If you’re not for us, you must be …

Bill C-51 will change some very basic things in Canadian society, change some rights we may take for granted.

Carolyn Grant

Last week in Pasadena — Newfoundland, not California — a snow machine travelled 12 kilometres down the side of a highway with no driver. Was it Google testing another driverless vehicle? No, it was actually a snowmobile on the lam, heading for Pasadena after tossing its driver into the ditch. The throttle stuck and away it went. It was eventually forced off the road by a vehicle driven by a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and no one was hurt.

But barrelling down the tracks like a runaway train (or snowmobile) is Bill C-51, the Conservative government’s bill that includes tough anti-terror provisions to curb radical speech. The bill is currently in hearings with a Commons committee and it is drawing plenty of criticism.

Government ministers say the current hate laws are not sufficient to target the effect of jihadist propaganda and law enforcement agencies need power under C-51 to delete websites or remove printed material that encourages or incites others to terrorist acts.

The legislation would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the power to actively thwart terror plots, make it easier for police to limit the movements of a suspected extremist, expand no-fly list powers, crack down on terrorist propaganda, and remove barriers to sharing security-related information.

The Bill also includes provisions to detain suspects for as long as seven days if it’s believed they are involved with a plot about to take place, and loosens the strictures on how the government internally shares data, and introduces a category of “activities that undermine the security of Canada,” which can include much illegal protest.

There is, understandably, a great deal of concern over the bill. The threat of terrorism is real and recent events have brought it home in a real way. Canadians are being attracted to join groups such as ISIS, and perform acts of terror, through the very “propaganda” that Bill C-51 attempts to control.

But, any attempt to curtail freedom of expression should be, and is, of very great concern to many Canadians.

Of course, both sides have very valid points, and hopefully MPs will be able to fully thrash out all the difficulties with the bill without a vote being forced prematurely.

But politics are being played while the bill is under discussion and Canadians would be doing themselves a favour by seeking out information about the bill and what it really means, and perhaps listening less to partisan politics on both sides.

For instance, the actions of Manitoba MP Lawrence Toet, who represents the Winnipeg riding of Elmwood-Transcona. In supporting the Bill, Mr. Toet sent out a mailer to his constituents in which he asks the following question with only two possible answers:

What do you think?

A. I agree with my MP Lawrence Toet. We must take action to protect Canada from terrorism.

B. I disagree! Terrorists are victims too.

Respectfully, Mr. Toet, you are doing a disservice to all with this simplistic analysis of an extremely complex issue. Arguing against some of the measures in Bill C-51, calling it “sweeping, dangerous, vague and ineffective” in no way makes Thomas Mulcair a terrorist sympathizer. But neither does seeking a way to gain ground on a very real threat make Prime Minister Harper a fear monger out to take away our freedom of speech.

Talk to your MP, educate yourself. There is plenty of very thoughtful analysis on Bill C-51 available if you seek it out. I can recommend an article by two legal scholars on thewalrus.ca called Bill C-51, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It’s a good starting point, but there’s a lot more out there.

Bill C-51 will change some very basic things in Canadian society, change some rights we may take for granted. And in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”.

Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin