The Liberal Party took a lot of heat for its support of Bill C-51 when it was adopted by Parliament. But as angry as some critics were, it has to be remembered that the bill, called the Anti-Terrorism Act, was not the doing of the Liberals. The blame fell on the majority Harper government for ramming through a poorly thought-out and likely unconstitutional bill that created vague, overbroad new crimes, and gave police dangerous new powers that were largely shielded from oversight.
The Liberals did vote for this problematic law, perhaps too strategically for their own good, but they also always promised to amend it, should they win power. That they did, convincingly, last week. And now they have made it clear that the Trudeau government will introduce much-needed amendments when Parliament resumes, and that it will submit them to proper committee hearings that, unlike the tragicomic kangaroo hearings held for Bill C-51 by the Tories, will include a wide range of actual expert witnesses.
All this is good. It is clear from the Liberals' election platform that they have already been listening to the experts and know where the flaws in the bill lie. There are many, most of which stem from the vague language. What, for instance, does it mean to "promote terrorism," and what exactly is "terrorism propaganda"?
Then there is the extraordinarily undemocratic provision that allows CSIS to contravene constitutional rights when disrupting suspected terrorist activities, as long as a judge gives them a warrant to do so during a secret hearing. Judges are supposed to uphold the Constitution, not sanction its violation in camera.
There's an argument to be made that the entire bill should be scrapped, since there isn't that much left once all the bad things are taken out. It may be that the existing Criminal Code is adequate to the task. The committee should be open to this.
But one thing the Liberals cannot change their mind about is their promise to "establish an all-party national security oversight committee" that would have the clearances to demand answers from CSIS on its activities. No serious democracy should operate an intelligence agency like CSIS without such a body. It's time Canada joined the United States and the United Kingdom and made its spies more accountable to the representatives of the people.