Trading liberties for security?

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Properly enforce existing legislation before concluding new laws needed

Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney

Anti-war groups held demonstrations in Charlottetown and across the country Sunday to denounce Canada’s participation in the international combat mission against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria. It wasn’t the greatest timing for the protests, closely following the two terror attacks and murders of Canadian soldiers last week in Ottawa and outside Montreal.

There was a strong surge of patriotism across the country after the attacks on the Parliament Buildings and near a Quebec army base. The two dead soldiers were seen as the defenders of our freedoms and the least we can do is pay them respect at this difficult time.

The anti-war protesters deserve some credit for taking a largely unpopular public stance at this time — urging Canada and the U.S. to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries. They had every right to hold their demonstrations and be heard. It’s essential that political leaders hear the other side of the argument from Canadians in case lawmakers are stampeded into doing something rash.

The murder of a Quebec cabinet minister and kidnapping of a British trade official in October 1970 resulted in the War Measures Act being invoked. Tanks roamed Montreal streets and soldiers raided homes in their hunt for FLQ terrorists. Some felt like they were living in a police state with civil liberties suspended. Only a handful of MPs voted against those measures, now seen as a vast overreaction and abuse of civil rights.

Our previous government kept Canada out of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a decision which proved the right one. No weapons of mass destruction were ever located. The current government was about to introduce additional security measures last week and there is concern those measures could be toughened following the terrorist attacks last week. And there is additional worry that Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS will be increased without proper opposition scrutiny.

A bill expanding the powers of Canada’s spy agency considers new powers for law enforcement officials after the attacks last week. That bill was originally due last Wednesday, but was delayed by the shooting on Parliament Hill. The laws regarding CSIS need to strike the right balance in the government’s attempts to strengthen policing and surveillance.

Security needs to be tightened as demonstrated when a lone gunman was allowed to enter Parliament unchallenged. Opponents argue that CSIS has enough powers now — it just has to use those tools better. The government argues the bill is more about clarifying CSIS’s powers, rather than strictly creating new ones.

A report released last Friday suggested CSIS is already operating without sufficient controls or scrutiny. The spy agency may also be casting too wide a net with some of its surveillance, the report said. We cannot let nationalist fervor or fear of terror permit unlimited power for our spy agency. Too many Canadians have already laid down their lives to protect our rights and freedoms. It would be the height of hypocrisy to see them eroded by the argument they must be curtailed to battle terrorism.

The government is considering further changes to police powers to track terror suspects. Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said that included a review of what evidence is needed to place terror suspects under a sort of peace bond before actually charging them with any crime.

Rushed lawmaking is dangerous lawmaking. Many suggest that Canadians should be asking if existing laws are being properly enforced, more than what additional powers government needs to protect public safety. We must ask how the attacks last week happened, before jumping to the conclusion that creating new laws is the answer.

Organizations: CSIS, Quebec army

Geographic location: Canada, Iraq, Montreal Charlottetown Islamic Syria Ottawa U.S. Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Aubrey Morris
    October 29, 2014 - 14:27

    The Author of "Trading Liberties for Security" should be reminded that almost all the Liberty suppressing actions and legislation have come under Liberal governments. As for the "Anti War" demonstrations, sometimes those inclined have to graduate from the Fifth Grade. We do not live in isolation in this world. If we tried to, our standard of living would take a severe hit. The demonstrations would have been more effective if they had taken place in Syria of Iraq. We here in The Wast do not get to make the happy choice of not engaging in this war.

  • Nebblewolfer
    October 29, 2014 - 12:27

    Security should never trump freedom. If you give up your freedom security is irrelevant and the "terrorists" have already won. Freedom first. If you have a problem with blowback from terrorists keep your troops and fighters home, stop supporting other imperialistic warmongering nations.

  • mad as hell
    October 29, 2014 - 12:25

    "Rushed lawmaking is dangerous lawmaking. Many suggest that Canadians should be asking if existing laws are being properly enforced, more than what additional powers government needs to protect public safety. We must ask how the attacks last week happened, before jumping to the conclusion that creating new laws is the answer." That's exactly how we got the crazy gun-related Bill C-68 and the associated changes to the Criminal Code. Thousands of firearms were "blacklisted" based on emotional responses to pictures of them in a copy of a Guns & Ammo magazine, as evidenced by an access to information request in 2005. Not their function, but how they *looked*. Knee-jerk reactions by governments are almost never good.

  • Memory Hole
    October 28, 2014 - 17:59

    The idea that no WNDs were found in Iraq is one of those things that everyone "knows" simply because we've heard it said so often that it must be true. "Bush lied, people died" etc. etc. It's a myth that is dying hard. That said, the question of whether the 2003 Iraq invasion was a good idea is another matter. It now appears that ISIS has some of those chemical weapons. Saddam was also a mass murderer, but he was at least more rational than ISIS.

  • intobed
    October 28, 2014 - 17:48

    A strong spy agency allowed to closely monitor all citizen activities and communications, along with a powerful police agency with laws designed to intimidate and punish speech critical of the government are cornerstones of a fascist regime. Every year under Harper we are seeing more and more of the freedoms Canadians take for granted (and our forefathers fought and gave their lives for) being eroded away in favour of a police state, supposedly in the name of fighting "terrorism". If you say you are a law abiding citizen and have nothing to fear, then you do not know the changes to the laws. The goal of the "terrorists" are to make the general population afraid, and in my case they have won. I am now afraid of my country's ruling government.

  • Freedom Fighter
    October 28, 2014 - 16:11

    Bravo to the The Guardian for taking a courageous and undoubtedly unpopular view. Speaking truth to power is necessary, esp when scoundrels wrap themselves in the flag to whip up pro-Iraqi war sentiment. The freedom of speech and the freedom of association at times like this is necessary to do what is right, rather than what we are told. Bravo to the editorial staff.

    • Stanley
      October 29, 2014 - 08:58

      Unpopular? You can read this exact same message in every newspaper in the country. The message is loud and clear "Prime Minister Harper, don't follow the terrible example of former Prime Minister Trudeau." Message received.