The Harper government is forging ahead with Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorist Act, in spite of strong and growing opposition from foes and friends.
Given the government’s majority in the House, the bill will breeze through and it is unlikely to get much sober second thought from the Senate.
Many Canadians yawn when they hear talk of rights and freedoms.
We take them for granted, but according to critics, this Act gives dangerous new powers to government agencies like the police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) with little oversight or accountability.
As outlandish as it may seem, many experts believe those powers have the potential of turning Canada into a police state.
The government insists it needs the new Act to deal with threats from Jihadi terrorists.
Few would disagree with the need to protect national security, but critics, including former prime ministers, retired supreme court judges and the Canadian Bar Society, say Bill C-51 goes too far. It is too vague, with too few safeguards.
Supporters of Bill C-51 say the innocent have nothing to fear, but unfortunately government officials do make mistakes.
When the RCMP wrongfully accused Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, of having ties to terrorism, U.S. authorities believed them and sent Mr. Arar to the Mideast where he was jailed and tortured.
When he was later found innocent, Ottawa apologized and paid him $10.5 million in compensation.
He wasn’t the first or only person to be falsely accused, but maybe the most expensive.
Bill C-21 opens the door for CSIS to target anyone it suspects of being involved in any activity that might “ undermine Canada’s sovereignty, security or territorial integrity” and/or “interfere with the country’s economic or financial stability.”
That sounds reasonable, but the list of potential targets is a long one.
Canadian individuals or groups could be deemed security threats for protesting peacefully, speaking their minds, for knowing a suspected terrorist, or for being political nuisances.
The Act could allow federal agencies such as Health Canada and Revenue Canada to share people’s private information with other agencies such as the RCMP. CSIS could even circumvent laws in some circumstances.
Although the bill is complex, and according to some legal analysts it has many loopholes, members of the federal Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security gave short shrift to its clause by clause review. Green Party leader Elizabeth May called the committee process a sham.
It ignored 100 suggested amendments and sent the bill back to the House of Commons with a few minor recommendations that did nothing to allay critics’ fears.
Maybe like the words of an old song, Canadians won’t know what they had ‘til it’s gone.