ANDERSON: Bill C-51: Still no roaming death squads

Image Credit: Contributed by author

Well, here we are in the early days of Bill C-51, the "controversial" bill that's supposed to mean, according to a very noisy contingent on social media, the end of freedom and human rights in Canada. The most bloodcurdling memes show up in hysterical progression on Facebook..."Bill C-51, why all the Fuhrer?" and "Canada is one of the most controlled and tyrannical states in the western world...now witness the extraordinary and fascist C-51," and so on in that vein. But somehow I have yet to hear trucks rolling in the night or see roaming death squads. 

There are legitimate concerns about C-51 to be sure. One is the broadening of CSIS' discretionary power to reduce threats within Canada. Even though the existing requirement for judicial permission still applies, it's not hard to see how some folks would think it erodes our freedoms. Another area of concern is the provision for a ban on "promoting terrorism."  This is so vague that it's a blank slate, really, and as a believer in truly free speech I find it disconcerting and the potential for abuse considerable.

But on the other side of the argument, there are legitimate concerns that C-51 attempts to address. Terrorism is a reality whether we like it or not, both abroad and here at home.  Some folks simply dismiss it as a manufactured crisis on the basis, as one particular anti-C-51 meme put it, that "you're more likely to be killed by lightning than by terrorists in Canada." We're more likely to be killed by lightning than by plane crashes too, but no one has suggested that we remove flight safety regulation. Just because something is rare doesn't mean we should ignore it.

The real question, it seems to me, is not what abuses are made possible by Bill C-51, but the likelihood of those abuses actually occurring. Just because a wide reading of "promoting terrorism" might include such things as protesting pipelines doesn't mean the government is likely to read it that widely. To step out of theory and into the real world for a moment, why would the Conservative government want to alienate the greater part of the electorate by shutting down reasonable public discourse? 

The saving grace of parliamentary democracy is that parties in power are always held to account by the voter, and ultimately by other parties when those other parties form government. Parties in power understand this as they draft laws, and they understand it when deciding how to action those laws. Unless one is of the conspiracy-minded notion that Harper is attempting to sweep aside parliament and install a Conservative dictatorship - something no sober-minded individual would suggest - it would be political suicide to trample all over the rights of Canadians.

Which leads me to what I think is a reasonable conclusion: There is no nefarious intent behind Bill C-51, nor is it likely that any nefarious purpose will be made of it in the future, absent an unforeseen national catastrophe. I think the Conservatives are trying to find a shifting and largely indiscernible line between protecting the people of Canada and preserving our cherished freedoms. No law will ever find that perfect balance, and C-51 is far from perfect. But it is also far from the end of freedom and human rights in Canada.

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces Reserves and a bunch of other stuff.  His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

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