Despite recent widespread protests and negative public opinion Canada’s ruling Conservative Party has succeeded in passing sweeping anti-terror legislation which a battery of legal scholars, civil liberties groups and opposition politicians say will replace the country’s healthy democracy with a quasi police state. All that remains is an endorsement from Canada’s Senate.
However lingering public anger over the legislation also suggests that Prime Minister Harper’s succeeded in dividing his parliamentary opposition which could work against him when Canadians go to the polls for a national election this fall.
No legislation in memory has united such a diverse array of prominent opponents as the proposed legislation.
The campaign to stop Bill C-51 grew to include virtually every civil-rights group, law professor, retired judge, author, editorialist and public intellectual in Canada.
According to Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “The scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient. All Canadians would be caught in this web.”
Defending the bill, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney lashed out against “key misconceptions” promoted by “so-called experts”, especially what he called the “completely false, and frankly ridiculous” claim that legitimate protest could be targeted as terrorism.
Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay have described the bill as a “reasonable and proportionate” response to the threat of “jihadi terrorism.” The prime minister has derided its opponents as being out of touch with Canadian values. The question must be asked: who is out of touch?
Last month, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Canadians signed petitions urging the bill be scrapped and took to the streets in a national day of protest.
Critics of the legislation say the imminent law gives Canadian spies sweeping new powers to investigate and disrupt broadly defined threats to public safety, with language that makes no distinction between terrorist plots and legitimate political protests and demonstrations. The bill also neglects to provide any increased oversight of the country’s vastly empowered chief spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.
Introduced in the wake of two lone-wolf terrorist attack last year, one which killed sentry Nathan Cirillo at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa, the bill gained widespread initial support among ordinary Canadians. But in the weeks of criticism that followed, the polls turned and a majority began to express opposition.
It remains unclear whether their anger will survive to make a difference in the general election this October.