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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

The Harper government has introduced a new bill this week that will, if passed, increase surveillance powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS). That includes operating outside Canada and more protection for informants. Is it enough, or too much? 

Bernie Farber:

The word "terror" is ominous, evoking ghastly pictures of severed heads, hanging bodies, and attacks on our democratic institutions. Nonetheless, before we decide to "beef up" anti-terror measures in a democracy, let us be sure we are confronting the right enemy. Let us be sure that the law is particular to the need.

We are all still quite rightly reeling from the attack on Parliament Hill. In this atmosphere we must be even more careful not to overreact.

The brazen act that virtually shut down our nation's capital was motivated, perhaps, by terror but it does not seem to have been instigated in an organized fashion.

I'm unsure that the new legislation would have in any way prevented it. STOP

John Capobianco:

While I agree with Bernie that we as a nation are still reeling from what happened in Quebec and in Ottawa, I will however suggest that this government is not overreacting with respect to the government Bill (C-44).

This bill proposes changes to the CSIS Act, which as I understand it, hasn't been legally changed since it was created in 1984.

When you look at the bill and the changes within it, you will agree that they are necessary to provide our law enforcement agencies the power they need to ensure attacks like the ones in Quebec and Ottawa are thwarted. Such changes in the bill include the ability for CSIS to better shield informants' identities and the ability (with judge's approval) to capture conversations involving Canadian suspects taking place outside of our boarders.

These are just some of the changes, but in light of the fact that we live in post 9/11 era, and that organizations like ISIS are constantly threatening our safety, it makes sense that we look at ways to better protect our country and our citizens.

Marit Stiles:

I agree with Bernie that there's no indication that this new legislation would have prevented what happened in Ottawa. But it's also probably best to clarify off the top that the Bill (C-44) has been in the works for a long time and wasn't drummed up in reaction to last week's unfortunate events. With legislation like this, the devil is in the details and that's why the opposition - and the rest of us - will be taking a very careful and close look.

I know off the top that there are concerns being expressed about what the bill does NOT include. For example, the NDP has expressed concern that the government didn't also include improved civilian oversight of CSIS. As the government proposes enhancing CSIS' powers, why are they not also acting on recommendations to strengthen civilian oversight?

Public safety is - no question - a primary responsibility of any government...but not at the expense of the loss of civil liberties. While we're reviewing this new legislation and considering providing additional powers to CSIS, and while the government also undertakes the inevitable review of security, laws, etc. coming out of last week's tragedy, we need to ensure that our civil liberties are protected.


Bernie Farber:

The changes being contemplated - greater authority to detain and more powers to deal with those on a watch list - sound reasonable but I agree with Marit in that the details are missing. Giving the government added powers - because that is in effect what we do when we propose that CSIS gain more authority - can violate certain civil liberties that we require in any democracy. I remain unconvinced that these powers, generally described without the nuts and bolts, would have had any effect on the last two attacks.

That said, I think there is general agreement here of the need to have in place a 21st century process of protection against terror.

Yet we must be careful not to confuse criminality with terror. The horrendous murder of three RCMP officers a couple months back in New Brunswick had as great an impact on us as did the later attacks this week. Yet the NB attack was sheer murder and last week's was terrorism?

I must say that I have confidence in our existing police and security services. The fact that it has been almost 14 years since 9/11 without a whole series of further attacks in this country speaks well for policing in Canada. Back in 1997 when I was the head of Canadian Jewish Congress, the neo-Nazi Heritage Front had made plans to come to our building and assassinate my colleagues and myself. We found out months later about the threat, which was thwarted using today's legislation. Clearly this was a case of domestic terrorism handled perfectly by the authorities.


John Capobianco:

Lets not let perfect be the enemy of the good here - details are important for sure and that is why this bill is being debated.

But I think we need to realize that this Act needs to change and needs to become current, given our new challenges - such challenges as RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson identified when he stated "We continue to be challenged with the transition of intelligence into evidence."

Our law enforcement officials are also calling for changes to ensure they can do their jobs with limited, since intelligence comes fast and furious at times and they need to have powers to act accordingly.

I think this debate is necessary and I know the Opposition parties will bring valuable input, which I am sure the government will take into consideration. I am also sure that this government has a mandate to ensure this Act receives the changes as they are being suggested by law enforcement officials, CSIS and other agencies involved with these matters.

I look forward to the discussions and I look forward to ensuring that whatever we do and agree on - we become safer.


Marit Stiles:

The bill will, I hope, get the scrutiny it deserves. But it will most definitely now be examined through a lens of increasing concern about security and threats of 'radicalization'. The government is going to have to do more than expand the powers of CSIS, however, to get to the root of the radicalization issue...and I don't want to necessarily link this to last week's events until we know more. They have yet to answer the NP's requests to see what steps they are taking to partner with communities to combat radicalization. And are they willing to re-examine the resources available to our security agencies like CSIS after they've faced 3 years of budget cuts?  

I have to admit that coming out of last week's terrible events, many Canadians are asking not only about how 'secure' we are but also about what we are doing to deal with isolation, mental illness, addiction, and access to firearms. I hope these issues get the same attention -- if not more -- than CSIS in coming months.

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : October 29, 2014

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