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Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale speaks during question period at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, March 24, 2016. The federal government has issued guidance to Canada's spy agency on using contentious new anti-terrorism laws â” but most of the instructions won't be made public. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In 2015, the Liberals, then in opposition, voted in favour of Bill C-51, the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act. However, they also promised they would amend it if they came to power. And now that the Liberals are the government, they are actually applying at least some parts of C-51.

To be fair, the Trudeau government can't just change C-51 at the drop of a hat. And anti-terrorist police operations can't be put on ice pending the drafting of a bill and subsequent parliamentary proceedings. It's understandable for the Liberals to make some use of C-51 in the meantime. But what parts of it are they using? What parts of it, if any, won't they use? And in the coming months, what provisions of the bill will they scrap or amend?

Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety, should explain the principles and guidelines that his department is working with in applying the existing law. Instead, Mr. Goodale's office has only said that the minister is not in the business of dealing with access-to-information requests.

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That doesn't really get at what the public wants or needs to know. For example, C-51 enables the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to go beyond information-gathering. CSIS can now "disrupt" subversive activities. Is that power being used, or not?

C-51 also contains a clause that some believe means that a judge can somehow authorize CSIS, the RCMP or any other agency to breach the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At best, that doesn't provide any such judge with criteria based in legal principles and precedents. At worst, it's unconstitutional nonsense. Surely, Mr. Goodale should be able to reassure Canadians that the Liberal government isn't using that provision, and will not use it.

Mr. Goodale and his staff should not be asked to disclose specific operational details of police or security agency operations. But the public has a right to understand the government's general guidance in dealing with such a troubling statute as C-51. Are civil liberties being fully respected?

For example, the government is apparently using peace bonds, under the related Bill C-44, in cases where people are believed to be making references sympathetic to terrorism on social media. This, like Bill C-51, is a delicate area. Mr. Goodale should explain how his government is currently using C-51 to balance security and freedom, and how it intends to enhance both by amending the law.

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