One year ago Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was fresh off a big Federal Election win, and was making headlines for dressing like the Star Wars movie rebel hero Han Solo for Halloween. At the time many probably thought it was a good fit - Trudeau and the Liberals had campaigned on the slogan of, “Real Change Now”, and had made a lot of promises to improve a lot of things. One year later and a lot of people are coming to realize that these unfulfilled promises were more tricks than treats.
More Public Relations Than Public Engagement
The Liberals haven't changed anything about Bill C-51, but they have made a few manoeuvres to try and calm public opposition to it. First, they announced legislation to create a “National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians” (NSICOP). This was supposedly to oversee how Bill C-51 and other anti-terrorism laws are being implemented, and to overcome public outcry against the fact that under Bill C-51 the police and secret police have vastly expanded powers of detention, surveillance and “disruption” without any real accountability.
However, a closer look at NSICOP reveals that:
- The Committee would be appointed by the Prime Minister, not elected
- The Prime Minister has the ability to withhold and limit its access to information
- The Committee would mostly see information about actions already completed, so would not be able to stop rights abuses as or before they took place
- The Prime Minister has the final say on whether it can report its findings
- The public has no way to interact with the Committee
So with all of these limitations, and with all of the Committee's power basically held by the Prime Minister, NSICOP really does not address any of our concerns.
The Liberals have tried to say as little as possible about Bill C-51 since taking office. When they did comment, it was to promise some sort of “consultation” about Bill C-51 and national security. Now one year later this has taken the form of a poll on a difficult to find website, as well as hearings in five different cities across Canada. In each of these hearings the public had two hours to come and express their opinions. So 10 hours total of open public input for the 35 million people across Canada. Really?
In Vancouver, the Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 held it's 84th weekly picket and petition drive against Bill C-51 outside of the hotel where these phony consultations were taking place. It was a very different action than usual. We always choose the busiest locations possible, publicize the action as widely as possible, and attempt to interact with as many people as possible. The Canadian government did the exact opposite. The consultation was basically unadvertised, and reports from inside say there were about 40 people in attendance.
To continue the comparison, this is about half the people who participated in the Working Group's recent conference on Bill C-51, and much much smaller than the 3,500 people who have signed our own petition in Vancouver demanding an immediate repeal to Bill C-51. Let alone the over 300,000 who have signed the online petition demanding a repeal. Reports from across Canada found a similar dynamic. The headline from the one reporter who attended the Bill C-51 hearing in Toronto: “Toronto’s Public Hearing on Bill C-51 Was Utterly Demoralizing”
They Already Made Up Their Minds
If you read the “Green Paper” the government published to accompany the consultation, it's obvious they have already made up their minds. As BC Civil Liberties Association observed, “it reads like it was drafted by a public relations firm tasked with selling the current state of extraordinary, unaccountable powers and if anything, laying the groundwork for extending those even further.”
In previous issues of Fire This Time, we already put forward three basic questions to ask to determine if a public consultation is meaningful of not:
- Is the consultation independent?
- Is the government bound to implement its findings?
- Is there a timeline for government implementation of the findings?
This consultation is none of these things, and there is no reason to believe the government is going to change it's approach to our human rights.
What we propose instead of these phony consultations is an Independent Public Inquiry into Bill C-51. We do not trust a government that voted in favour of Bill C-51, and who has broken every promise it made about changing it, to properly represent the views of people across Canada. The huge number of people and community organizations who have already been involved in organizing around Bill C-51 would be much more qualified and much more trustworthy to take up the task of really investigating Bill C-51 and its impacts.
“The onus should be on the government to prove that Bill C-51 is needed and justified -- not on citizens, activists and civil liberties groups to show that the legislation is dangerous. Neither the Conservative nor Liberal governments brought any evidence, examples, cases or figures forth that could satisfyingly convince citizens that the introduction of this legislation would make the country safer and more secure. It is merely an illusion.” - Monia Mazigh, academic, author and human rights activist in recent Huffington Post article, “No Need for Consultations, Canadians Clearly Want Bill C-51 Gone”
The government of Canada has still done absolutely nothing to prove how Bill C-51 makes anybody, anywhere, any safer. They have also left an alarming trail of broken promises, and have shown a preference of creating phony committees and consultations instead of addressing the clear concerns of people across Canada. The Liberal government needs to quit the song and dance and repeal Bill C-51 immediately. Across Canada we must continue to organize to make it obvious to them that we won't give in until Bill C-51 is repealed, and that they must respect our democratic and human rights.
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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