Prime Minister Stephen Harper would like it to be known that Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, is "strongly supported by Canadians." Indeed, an early-days Angus Reid poll did show that 82 per cent of us support the new law, which the Conservatives have been rushing to put away as if it were past legislative last call, the lights had gone on and the waitress was coming to clear it from the table. Bottoms up!
"Cheers," much of Canada shouted. "If people have nothing to hide, they shouldn't fear scrutiny," some said, giving the Conservatives a free pass on very much not wanting the bill scrutinized.
Expert testimony at committee, the Conservatives tried to argue, should be limited to just three sessions, and to this end they played all the angles. Urgency brought on by genuine concerns this bill largely fails to address, being one; Bill C-51 is being presented to us as if we currently have no means of investigating and prosecuting terrorists – as if, up to now, we've turned a blind eye to that sort of thing.
Addressing the committee that was discussing how long should be spent scrutinizing the bill, LaVar Payne, the Conservative member for Medicine Hat, said, "Imagine what would happen if we didn't protect our nuclear facilities?" before adding: "My goodness, that would be a big mess" – lest anyone think the answer was "Good times!"
Mr. Payne may be under the impression that Canada has an open-reactor policy – that we meet terrorists at the border with a double-double and the keys to a generator. If that were the case, proper study of a bill that gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and other organizations extraordinary new powers, but offers no new oversight, may be rash, but happily it isn't.
The dog-eared "You're either our cheerleader or a traitor" card also was played – by the man at the top. During Question Period on Thursday, Mr. Harper attacked the New Democrats, who insist on being the Official Opposition in more than name only and thus oppose the bill.
"Now is not the time for the NDP agenda of attacking the police and the security agencies," Mr. Harper said. "Now is the time to take on terrorists," making me wonder where the child pornographers stand right now and reminding me NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's son is a police officer.
The Prime Minister might have more credibility if the erosion of our civil liberties was not habitually put forward by his government as a cure for whatever ails us. We're pretty close to "Got a pothole on your street? Text us your password." They have, of course, been angling to read all your e-mail for some time.
The tragic deaths by suicide of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons gave us Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, which, oh, what did that bill do again? It did what the failed Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act tried to do. It made it easier for law enforcement to read your e-mails. And yet, in comparison to Bill C-51, very much pegged to the Oct. 22 shooting on Parliament Hill, which it wouldn't have prevented, both of those now look like acts of innocence. It's almost a ritual – as if from time to time a terrible thing happens in our land and we are required to make a civil-liberties sacrifice to the gods in the hopes it will not happen again.
The wording of the bill is odd – somehow familiar and yet alien, almost as if it has been dubbed over from another language. The "promoting terrorism" section of the bill eschews the already legally defined term "terrorist activity" in favour of the broad-as-barn-door phase, "terrorism in general," and that ought to be a red flag on a bill that quite frankly looks like a map of the Soviet Union.
It would appear any utterance deemed to encourage a terrorist act could be judged to be a criminal offence under the bill. This, one imagines, would be a freedom-of-expression issue – and possibly put an end to the chanting of "No justice! No peace!" at many a rally. So, I'll give it that.
Narrative-wise, revisions to the no-fly list would make Kafka envious. Information-sharing on any "activity that undermines the security of Canada" is allowed within a wide, perhaps expandable array of agencies for a somewhat open-ended list of reasons.
The New Democrats won the week, it could be argued. Their vigilance earned the spy bill eight days of scrutiny. Eight days! But really, I imagine it is Mr. Harper who's most pleased with himself; Bill C-51 is at the very least in dire need of revision, and still Canadians seem to be big fans.
Its immense popularity is a mystery to me and I wonder if this makes the situation a dream for the PM – he has brought us the Nickelback of legislation.