Ottawa - In the first hour of testimony Thursday on Bill C-51 the Harper government;s new anti-terror legislation, the Conservatives asked only one question. The hearings are before the Commons Public Safety Committee.
The question came from Conservative MP Rick Norlock who asked Carmen Cheung of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association(BCCLA): "Are you fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the streets?" The question has no relevance to whatever particular recommendations were presented. It's function is to suggest that the presenter may "oppose taking terrorists off the streets".In these committee hearings, a small number of members of parliament with knowledge of the bill under consideration are to hear from expert witnesses as to ways in which a bill is lacking and could be improved. The committee then will take any changes they find desirable back to the House of Commons as suggestions as to how the legislation can be improved. Under the rules, the MPs are given half of the time estimated for questions, in this case two seven minute sections. Before his only question, Norlock spent his time criticizing the BCCLA website as "long-rambling" before launching into an extended preamble to his question lasting over five minutes. The following segment included a presentation by Roxanne James, parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister who spent her time clearing up what she called "misconceptions of the government bill". No question at all, pure propaganda on behalf of the bill.In the second hour, Conservative MP, Ted Falk, asked human rights lawyer Paul Champ if he believed Canada had experienced a terrorist attack. Of course, Champ said he did. This prompted a followup question:On Thursday night, Ihsaan Gardee made a presentation on behalf of the National Council of Canadian Muslims(NCCM). Instead of asking questions, Conservative MP, Diane Ablonczy,used her question time to "put on the record" accusations that the NCCM had ties to groups that had expressed support for "Islamic terrorist groups" including Hamas. She wanted the NCCM to address those allegations. Of course this has nothing at all to do with whatever comments the NCCM made about the bill. Gardee actually responded to the request, an obvious error in my view. He should have simply pointed out that the woman knows nothing about logic and her questions were irrelevant and in effect suggest an ad hominen argument. He simply denied the allegations:The last thing that the Conservatives intend to do is have a serious discussion of the shortcomings of their legislation. If their antics at the hearings do not make this obvious, their actions in preventing a key witness from attending should make this crystal clear. The Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has not yet been invited to appear before the committee. The two main opposition parties the NDP and the Liberals had Therrien's name near the top of the list of their suggested witnesses. Valerie Lawton, spokesperson for Therrien confirmed he had not been invited and said:Therrien has already released a letter with his evaluation of the Bill C-51. The full text can be found here. The legislation would allow sharing of all sorts of information between 17 various agencies including information from income tax returns that is now well protected. Therrien includes a series of amendments to the legislation that would narrow the sharing of information and provide more privacy protection. In his letter he concludes:The former chair of the Security Information Review Committee, Ron Atkey, warned the government that parts of the bill are unconstitutional and will be successfully challenged in the courts. The Harper government will not worry, since they will use taxpayer money to fight any challenge and will take the opportunity to paint the challenger as "soft on terrorism".
"Do you think it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure its citizens are safe from terrorism?"For some strange reason, none of the witnesses thought that terrorists should roam the streets or that the government had no responsibility to ensure the safety of citizens from terrorism. I am sure that those at the hearings all gave a sigh of relief to have these questions settled in this manner.
Gardee pointed to the group's history as an independent, non-profit, grassroots Canadian Muslim civil liberties organization with a "robust and public" track record."These are precisely the types of slanderous statements that have resulted in litigation that is ongoing,"
"The commissioner has said that, given the significant implications for privacy, he would welcome an opportunity to appear to discuss his submission in more detail with committee members,"
In its current form, Bill C-51 would fail to provide Canadians with what they want and expect: legislation that protects both their safety and their privacy. In my submission, the amendments recommended here are necessary to achieve an appropriate balance which is currently lacking. I would welcome the opportunity to appear before Committee to discuss these recommendations and speak to any other points I have raised in this letter.