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Government’s sudden need to debate terror bill smacks of opportunism

Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews in 2012: Mr. Toews has said there are lessons for Canada in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Adrian Wyld/CP

The two-day debate in Parliament on the Harper government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation smacks of political opportunism, and it is regrettable that it will take place. The debate politicizes the Boston Marathon bombings when few facts are known regarding the bombers' motives or inspiration. As well, Canadian legislators have no direct interest in the tragedy. The sole apparent purpose of the debate is to attempt to embarrass Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, and to cash in on any public fears caused by the bombings.

The full name of Bill S-7 is "An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act," but it is known more generally as the "Combating Terrorism Act". First introduced in February, 2012, the proposed bill was making its leisurely way through readings and committee hearings when the government House Leader, Peter Van Loan, unexpectedly announced on Friday that it would be the subject of debate on Monday and Tuesday, overriding all other House business.

Vic Toews, the Public Safety minister, said Sunday that there were lessons for Canadian police and legislators in the tragic events of the Boston bombings. "We can always learn from this type of horrific experience," Mr. Toews said.

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That is true, but it is too soon to take any lessons from the Boston bombings. We still do not know the genesis of the bombers' motivation. Any debate that connects the Boston incident to Canadian legislation will be entirely speculative, and could ultimately prove to be counter-productive.

As well, the bill has been through two readings and has committee approval. The government routinely proposed it for third reading in March. There has been no urgency to pass the law, and Canadians – as horrified as they are by the Boston atrocity – have not expressed undue concern that the same type of incident could occur here.

The government's sudden need to debate Bill S-7 seems more likely to have been prompted by Mr. Trudeau's unfortunate comments about "root causes" the day after the bombing than by a concern for public safety. One suspects there will be less debate about the law itself than there will be stern-faced rhetoric from the government benches about the necessity for swift, unwavering action, combined with questions designed to suggest that Mr. Trudeau is not firm enough in his stance on terrorism.

More worrying is the fact that there are aspects of the proposed bill that raise questions about balancing civil liberties with the need to protect citizens. A wise course of action would be to postpone the bill's final reading so that any emotional fallout from the Boston bombings doesn't colour an important debate about public safety in Canada.

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