Can we stop C-51?

The fight to amend C-51, the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, ended after a forced march through the Green Party’s 60 amendments (all defeated), as well as the NDP’s 28 amendments, Liberals’ 13 amendments and ten from the Bloc Quebecois — all defeated.

It was a grueling ten hours (8:45 AM- 12:45 PM and 4 PM til 10 PM – all on Tuesday March 31.)

It was the most anti-democratic treatment of legislation yet under the Harper Conservatives, and that’s saying something. I didn’t think anything could be worse than C-38. At least in other committees, I was allowed to ask questions. Not once in the Public Safety committee was I allowed to ask even one question. And the witnesses were treated abominably. The Globe and Mail editorial got it right when it referred to witnesses not as being able to testify to the committee, but to witnesses “allowed to be abused by the committee.”

The process by which Green MPs submit amendments to committee is one created by PMO to deprive me of my right to‎ present substantive amendments at Report Stage. I had used this right effectively in opposing Bill C-38 in spring 2012, submiting over 400 amendments resulting in 24 hour voting marathon. Since the fall of 2013, due to identical motions passed by Conservatives in every committee, we are required to submit our amendments to committee 48 hours before the committee gets to clause by clause. Since we are not allowed to be members of the committee, even temporarily, Green amendments are deemed to have been moved at committee. Bruce Hyer and I were given roughly one minute per amendment to present the rationale for the change.

Throughout the process, as I presented concerns, the Conservative MPs would often accuse the Green Party of “privileging the rights of terrorists” over those of Canadians. Or allege that we were in favour of terrorists. When I would ask for the floor to rebut, I was denied. It was a pretty brutal process.

The Harper Conservatives did back down on one point. Having pretended for weeks that they did not understand when I pounded away at the problems created by saying the act did not apply to “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression,” it was a Conservative amendment that removed the word “lawful.” This should serve to better protect non-violent civil disobedience. The other government amendments repaired some of the damage complained of by the airline industry in mandating that they be prepared to do “anything” requested by the Minister of Transport to enforce the no fly list. There was also a bizarre Conservative amendment that actually further confuses the role of the CSIS powers to “disrupt” potential threats to the security of Canada. The new amendment says the CSIS agents do not have the power of law enforcement. None of the bill’s critics had ever suggested they had. But the refusal of the PMO to allow any amendments to rule out CSIS having powers to detain confirms that they will have such powers.

As of the evening of March 31, the bill was through the committee and new hearings had started in the Senate. On April 2, 2015, before the Senate Committee, Joe Fogarty, a man with 25 years of security service experience, former security liaison from the UK to Canada, classified experience with both SIRC and UK ISC, testified that C-51 will not make us safer. He outlined the weaknesses in Canada’s current anti-terror efforts and then explained how C-51 cures none of it. In fact, like many witnesses before the House committee, he testified it will increase security risks. Bill C-51 will make us less safe. And, at the same time, it will trample on our rights.

The bill still needs to be brought back to the House for Report Stage and Third Reading. That cannot happen now until after the Easter parliamentary break. We resume on April 20.

We can stop C-51. The Bloc Quebecois had initially supported it. Watching public support for C51 slip away, they now oppose it. That makes the Greens, the NDP and the Bloc voting “”no.” We need to pressure the Liberals to join us. The Liberal position is, transparently and unapologetically, unprincipled. Wayne Easter, Liberal MP, was forceful in committee pointing out the bill was unconstitutional and was dangerous without oversight. Yet, Liberal spin-doctors have decreed that to avoid Harper accusing them of being “soft on terrorism” in the election campaign, they will vote for the bill. It’s time for Liberals to oppose it. It is shocking they would even consider voting for such a deeply dangerous piece of legislation. Once the Liberals come to their senses, it will create the opportunity for Conservative MPs to find their back-bone. With Conservatives like Conrad Black, who said this bill would make Canada “an unrecognizable despotism,” it is not only progressive voices that are rising in opposition. C-51 is now opposed by the editorial boards of the Globe and Mail and the National Post.

Please do whatever you can to pressure the Liberal Party to stand up for the Charter. By far the best outcome is to defeat the bill in the House. If not, we need to pressure both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau to be committed to repealing it if they form government. So far, their positions are remarkably similar versions of “We will fix it later.” It’s not fixable. Stop it. Repeal it.