House of Commons counts down final hours of debate on Bill C-51

Canada Politics
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against Bill C-51, the Canadian federal government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation in Vancouver, British Columbia April 18, 2015. REUTERS/Ben Nelms

The House of Commons took a walk down memory lane in the final hours of debate on the government’s controversial anti-terror bill, just hours before MPs are set to vote on the legislation Tuesday evening.

It was an exercise in review and reiteration, with opposition members detailing concerns they have of the bill, which they’ve spoken out about over the past few months.

Issues with the controversial Bill C-51 have been many and varied — and trumpeted mostly by New Democrats inside and outside the House of Commons.

NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison outlined his main issues, which include the broadness of the bill’s measures on information sharing, granting new disruptive powers to CSIS and creating a new criminal offence targeting people who support terrorism.

He called C-51 one of the most significant pieces of legislation to come before the House of Commons while he’s been a member of parliament and said the NDP has had a principled stance against the bill, even when it appeared public opinion was in favour of the legislation at the outset.

“Unfortunately the government is pressing ahead, refusing to listen to legal experts, civil society organizations, and the tens of thousands of Canadians who turned out at rallies across the country to express their concerns about C-51,” Garrison said.

In addition to reviewing how the debate over C-51 has gone in the past months —  it was tabled in the House in January and went through a speedy committee process — MPs also took the opportunity to try to knock other parties down a peg in their positions on the controversial bill.

Garrison added that the Liberals very early on were in favour of the bill, despite their concerns and before Canadians had any idea what was in the legislation.

He reminded the House that Canada’s privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, has concerns with C-51 but was not able to testify at the House of Commons committee studying the bill. Therrien has said C-51’s provisions around information sharing between government departments are much too broad.

“If someone is involved in terrorism or the use of violence, obviously, government organizations need to be able to share that information,” Garrison said. “But while C-51 does instead is it creates sweeping new powers to share information among a vast array of government departments and agencies, on almost anything.”

He continued, “Not just on terrorism and violence… but also on national security, which is given a very new and broad definition, one which includes threats to Canada’s economic stability, threats to Canada’s infrastructure like pipelines, even threats to Canada’s diplomatic relations with other countries.”

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said that his party has taken a balanced approach to the legislation. The bill isn’t great as it is — particularly with not including parliamentary oversight for Canada’s spy agencies — but there is a need for security, he suggested.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told the House Tuesday morning that the bill is a solid piece of legislation and that, unlike what opposition members say, there are safeguards in place to ensure Canada’s spy agencies operate lawfully.

The NDP and Greens are wholeheartedly against the bill and will vote against it. The Liberals say Bill C-51 is fundamentally flawed but have said they will vote in favour come Tuesday evening.