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Politics Trudeau gains favour on security, a potential weak spot

It was supposed to be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's weak point, but Canadians think his Liberals are doing a good job handling national security and terrorism – and his plans to amend the Conservatives' controversial anti-terror bill appear to have found a political sweet spot.

One weakness that worried Mr. Trudeau during the election campaign is that a majority of Canadians disagree with the Liberals' move to repeal a law that strips citizenship from convicted terrorists. But it doesn't seem to register as a big deal: Two-thirds of respondents to an Angus Reid Institute survey still give his government positive marks on dealing with terrorism. And while support is still high for the anti-terror bill, Bill C-51, that Stephen Harper's Conservatives adopted last year, the Liberals' plans to amend it to add more oversight of security services are popular, too.

The survey suggests that an area that troubled the Liberals in opposition – their approach to security and terrorism – is not haunting them in power.

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Mr. Trudeau faced vitriolic criticism while he was the third-party leader for voting for Bill C-51, the Conservatives' bill to provide dramatically expanded powers to security services, while at the same time promising to amend the bill if his Liberals took power. Now, that seems completely in line with what Canadians want.

Eighty per cent of respondents to the Angus Reid survey say they are in favour of Bill C-51. But at the same time, 67 per cent of Canadians support the Liberals' plans to amend it.

"Canadians like the bill as is, and presumably, they'd like it even better with amendments," said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.

That's not completely surprising. Many of the proposed Liberal amendments are to provide more oversight of security services exercising the new, expanded powers under the bill. And while Canadians have consistently supported the expanded powers, they've also shown support for more oversight measures.

The Liberals' proposed amendments include the creation of an all-party oversight committee, an automatic review of the bill after three years, and reviews of all appeals by Canadians placed on a no-fly list. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has indicated he'll table legislation to create the all-party committee this spring, and hold public consultations before moving ahead with other amendments. The new survey shows Canadians are still security-minded: when asked what's most important about the balance between national security and civil liberties, 61 per cent said security efforts mean we must sometimes infringe on civil liberties, while 39 per cent said security concerns don't justify those infringements.

The online survey was conducted March 14-17 by the not-for-profit Angus Reid Institute with 1,492 respondents drawn from an Angus Reid panel, and does not carry a margin of error; a random sample of the same size would carry a margin error of 2.5 percentage points.

Support for Bill C-51 has ticked back up slightly since the election, perhaps because of controversy over expanded security powers, Ms. Kurl said. The law widened the definition of national security threats, expanded sharing of information held by government departments, and gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service broad new powers to disrupt threats and even, with a judge's warrant, break the law.

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And while they rate the Liberals highly on dealing with terrorism, respondents disagree with a symbol of Mr. Trudeau's approach: the move to repeal the Tory bill that strips Canadian citizenship from convicted terrorists.

Mr. Trudeau argued that the measure devalued Canadian citizenship, and only applied in practice to Canadians with dual citizenship, usually immigrants and their kids.

But the Conservatives argued it showed Mr. Trudeau was soft on terrorists – indeed, at an event in Washington last week, the Prime Minister admitted he was concerned it might hurt him in the campaign last fall. He recalled being on stage in a debate against Mr. Harper and arguing for the restoration of citizenship to someone convicted of terrorism. "He knew he had me on that one," Mr. Trudeau said– adding that, despite that, he's the prime minister now.

Whether it's part of Mr. Trudeau's political honeymoon or because he's found a popular balance, there's no sign now that Canadians see his approach to terror as a weakness.

Detailed results of the survey can be found here.

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