Trading liberties for security?

Properly enforce existing legislation before concluding new laws needed

Published on October 28, 2014
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.