Between the lofty phrases about the crucial importance of security, Canadians deserved a warning: Your politicians are letting election campaigning get in the way.
It wasn't just Stephen Harper unveiling security legislation at what looked like a political rally, and then, as the person most responsible for protecting Canadians' basic rights, blithely rejecting the suggestion that security measures must be balanced with civil liberties.
There was also the Liberals, across the aisle in opposition, signalling even before they saw the legislation they'd pretty much vote for whatever the Conservatives proposed.
Security, it seems, is a political winner, so that's presumably why Mr. Harper delivered this bill with chest-thumping, backed by a giant flag and introduced by two ministers, arguing that his Conservatives will take the necessary measures to confront jihadi terrorism, but other parties won't. Polls suggest most people want action, at home and abroad.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has been trying to combat the sense that he's not serious about security ever since he opposed Canadian participation in air strikes against Islamic State with a weak, convoluted explanation. It sure looks now like the Liberals are so afraid of looking soft on security, they won't raise serious questions. The NDP, meanwhile, squirmed uncomfortably, unsure what position to take.
There's politics on every issue. That's democracy. But we're not talking about taxes or highways. Mr. Harper and other politicians keep reminding us security is fundamental, and our freedoms cherished. But in a poll-fuelled pre-election environment, it has become more about positioning than security. This legislation came with a security label, but the contents are a concoction that shouldn't be swallowed whole.
Some measures seem more about symbols than safety. Canada already has laws that prohibit calling for people to commit terrorist acts. The bill claims to broaden that by outlawing advocating or promoting terrorism "generally." Mr. Harper claimed that as a big change, but experts say it is so vague its meaning is very unclear.
The government decided that sharing information between governme7nt departments – usually barred by privacy legislation – could help investigations. But the bill doesn't just allow the passport office to send info to CSIS. The revenue agency and Health Canada, for example, now can share info, as long as they believe it's "relevant" to national security – which is far more broad than terrorism.
In a major change, CSIS will be given new powers to "disrupt" threats, rather than just collect intelligence. Judges have to issue a warrant before they can do anything illegal, but the only explicit limits on the activities authorized by those warrants is causing physical harm. Presumably, said Craig Forcese, a national-security law expert at the University of Ottawa, the government didn't intend to allow "judicially authorized dirty tricks"
Some measures might be useful. You can debate whether it's good to make it easier to arrest someone who might commit an act of terrorism – especially when that power has never been used. But it might be useful, with limits. So too might easier-to-obtain peace bonds. And all the new powers would be far more acceptable with beefed-up oversight by review boards and Parliament. The government passed on that.
Mr. Harper rejected even the premise that there might be a need to find the right balance between police power and civil liberties. Terrorists are trying to take away Canadians' freedoms, and the police are trying to protect them, he said. "The police are on our side," he said.
Of course they are – Canada is a free country. It seems hard to believe that the Prime Minister doesn't know that legal safeguards and institutions against intrusive and secretive government agents were built to keep it that way. Of course he must.
There wasn't a painstaking explanation of how these measures will make Canadians safer. There was a jab at the weak-kneed opposition. They've become a talking-point in election positioning.
After two October attacks in Canada, and more in Australia and Paris, Canadians deserved more than a product with a label that fills a demand. Their politicians had a duty to offer explanation of what's necessary. So far, they've have looked for positions, and let the public down.