Soldiers could be seen crossing the streets of Montreal on Halloween night in 1970, but the guns were real and they weren’t in costume. The few kids who had been allowed go trick or treating had been pulled in by frightened parents well before sunset. Then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had invoked the War Measures Act in response to a rapidly growing Quebec independence movement, and two kidnappings by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). Civil liberties were effectively suspended. Trudeau sent the military to secure the cities, and fear took over as he responded to questions of human rights and freedom under military rule by saying, “Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed...”
Fast forward 45 years to Halloween 2015, and there is a different Trudeau recently elected as Prime Minister of Canada. Pierre’s son Justin will now preside over a government which has recently passed the controversial and widely detested “anti-terrorism” law called Bill C-51. His Liberal Party has a majority in Parliament, and are promising some weak amendments to the Bill which is responsible for blowing the door wide open to widespread human rights abuses and silencing of dissenting voices.
It’s important to point out the obvious: A human rights violation is a human rights violation, and a bad law is a bad law, no matter what kind of make-up, mask or costume you try and hide it with. Now is more important than ever not be tricked into supporting something so many of us rightly denounced and organized against. We need to continue to demand an immediate repeal of Bill C-51, and if the Liberals are sincere in bringing “Real Change” to Canada, this will be the very first thing they do after forming government.
They Voted For It!
Many are understandably happy to see former Prime Minster Stephen Harper lose an election after 9 years of implementing a basically anti-human and neoliberal agenda of domestic cutbacks and foreign military interventions. However, we cannot forget that the Liberal Party voted for and supported many of these actions. Especially on the crucial issue of Bill C-51, Justin Trudeau and every single Liberal Party member of parliament who voted, voted in favour. Mr. Trudeau came right out and said, “This bill can be improved, but on the whole, it does include measures that will help keep Canadians safer. As such, we will support it.” He followed that up with, “Liberals welcome the measures that build on powers of preventative arrest, make better use of no-fly lists, and allow for more coordinated information sharing by government departments and agencies.”
So they like the spying, the privacy violating and the incarcerating parts of Bill C-51, but the other stuff just needs to be “improved”?
So What’s with the Amendments?
As this article is being written, Justin Trudeau has not yet been sworn into office. There is speculation regarding the amendments the Liberals promised after voting for Bill C-51, but the two Liberal Party issues of concern Trudeau highlighted are “the question of oversight; and second, the need for regular reviews of our national security laws.”
The centrepiece of the Liberals amendments has been said to be the creation an all party national security committee that would have access to information related to activities authorized by Bill C-51. As Trudeau correctly pointed out, “Of the ‘Five Eyes’ group of allies – including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand – Canada is the only country without national security oversight by its representatives and legislators.” Who are we really fooling here though? These “oversight” committees haven’t stopped the governments in any of the countries he references from carrying out huge human rights abuses at home and broad in the name of “anti-terrorism”. They are also promising a review of all anti-terrorism laws after 3 years, and to seek consultation from experts and the public after they have introduced the amendments. Why wait 3 years to review the laws? Why not consult the public before you introduce your amendments?
The Fundamentals Remain the Same
The most important thing to remember is that there was never really any case made for why Bill C-51 needed to exist in the first place, or how it actually makes anyone in Canada safer. There was just a lot of overblown rhetoric from Stephen Harper that, “Our Government understands that extreme jihadists have declared war on us, on all free people, and on Canada specifically.” This despite that fact that just three people have died in Canada from domestic terrorist attacks in the last 20 years. As the right-wing National Post newspaper pointed out, “Ultimately, however, the legislation [Bill C-51] raises more questions than it answers — the most basic being, ‘Why?”
Leave aside the fact that Bill C-51 should never have existed in the first place, from what we’ve been able to see of the proposed amendments, many of the worst parts of Bill C-51 would remain:
− Giving Canada’s spy agency CSIS the undefined powers of “disruption”.
− The parts of Bill C-51 that effectively allow government spy agencies to collect and store our private information in giant centralized databases, without even needing a warrant. This has already been specifically denounced by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
− Vague language and undefined new legal concepts such as “activities that undermine the security of Canada” which are completely open to being abused to target dissenting voices.
