Senate passes C-51. What now?

Late yesterday afternoon, by a vote of 44 to 28, the Senate approved the government’s overkill anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, without amendment. (You can see who voted which way at this link.) By doing so, Senators ignored an almost airtight consensus in Canada’s legal community that the security and information-sharing reforms in the bill won’t improve the chances of stopping potential terrorist threats, but will encroach on privacy rights and can be too easily abused by still largely unaccountable state security agencies. After taking a deep sigh, what more is there to say or do at such a moment?

1. How about reminding ourselves why C-51 is such a bad piece of legislation. The Monitor ran a comprehensive review by lawyers Clayton Ruby and Nader Hasan on February 17, which you can read here. Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, who enriched the public understanding of C-51 in dozens of op-eds and legal analyses this year, had this article online at The Walrus as the Senate vote passed. Their conclusion:

We do not doubt the threat of terrorism—ISIS-inspired and otherwise. Unfortunately C-51 is the legal equivalent of an unforced error, one that manages to complicate our ability to meet our security challenges, while at the same time causing unnecessary collateral damage to civil liberties that inevitably will result in Charter of Rights challenges.

2. We can ask what opposition parties think of the vote. Here are the NDP and Green Party responses from yesterday. The Liberals, who voted with the Conservatives in support of the bill in May, have promised to repeal parts of C-51 if elected in October, and 25 of the 28 Senators who voted against the bill sit as independent Liberals. The three other opposition parties, including the Bloc Quebecois, voted against the bill in the House of Commons. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official opposition NDP, tweeted last night that “Canadians can count on an #NDP government to repeal this dangerous law” if elected. Green leader Elizabeth May likewise said she was committed to repealing C-51, and that “We must build bridges of understanding with the Islamic community, improve mental health and addiction counselling, create reliable outreach programs to counter radicalization.”

3. There are lots of people out there who aren’t giving up. At least 255,000 have signed an OpenMedia petition asking all party leaders to commit to “Kill Bill C-51.” A Forum Research poll in April found that 71% of people were aware of the legislation, only 33% supported it, and that disapproval was highest among Liberal voters (77%) and New Democrats (75%).

“It appears that the more Canadians learn about Bill C-51, the less they like it. The need for the bill is seen to be diminishing, and voters recognize some provisions may impact on their lives in ways they don’t like. With an election approaching, the government would be well-advised to determine whether this bill is the hill they want to stake themselves out on,” said Dr. Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, at the time.

Earlier this month, at a rally against C-51 in Toronto, lawyer Rocco Galati promised to challenge the legislation in court if it passes. (Galati, famous recently for blocking a government appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, is also currently challenging the Bank of Canada’s unwillingness to provide debt-free support for public projects, despite a legal mandate to do so.)

Stuart Trew is the editor of the Monitor, a progressive magazine published six times annually by the CCPA. Follow Stuart on Twitter @StuJT.

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