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      Liberal Government and Bill C-51:
      Buying Time, No Change

      By Thomas Davies

      Have you participated in the Canadian government's public consultation on Bill C-51? Do you know when the consultation began? When it will end? What it looks like? How you can participate?

      No? Don't worry, you're in numerous and good company.

      Almost a year after being elected, and over a year and half after voting in favour of Bill C-51, the Liberals have apparently followed through on their ageing promise for “public consultation” on the controversial law. However, it's become obvious that they put a lot more effort into publicizing the fact that they were going to have a public consultation, than publicizing when they actually began one.

      While they might not appreciate the comparison, this lack of transparency follows very closely the line taken by the Conservative government before them, when the supposed “Anti-Terrorism” law was rammed through parliament despite obviously widespread public opposition. This was despite the fact that the human rights concerns regarding freedom of speech, assembly, privacy and more were numerous and being made by countless respected legal and human rights organization in Canada and internationally.

      Back then the Liberals voted in favour of Bill C-51 while promising that if elected, they would make “substantive” changes. A year and a half later and CSIS, the RCMP and other government agencies are happily using their new undefined powers of “disruption”, detention and data collection, and have little to no responsibility to inform the public as to how.

      What the Consultation?

      “Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he wants our input regarding changes to the national security framework so the government can “get it right.” It all sounds terribly democratic and inclusive but just why does he need to consult us to learn that we want our democratic rights, privileges, privacy, representation and our will to be respected and protected? We remain innocent until proven guilty. No need for further investigation.” - Randy Gostlin, letter to Toronto Star (September 14, 2016)

      For argument's sake let's say the Liberals weren't already sabotaging their own public consultation by not informing people about a difficult to find online survey and a promise of face to face meetings which have yet materialize. Let's say everyone knew about the public consultation, would it be a worthwhile undertaking?

      Unfortunately no. If the Liberal government was sincere in a wanting genuine public consultation would repeal Bill C-51 and start the discussion from a clean slate.

      As the quoted letter to the editor pointedly asks, is there really a lot of confusion regarding people wanting their human rights respected? Every major poll before Bill C-51 became law showed an obvious majority of people against it. There were never any rallies in favour of Bill C-51. There were however huge national days of action against Bill C-51, and continuing opposition in cities like Vancouver, where there has been 82 weeks straight of actions against the law. The online petition against Bill C-51 gathered more than 300,000 signatures, making it one of the most popular political petitions in the history of Canada.

      It's also important to reiterate that the idea of consulting people about sensitive issues regarding freedom of speech and privacy, while the most blatant violation of freedom of speech and privacy remains a law, doesn't make any sense.

      Green Paper Blues

      The Liberals also released a “Green Paper” on National Security and Human Rights which is on the same hard to find website as the online poll. It is supposed to outline the current state of both of those things after Bill C-51, and their ideas on how to address public concerns regarding them.

      The paper begins with the same fear mongering that the Conservatives used to justify Bill C-51 in the first place:

      “In Canada, we are not isolated from the terrorist threat.”

      “New terrorist groups – including the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – have emerged and engineered chaos and destruction in many parts of the world.”

      “Indeed, the principal terrorist threat to Canada remains the possibility of violent extremists carrying out attacks within our borders.”

      A more accurate characterization of the current situation would be more like this recent Globe and Mail editorial on the same topic:

      “Last year in Canada, 381,000 people were victims of a violent crime. That included 604 murders, 774 attempted murders and 219,000 assaults. According to Statistics Canada, there were also 1,154,000 crimes against property, including more than 159,000 break and enters, nearly 79,000 motor vehicle thefts, and 72,000 cases of impaired driving.”

      “By any reasonable count, the number of terrorist attacks in Canada in 2015 was zero, or close to zero.”

      The rest of the the Green Paper is more of a white washing of the ugly truths about Bill C-51. Support for undefined powers of “disruption” for the secret police, justification of private information sharing between 17 government agencies, lowering the bar on evidence required for targeting and detaining individuals and hints to expanding government systems for unauthorized data collection. “Beyond C-51, what we see in the consultation is Santa’s wish list from the police and intelligence agencies about all the extraordinary powers they would like have under their Christmas tree,” observed Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

      Accountability. Accountability. Accountability.

      In Volume 10, Issue 8 of Fire This Time we gave three simple criteria for evaluating any so called public consultation on Bill C-51:

      Is the consultation independent?
      Is the government bound to implement its findings?
      Is there a timeline for government implementation of the findings?

      This consultation meets none of these criteria. With no plan for how the input will be used and no promise of any changes there is basically no chance for this so-called consultation to be meaningful. One of the biggest reasons we oppose Bill C-51 is its disregard for government accountability to the people. This consultation takes that unaccountability another step further.

      New Solutions?

      Almost one year into the Liberal's term in the office and the NDP Member of Parliament Randal Garrison had now introduced a private member's bill calling for a piece by piece repeal of Bill C-51. A private member's bill is a bill introduced to the House of Commons by an MP who is not a cabinet minister. There are extreme time restrictions on time devoted to them (very few get more than a 60 second introduction), although 20 are chosen at random to receive priority in debate. In recent times around 1.5% of these bills have passed, with the majority of those being for the purpose of changing the names of the riding represented by a particular MP.

      So it's highly unlikely that this NDP bill will be effective in repealing Bill C-51. What it could be is the focal point of a national campaign for the repeal of Bill C-51. As the largest, most-organized, national “progressive” organization in Canada, the NDP would be best placed to initiate a push such a campaign. There's already a proven base of grassroots support, and a trail of broken promises by the Liberal Party to capitalize upon. Unfortunately the NDP has so far devoted about as much energy promoting Mr. Garrison's Bill as the Liberals have to promoting the public consultation. Not much.

      Unfinished Business

      In the end it's important to remind ourselves of the lessons we have already taught ourselves. The dynamic and diverse movement which sprang up to oppose Bill C-51 before it became law did not wait for any political party to take the lead and solve the problem. Thousands organized their own actions, coalitions and campaigns because they understood the threat of Bill C-51 and the importance of defeating it. A year and a half later and any illusion that Justin Trudeau is going to fix this mess he voted for should be laid to rest. We need to continue to educate, organize and mobilize to demand a full Repeal of Bill C-51. It's the only way we will win.

      Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59

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