Ultimately the Liberals are doing the same thing that the Conservatives did – reinforcing the existence of a bad law which is justified by an irrational fear campaign. There will still be no meaningful public consultation or education. Over 300,000 people have signed the online petition demanding the government Repeal Bill C-51. This is one of the largest-ever political campaigns in the history of Canada, but the Canadian government is trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Who is the Liberal Party?
While a new young leader and a slick campaign anchored by the slogan of, “Real Change” may have led many to believe that they were voting for a progressive political party when voting for the Liberals, it’s just not true.
It was under the Liberal Party that Canada plunged head first into the new era of war and occupation, by becoming an active participant in the disastrous invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. 14 years later and every major quality of life indicator in Afghanistan has plummeted, while the occupation cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers and over 18 billion dollars between 2001 and 2012.
Also, despite claiming publicly otherwise, under the Liberals Canada was an active participant in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Canada’s contribution to the American war effort in Iraq– three ships and 100 exchange officers– was only exceeded by the United States, Britain and Australia. US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci mused at the time, “Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us. It’s kind of an odd situation.”
The Liberal Party coupled its war abroad with an increase of the war at home. Islamophobia didn’t start with the Conservatives. It was the Liberal government who began to escalate use of “Security Certificates” to jail young Muslim men indefinitely, using secret evidence the accused did not even have a right to see!
It was also the Liberal Party which were the original promoters of austerity politics and cutbacks in Canada. As a recent New Yorker Magazine article pointed out, “Two of Trudeau’s predecessors as Liberal leader, Jean Chrétien, who was Prime Minister from 1993 to 2003, and Paul Martin, Chrétien’s finance minister and then Prime Minister from 2003 to 2006, championed the politics and economics of austerity in Canada.” Under both Chrétien and Martin the government cut spending on welfare programs, announced major cuts to the public service, raised payroll taxes, and significantly reduced transfer payments to the provinces for healthcare and education.
More recently, Trudeau’s campaign co-chair was forced to resign after being caught advising oil industry executives during the election campaign on how to win quick approval of a massive tar sands pipeline in Canada. Also, one of Trudeau’s frontrunners for a Cabinet position as Minister of Pubic Safety is Bill Blair. Blair was the Toronto police chief during the G20 summit in June 2010 which saw the police violate civil rights, detain people illegally, and use excessive force. More than 1,100 people were arrested, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.
When NDP leader Thomas Mulcair criticized Pierre’s Trudeau’s use of the War Measures Act and military in 1970, Justin Trudeau responded by saying, “Let me say very clearly: I am incredibly proud to be Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s son and am incredibly lucky to have been raised with those values.”
So, where is that “Real Change” again?
Our Power Lies in Our Own Organizing
History has shown us time and time again that out strength lies not in voting for a political party or a specific candidate once every four years, but when poor and working people are active in the political process in a united and consistent way. Most recently the 2009 election of Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States, caught many social movements and progressive organizations flat footed. They waited, and waited for Obama to come through on promises he made during the campaign. He did not close Guantanamo Bay prison, he did not end US wars abroad, he did not narrow the gap between rich and poor...among countless other promises. We do not have time to waste waiting for Justin Trudeau, or any other elected leader to magically or benevolently fix all of the problems they have created for us. If it were that easy, the significant movement which originally organized against Bill C-51 would have already defeated it.
For Halloween in 2015, Justin Trudeau dressed up as Han Solo and posed for photos for the media. Dressing up as a rebel hero from the Star Wars movies is one thing, acting like one in real life is another entirely. Unfortunately we do not live in fantasy, and Bill C-51 is a very real attack on our democratic and human rights. This is a defining moment in Canadian political history, and will set an important precedent in the fights for the democratic and human rights of poor and working people in Canada. We say once again: If Justin Trudeau really wants to show, “Real Change” he will immediately Repeal Bill C-51. We need to continue to educate, organize and mobilize to make this message loud and clear. We don’t accept half of our human rights, or even a partial attack on our civil liberties. We demand an immediate Repeal of Bill C-51!
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