecting Canadian, with no representation in the secret hearing.

This is similar to the post-9-11 security laws that created security certificates also obtained by secret hearings. However, even those hearings require a slim reed of respect for the rule of law. In those security certificate hearings a special advocate is present to represent the public interest in fairness and justice. No such provision exists in C51 where a warrant will allow a far greater trespass on the Constitution itself. As professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach testified: no democracy has ever created a warrant for constitutional breach. 

The peopling of the lower courts and Federal Court with compliant Conservative-leaning judges makes chilling sense.    

And now we hear from the mouth of our prime minister that those of us who will settle for nothing less than C-51’s repeal are in the grip of “political correctness.” Treating everyone with respect is no rhetorical propriety; it is a course to understanding and open dialogue.

The last bill tabled, hours before the 41st Parliament adjourned, was to ban face coverings in citizenship ceremonies. The act addresses the most absurd non-issue imaginable as no rights or benefits could ever be conferred on someone who takes an oath of citizenship in the place of another person. 

The demonization of “political correctness” represents the emergence of a Canadian identity crisis. The civility and respect, the welcoming culture, the rejection of prejudice and nastiness is beginning to fray.  There is a fight for the heart and soul of Canada.  It will be resolved October 19 when we get our country back.

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Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May is the Leader of the Green Party of Canada and one of our country’s most respected environmentalists. She is a prominent lawyer, an author, an Officer of the Order of Canada and a loving...