Striking the Balance Between Public Safety and Due Process
When I was voted in as your Member of Parliament in 2012, I pledged to be accessible. I receive a lot of emails and written correspondence each week and this has increased since my appointment as Minister of Veterans Affairs. I have always enjoyed this aspect of my job because you get to hear the pulse of conversation in the community and the country through the people that write to you. As my father reminded me recently, for every one person who takes the time to send an email or letter there are 10 people who considered the same question posed by the correspondence. Reviewing all of these inquiries provides me with the opportunity to learn about what issues concern Durham residents most. I have always tried to respond to emails and other correspondence promptly and personally and while that is sometimes a challenge, that remains my goal.
When there are a number of emails on the same topic either in support or with concerns, I know that it normally indicates that people want to understand more about why the government is moving in a certain policy direction. This means that they have some concerns and want me to explore the issue in more detail to outline the rationale for new legislation or a regulatory change.
Bill C-51 is a new piece of legislation that has led to several questions and shows me that I need to explain what the legislation is trying to accomplish. C-51 is being brought forward to combat the risks that have arisen in recent years related to terrorist threats in our own country that simply did not exist years ago. While our society has been more on edge since 9-11, the phenomenon of young people being radicalized – often by people a world away – is a relatively new risk. Certainly everyone understands the need to have a safe and secure community, but some people are concerned that this Bill will in some way curtail the civil liberties that all Canadians enjoy and that help define our country. With this column I want to show you that there are no such risks to civil liberties and that C-51 is an attempt to strike the right balance between public safety and due process.
The two attacks on members of the Canadian Armed Forces last fall were horrific and we need to learn lessons from them. In the case of the murder of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, the police were aware that a young radicalized man posed a threat, but did not believe the threat was imminent under the law to arrest the person. In that case, they had evidence to believe that the person might commit a crime, but did not feel their evidence met the standard that an attack was likely or imminent. We are reducing the burden with C-51 so that law enforcement can act when they have a suspect they believe is a risk. It is critical to note that an evidentiary basis is still required, so this is not an arbitrary power to arrest. The Bill also makes it a crime for a person to knowingly promote or advocate the commission of terrorism offences in general. This new Criminal Code provision provides law enforcement with tools to arrest people inciting such violence without our society or recruiting young people to such causes.
The opposition are also playing some games on C-51 that need to be called out. First, the Bill specifically excludes lawful protest, political dissent and artistic expression. None of these activities are subject to arrest under the Bill. Second, the opposition parties are suggesting there is not enough oversight of intelligence gathering activities and they want politicians involved in the process. The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) has provided oversight over intelligence agencies and has done so without any issues since 1984. SIRC provides independent, expert, third-party advice regarding compliance with the law and review of these activities. Judges and independent policy experts are involved in SIRC and provide expertise and oversight devoid of politics. Ironically, the composition and structure of SIRC was recommended by a commission ordered by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the last
Liberal government under Jean Chretien found SIRC to be appropriate and effective oversight even after the 9-11 attacks. For some reason, Justin Trudeau disagrees with this approach and wants politicians involved, but I think that has more to do with politics than sound public policy or concerns about public safety.