Anti-terrorism legislation too important to be rushed

I saw an interesting editorial cartoon where workmen are dismantling a house to build a fence.  The fence is labelled security and the house is labelled privacy.  It cuts to the heart of the debate on new anti-terrorism legislation that is being rushed through parliament as the Conservatives desperately try to switch Canadians’ attention away from an underperforming economy and onto terrorism.

While no one is denying the importance of good anti-terrorism measures, there is no need for the kind of unequivocal rhetoric the Prime Minister is serving up.  His divisive “you’re with us or you’re with the jihadists” statement has more to do with the approaching election than it does with any effort to make Canadians safer.  In his world C-51, the new anti-terrorism bill, is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that is yet another example of the way he dismisses debate which is the house that our parliamentary system is built upon.

C-51 was introduced in a campaign style announcement outside of parliament.  At the same time, reporters gathered at a briefing on the bill only to be held in a lockup while being served talking points instead of a detailed explanation.  It was so bad that they didn’t even receive a copy of the legislation until the Prime Minister had finished his event and his take on the legislation was firmly entrenched in the first news cycle that would address it.  MPs were offered a briefing in the same time slot, on a Friday just as Question Period was being held.  It was a time that any MPS who were in Ottawa were assured to be busy, which also shows just how much co-operation the Conservatives are looking for on this important piece of parliamentary business.

The question that begs to be asked is what this government has to fear from healthy oversight and potential improvements to C-51?  The bill was basically rushed after the October attacks on Parliament Hill and at a Canadian Forces base in St- Jean-sur-Richelieu.  There is every possibility that it may contain errors or stand to use some form of clarification, but the Conservatives will hear none of it.

To that point Ron Atkey, the very first chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), is saying the bill will require careful scrutiny from parliament and that funding for SIRC must keep pace with inflation to ensure that oversight is as potent as the new powers we are charging security officials with.  If you are actually concerned about maintaining our fundamental freedoms while we search for those who would attack them, this only makes sense.  Keep in mind that spying on our own population is nothing new and even Tommy Douglas was the subject of this type of surveillance in the days well before SIRC existed.

What is most abundantly clear is that there is an appetite to ensure we are doing all that we can to protect ourselves from terrorist threats, but that is lost in the Prime Minister’s rhetoric.  It is not enough to say trust me and throw down divisive ultimatums at the outset of a debate.  The whole point of anti-terrorism is to defend what we have struggled to create, not to dismiss that because the larger job is less politically expedient.  On this front Canadians deserve the best of what parliament is capable of, not the worst.