If the Conservative government's new anti-terrorism bill isn't really designed to lead us to an Orwellian world, their handling of the debate is almost there.
On Monday, the government will cut off parliamentary debate after 10 hours, hold a vote at second reading, and ship it to committee hearings. Presumably the hearings will be brief, as they were for the last anti-terror bill. The government basically says there's no point to much more talk. The public wants action. Just look at the polls.
After nine years in power, the Conservatives are in a rush. It's a rush to chalk up terrorism talking points for this year's election. They want this bill passed before the Commons breaks for summer and an election campaign. They want it in the ads. Who needs a bunch of talk?
In one sense, no one does. The Conservative majority will push this bill through. But one point of the talk is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to understand what this law is.
Two things are clear: First, the Conservatives think this bill will help them win an election, and second, they don't want people to understand it. That's a bad combination for a bill that will change things in secret, in ways we won't know for years.
That's why it was so chilling to hear Jason Kenney, the Defence Minister, employ misleading language when he said the bill "doesn't give new power to police or intelligence agencies but rather to judges, to courts."
That's not true. This bill does give new powers to intelligence agencies.
Among other things, it gives CSIS a new mandate to disrupt threats by unspecified methods. CSIS was deliberately denied that mandate when it was created, and it was left to the more accountable RCMP.
It's true CSIS will have to get warrants to use disruption measures that are illegal. But they will still get new powers to take other measures to disrupt threats, such as infiltrating organizations and spreading misinformation, without requiring judicial approval. It's misdirection to claim the bill gives new powers to courts.
When CSIS needs a warrant, there won't be hearings with two sides. A judge will rely on CSIS's presentation, with no one to argue against, or appeal. They will be secret hearings under procedures made for CSIS. There will be fewer safeguards.
Eventually, we might hear something went wrong. In the United States, the public learned, after Edward Snowden's leaks, that secret FISA courts allowed the National Security Agency to demand feeds of information on every phone call from companies such as Verizon.
The authors of surveillance legislation never intended that, but judges approved it with secret legal interpretations. A former FISA judge, James Robertson said he was "frankly stunned." The problem with FISA courts, he said, is judges only hear one side.
In Canada, the new anti-terrorism bill is vague enough to send CSIS in unexpected directions. The government's claims of ample oversight are misleading. Oversight rests with the tiny Security Intelligence Review Board, with 16 employees and a puny budget.
Many Canadians will be unconcerned, just as many Americans don't worry about FISA courts. They want security, and trust intelligence agencies. Polls suggest Canadians support the anti-terror bill – 82 per cent, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey.
That's the historical trend. Canadians overwhelmingly supported Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's 1970 decision to invoke the War Measures Act to respond to FLQ terrorists, sending troops into Quebec and detaining hundreds without evidence.
An Omnifacts poll conducted for CTV in November, 1970, showed 87 per cent approved. Many also favoured suppressing demonstrations – by Communists (53 per cent), hippies (43 per cent) and "women's liberation groups" (31 per cent), according to The Globe and Mail's report.
But years later, the public discovered RCMP agents stole Parti Québécois membership lists, illegally opened mail and burned down a barn. An inquiry led to the creation of CSIS, and safeguards. Presumably Canadians decided suppressing hippies and women's libbers won't make us safer.
Now, the current government plans new anti-terrorism measures for a different threat. No, they won't lead straight to Big Brother – but they provide more vaguely defined secret powers with weak oversight.
The government is rushing it to serve it to Canadians as a reason for re-electing them. But the rush, the dismissal of debate, the misdirection – they're signs this popular bill needs more talk.