Bill C-51 and National Security
In the aftermath of what has gone into the history books as “9/11” – particularly as the years march into a second decade – there is a nagging perception that “the terrorists have won.” Perhaps not in a tactical sense, but certainly in a fiscal one, given the untold billions spent by western democracies and other countries on military intervention abroad and on enhanced security at home. Taken to an extreme in some cases, the tighter security can have an Orwellian cast, fanning discontent among those who recognize some of these measures as irrelevant.
Some might say Canada has bought into the security imperative with a vengeance, most recently highlighted in the federal budget tabled by Finance Minister Joe Oliver, however, many remember the billions allocated to the department of Public Safety, which didn’t procure new and innovative technologies to make Canadians safer, and seemed to have little practical effect other than to fill a staffing quota for the department. That said, the main budget document now promises “strong leadership” on a number of fronts, including “security.”
Chapter 4.3 of the more than 500-page opus talks about “protecting Canadians”. Under that rubric, the government laid out its plans for the Department of National Defence as well as enhancing national security, protecting our borders, and strengthening community safety.
“The government’s foremost responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and defend our sovereignty,” it asserts. “Canadians want to feel safe and secure in their homes, online and in their communities.”
No argument there, obviously. But has the government over-reacted to jihadist rhetoric? It’s arguably good for the defence and security sectors in terms of business but begs the question: is Bill C-51 – the controversial and widely-criticized Anti-Terrorism Act on the brink of parliamentary approval and promulgation into law initiative – the best way to go about it?
The potential for heavy-handed abuse is obvious, yet, with a majority government, there was never a chance of it not being passed. The Liberals’ justification for siding with the Conservatives on third reading in the House of Commons was that they didn’t want to be seen as “soft” on terror. It fell to Liberal Senators to vote against it, on principle and “to heck” with the optics. Sober second thought? I wonder.
In considering C-51, the standing committee on national security and defence heard testimony from Richard Fadden, the prime minister’s new National Security Advisor and former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
“The global terrorist threat persists; it has evolved and become more of a challenge to deal with,” Fadden said, citing the prolonged (four years!) civil war in Syria and continued instability in Iraq – an environment in which new terrorist groups, notably the Daesh militants (the so-called Islamic State), have proven to be “a much more savage and indiscriminate purveyor of violence.”
Most concerning, he continued, is the successful recruitment of westerners through social media and other means. “Canadians and other westerners who have travelled to Syria to fight with ISIL pose a stark threat,” he pointed out. “They can more easily blend into western society, travel freely and potentially return home to further radicalize others, or worse, launch domestic attacks.”
Fadden noted, however, that Canada’s “excellent law enforcement and intelligence agencies” have managed to contain this evolving threat so far, “but for every success you read about in the papers, there are many more threats that continue to develop and that our national security apparatus works to diffuse.”
Radicalized Canadians and others slip through the cracks, he said, noting that his successor at CSIS, had already told the Senate committee that “the terrorist threat to Canada’s national security interests has never been as direct or immediate.”
As the threat evolves, so must government’s response, which Fadden said is why the administration continues to “refine” its laws and counter-terrorism tools “while adhering to the core values we all hold dear.”
Addressing criticism about the more aggressive role being assigned to CSIS, Fadden pointed out that the 2015 budget included a recommendation that Parliament increase the Security Intelligence Review Commission. This he suggested, would help ensure that intelligence activities remained lawful.
As for C-51, Fadden insisted that when drafting enhanced preventive measures for the law enforcement and intelligence communities, “the rights of Canadians […] were at the forefront of all of our policy deliberations,” he said. “It is a delicate balance that must be achieved, but […] our enemies continue to refine their methods and adapt, and so must we.”
This brings us back to Oliver’s budget. “Violent jihadist terrorism is not just a threat elsewhere in the world,” states the main document. “It seeks to bring harm to Canada, and to destroy our values of freedom and diversity. The Government does not hesitate to confront this evil.”
Doing nothing or advocating only a modest investment in defence and security clearly would win no votes. Is anyone ready to cry “enough”? Possibly not for generations to come.
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