According to a new public opinion poll, there is massive support for Bill C-51, the proposed anti-terrorism legislation. Four of out of five Canadians surveyed told pollster Angus Reid that they support it. While two-thirds of the respondents said they believe there should be more oversight "to ensure police agencies do not go overboard with these new powers," the same number say they trust those same agencies to use the powers properly.
We'd like to ask a few more questions, following up on those posed by the pollsters.
Ninety-one per cent of poll respondents said they favour "making it illegal to promote terrorism, with sentences of up to five years." No surprise here: The average Canadian is not in favour of anyone advocating murder, assassination and death.
But what does "promote terrorism" actually mean? What would be illegal under this bill?
Could a Canadian who expresses support for, say, Hamas – defined as a terrorist organzation by the Canadian government – be arrested? Would that be a good outcome? Does promotion include retweeting something from a terrorist group? It is already illegal to actively fund or work for a terrorist organization. What additional words or actions are covered by the vague term "promote"?
In the poll, 63 per cent said they trust that Canadian law enforcement agencies, which will have expanded powers and access to people's personal information, will "use these powers only for anti-terror purposes and nothing else."
Should Canadians be so trusting? Are Canadians aware of the lengthy history of intelligence agencies, in this country and elsewhere, overstepping their mandates?
Sixty-nine per cent of poll respondents said "there should be additional oversight to ensure the police agencies do not go overboard with these new powers." Should Canadians insist on those safeguards? Or would it be wiser to pass the bill into law without additional oversight, and hope for the best?
There is more to Bill C-51 than the political selling points highlighted by the pollsters. The legislation is too vague and too broad. Canadians should be asking a lot more questions.