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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 shooting of 17 people in Paris by Muslim extremists bent on punishing the satirical Charlie Hebdo publication for portraying Muhammed has reverberrted around the world.  Prime Minister Harper says the jihadists have "declared war" and plans to legislate increased police powers to deal with any terrorist threat in Canada. Not everyone's onside.


Bernie Farber:

I’m very much of two minds here. As the former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress I fully understand and even sympathize with the need for security, especially to defend and protect vulnerable communities. That Jews were targeted at the kosher supermarket in France speaks to my angst on this issue. It has, and sadly very well may, happen here again.

So yes we need strong laws to protect society. However I simply do not trust Stephen Harper.

His government over the last few years has brought in some of the most draconian legislation that has made us somewhat of a laughing stock and moved us backwards. Infringing on constitutional rights makes us less human and my real fear is that is the direction Harper is going to take.

John Capobianco:

There is no question that since the tragedy of 9/11, governments everywhere have had to revisit how they deal with security both internally and externally. Canada has always been particularly vulnerable, given it has the longest unsecure border with the most powerful nation in the world. When the US is under attack, so is Canada. So when the US increases its security, so does Canada.

The threats, the attacks since 911 have made us all aware that terrorists can be someone who lives down the street from us or has shopped in the same corner store as us - this has never been more real than the recent arrests of the three Ottawa individuals who are facing terror-related charges.

And the horror of the merciless killings in Quebec and in Ottawa a month ago — all of this activity and threats of more to come — has forced the PM to get tough with the laws dealing with terror and terrorists. All I have to say and many Canadians would agree - is thank goodness he has the leadership and the conviction to make these necessary changes.

Marit Stiles:

First of all, I think it needs to be said that what took place in Paris was horrific and my thoughts are with the families and the community there.

I remember the day after the attack being asked to participate in a political strategist panel on a national news network. Not one of us — Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat —  were keen to wade in on the 'politics' of the situation at that time. But I think I had barely uttered the words "it would be inappropriate to..." before Mr. Harper was up declaring war and invoking the need for new legislation.

The tricky thing about politics and policy-making is that while on the one hand you need to be prepared to be seen to be taking action, you have to balance that against what is well — right and responsible.

Marit Stiles:

My concern is that we've already seen the government bring in new measures to beef up security and our spy agency, but meanwhile we've seen cuts to the frontline staff. Who's going to handle these complex investigations, and enforce more 'tough new laws'? And at what expense to our civil liberties?


Bernie Farber:

John, arrests are not convictions and there still remains a presumption of innocence in Canada.

You see this is just my fear. We ought not to allow our country to be ruled by fear. The events of the past few months cannot and must not change who we are as Canadians.

Marit is quite right, what new laws are needed in order to better protect Canadians? What about concentrating on better levels of intelligence, superior policing methods? What about beginning an education campaign as they did in Israel to make folks aware of their environment in the new age of terror? Why must it always be laws that tend to remove our freedoms?

All this said. I would like to see an all-party committee formed to work together for a change to assess our real needs. Let’s hear from the experts as to how we can best protect ourselves without falling into the undemocratic trap of throwing laws at a serious problem that very well may not be necessary.


John Capobianco:

I hear what you are saying, Bernie and I do believe in the presumption of innocence (I did say that they were charged and not convicted...), but the hard, cold reality is that there are threats to our country and there are terrorists or would-be terrorists who are living in our country  — in fact we have some who are on our government's "watch" list.

You both have heard the criticisms when a terrorist(s) attacks and kills civilians, be it here or abroad — the first question the media and/or opposition will ask is if that terrorist(s) is/was on any sort of "watch" list. And if the person was and if the government didn't act to ensure the safety of their citizens, then the criticisms begin.

I do understand the need for discussion around this sensitive issue and the need for us to listen to experts, but we also need to be real and to understand that we live and exist in a different time and in a mixed up world where some people hate the very liberty and freedom we deem so important.

 I think the PM is doing exactly what Canadians expect from their leadership at a time like this - he is responding to the reality that is taking place and is ensuring our country remains strong and free!


Marit Stiles:

I'm going to go back to my earlier point about the effectiveness of these laws...and frankly we don't really know what's going to be proposed at this stage. The Conservatives have cut the Canadian Border Services Agency and frontline RCMP. All the tough talk and tough laws in the world are only as strong as the ability to enforce them. So that's problem #1 if you are really concerned that we aren't doing enough to protect Canada.

Second, I think it's entirely reasonable to and indeed imperative that we take a very deep and careful look at any measures being proposed, and that an all-party committee review them. I agree with Bernie about that. Let's face it, folks, we're in pre-election mode and this is exactly when politicians can throw good sense and sound judgement out the window to appeal to our very worst instincts.

Flaming the fire of fear and anxiety can give rise to hate and racism, along with infringement of human rights. I am sure that none of our leaders wants to see that... and so now's the time for a very careful and considered approach. I'm just not sure that's the direction Mr. Harper is taking, and that's unfortunate.

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 : January 14, 2015

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