We have to be smart about anti-terrorism laws

I wrote about the new anti-terrorism bill a few weeks back focussing on the imbalance in power and oversight, but as we study and begin to understand the implications of C-51 it deserves to be expanded on.  Among the many concerns that are being expressed about this bill is the way it could be used to stamp out legitimate dissent.  By viewing environmental activists as potential terrorists, the door is cracked open to target all manner of groups and individuals who express differing opinions than the government.


No one is saying that terrorism is not a real threat, but if the new bill is worth its salt it should be able to withstand a critical look and perhaps some well-placed amendments, but the government will hear none of that. Instead, the Conservatives say any criticism of their bill is an attack on our police and security officials - which is just plain politicking.  Adding to frustration is the fact that the bill is being rushed through parliament, with the Conservative’s voting to end debate on the bill as I write this.


We already have effective anti-terrorism legislation, which is missing from the government messaging.  Arrests have been made and there is little in the bill to suggest anything would have changed the lone wolf attacks we experienced in October.  In fact, it is the lack of analysis into how this bill will work which is the reason we should be taking a more detailed look at it.


Right now the concerns are proving more believable than the government’s claims on the bill.  Canada’s privacy commissioner has expressed concern that the new measures will allow departments to share the personal information of all individuals – including people who may not be suspected of terrorist activity. 


Also, CSIS was created to separate official intelligence gathering from the policing role of the RCMP, but this bill is giving them powers that go beyond intelligence and well into the realm of policing.  Again, while increasing CSIS’ powers, the bill has nothing to beef up the oversight of that agency. 


If the government is truly interested in fighting terrorism,  that should be reflected in budgetary spending for departments that do the work, but the dollars don’t amount to a real focus on security.  There was a 420 million dollar decrease in spending for the RCMP between 2009 and 2014 and a subsequent cut of 2,271 full-time equivalent positions.  Currently there are 22 unfilled positions in the RCMP’s national security program.  CSIS saw its spending cut too, including 44 million in 2012-13 alone.  Perhaps the most damning proof the government commitment to anti-terrorism is wafer thin, is that the only program planned to prevent those at risk from becoming radicalized in the first place is still on the drawing board after being announced two full years ago.


If it takes that long to develop and roll out a simple program to head off terrorism at the pass, why should parliament rush through with new powers for any other reason than political expediency?   Clearly the government is playing on people’s fears instead of making sure our security officials have all the right tools and the appropriate oversight.