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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.

Despite loud criticism from some of Canada's foremost civil liberties experts, the Harper government has voted down a raft of amendments put forward by the Opposition. However, the Conservatives are putting forward some of their own, aimed at narrowing the definition of a terrorist act and pledging that protesters who may act outside the law are not necessarily targeted for information sharing. But are these amendments enough?

Bernie Farber:

I remain conflicted about this bill. More than many I understand and even support the need for robust law to defend Canada and Canadians against the threat of terrorism.

Yet the manner in which the first iteration of the bill was presented offended our collective sense of fairness, justice and decency.

Laws that violated the Charter and our privacy are simply unacceptable. Amendments were certainly needed.

Bottom line is this seems to be a political issue more than a security matter. Using the fear of terrorism to bolster unnecessary law seems to be all the rage today. I expect better from our government.

John Capobianco:

We have had numerous discussions/debate over this issue and, in particular, over this bill - C-51. My Liberal and NDP friends will condemn the bill as political, when in reality it is the PM and his government who are facing the realities of today and doing what's necessary to protect our country and Canadians from a real, live threat that is ISIS.

The NDP have been clear from the beginning by suggesting the bill is wrong, and that Mr. Mulcair intended to vote against it despite the amendments (as he did the other day).

However, Mr. Trudeau has been indecisive on this issue and it has been Bernie on these pages arguing for sometime about allowing amendments to the bill.

Well ... there are four expected amendments and there are expectations that some sections may be removed.

Bernie, your party has no excuses now. I do believe that you realize the threat ISIS possess on our country, but I don't know whether you think by leaving the rules/ and regulations as they have been for decades is going to relieve this threat in any way.

Marit Stiles:

I was glad to see the Conservatives expressing openness — last week — to making some amendments to this bill. It's always good to see parliamentarians rolling up their sleeves and at least appearing to come to some resolution of difference of opinion.

But the unfortunate fact is that the handful of amendments they are willing to consider will do little to limit the potential harm to our rights and freedoms inherent in this legislation.

Liberals can wring their hands all they want, their leader has made it clear that he will support the legislation, no matter whether or not the government agrees to ANY amendments.

Wow, that's a helluva bargaining strategy. "Yeah, we really need those changes ...or not".

Meanwhile, yesterday seven leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, called on the government to withdraw the legislation.

The legislation is bad, it needs to go. If this government wants to protect Canadians from threats, we need to properly fund border security and work with community leaders to counter radicalization.

Bad legislation is just that, bad legislation, and there are no two-ways about it.

Bernie Farber:

John, do you really believe that Bill C-51 could have in any way prevented the two acts of alleged terrorism on Canadian soil earlier this year? If so please let me know how.

Look, unlike Marit I am not stuck to “no”. Like my friends in the federal Liberal party, I believe that there needs to be some amendments as I noted, but for me accountability and ensuring that greater powers do not lead to a further erosion of our Charter rights is paramount.

It’s a delicate balance and I await the final language before I make any determination.

Dealing more expansively with the no-fly list is a good start and better information sharing amongst government entities is a real help.

However let’s recall that the Air India Inquiry made recommendations on this issue which have been all but ignored.

In the end, it’s always been about Harper’s lack of clarity and focus. Too many groups who understand law and security are asking the same questions and until these are answered confusion and mistrust will reign.  


John Capobianco:

Bernie, I am not sure any change or changes to a bill will ever stop attacks on our citizens, but I do know what we have currently isn't working and doing nothing will not stop the threats. So I do believe, as do the majority of Canadians, that our security and law enforcement agencies do need to have more powers granted to ensure they catch terrorists before they attack.

This government has been listening (much to the chagrin our my friends) and they are expecting to make amendments to the bill — such amendments as ensuring protests are in fact lawful and narrowing the definition of a terrorist action or one that could be defined as terrorist in meaning.

Another amendment will put limits to information-sharing, as well as limits to ensure CSIS agents will not have the authority to arrest people. And as Bernie suggests, an amendment that will limit Canada's Public Safety Minister's ability to direct what airlines do to prevent terror activities.

We need to be real about the threats to our country not only from abroad but also from those from within. We need to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to stop attacks before they happen. Canadians not only deserve this, they expect this from their government - and this PM is a leader in this regard.


Marit Stiles:

John, with due respect, can you share examples of where and how Canadians are being put at risk currently? As Bernie notes, how would these changes have prevented the two alleged terrorist attacks in the spring?

The amendments the government is willing to consider are a miniscule step in the right direction.

What's still needed are measures to strengthen existing oversight of security and intelligence agencies, and a system of parliamentary oversight that will actually work. There needs to be a plan in place, with resources, to implement community outreach and de-radicalization, and there should be a mandated 3-year review of the legislation with a sunset clause.

Furthermore, the bill needs to go further in protecting privacy rights and narrowing the information sharing provision to cover only terrorism. The NDP is also asking for a narrowing of the grounds for listing individuals on no-fly lists and providing a better appeal process.

At the end of the day, however, the government has made clear they won't agree to many of these proposals. And that's too bad because numerous witnesses have argued this is necessary to ensure Canadians' rights and freedoms are protected in this process. 

It's unfortunate that after all the public outcry and debate, the government can't see it's way to make these very reasonable changes to the legislation.   

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 : March 25, 2015

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