NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's speech on Bill C-51, 'anti-terror' legislation

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, I rise today as leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition to indicate that the New Democratic Party of Canada will oppose Bill C-51.

I do so with a deep sense of responsibility, because, as members know, over the last several months, horrific terrorist attacks have shocked the world. However, at the same time, mourning those events has brought people together and strengthened our resolve to defend our way of life against cowardly attackers who seek to intimidate us and erode our freedoms.

Canadians came together in grief and defiance the day after the Parliament Hill shooting, pledging that violence would not, even for a day, halt the work of our democracy. That day we were united. We were resolved to keep this land strong and free, to protect our freedoms, to stand by our principles.

The day after the Parliament Hill shooting, it was important to affirm our duty to stand on guard for Canada, loudly and clearly. Let us be clear: terrorism is a very real threat both at home and abroad. The events of September 11, 2001, changed the face of the world and forced countries to tighten surveillance and take threats seriously. The Canadian government has invested considerable resources over the last two decades and has taken forceful measures to strengthen its laws against terrorism.

Over the same years, many bills have come before the House. Every time, the New Democratic Party has provided a thoughtful and balanced analysis. We have supported some of these bills and opposed others, as we will oppose Bill C-51.

We do the same when there are difficult international issues to deal with. We remember when this House was asked to vote on a mission to bomb Libya in the days of Moammar Gadhafi, and the NDP voted in favour of that mission because there was a mandate from the United Nations. When the mission evolved into an American one aimed at regime change, we withdrew our support. That is what it means to have principles and be consistent.

Some legislation that was created post-2001 is working well. Moreover, that is at the heart of some of our criticism of the government. It is as if these laws that are working well did not even exist. Members will remember that in June 2006, some 400 police officers were involved in the arrest of 18 people in Toronto who were planning attacks on public places such as the Peace Tower here in Ottawa and the CN Tower in Toronto. In 2013, so recently it is still in the news, the RCMP thwarted a planned attack on a VIA Rail train. Just since the beginning of 2015, police officers have laid charges against six individuals here in the Ottawa area for participating in and facilitating the activity of a terrorist group. There are laws in place already. The current system has proved its worth. It produces results. It works well.

The NDP believes that the laws that exist today enable police and intelligence officers to do their work properly. Providing new legislative tools is not the only solution. First and foremost, we must ensure that our officers have the financial resources they need in order to better enforce the law.

In addition, some of the laws enacted to combat terrorism are never used by the police. Nonetheless, the NDP has always stood up in the House to ask questions about each new bill, at each reading, and about the measures proposed by the government, because the NDP believes that security and freedom are fundamental values that must be preserved at all costs.

We also believe that they go hand in hand and that countries where the people have the most freedom are the safest countries. I believe, fundamentally, that the first duty of every government is to ensure that its citizens are safe. That includes the duty to ensure the safety of the food supply. Let us remember that for ideological reasons, we no longer have government inspectors in meat processing plants. We have a system of self-regulation where the company says whether it is doing a good job. That is not unrelated to the fact that a few years ago, under this government, dozens of Canadians died during the listeriosis crisis. Protecting the public is a duty, and the Conservatives failed in that task. They even made tasteless and inappropriate jokes at the expense of the people who died. Even worse, the person who made those inappropriate jokes is still the Minister of Agriculture. That is shameful.

The government has a duty to ensure that hazardous materials are transported safely. We have all seen the result. Once again, this government’s ideological vision means allowing the railway companies to self-regulate, to check off a box and tell the government whether they are doing a good job. We will never forget that one of the few railway companies to have special permission from the Conservative government allowing it to have only one engineer on board was the railway company whose train exploded in Lac-Mégantic. That too is about protecting the public. We are talking about 50 deaths.

The public must be protected in all realms of life. When a legislative framework is put in place, the appropriate financial resources to enable the police and intelligence services to preserve the public peace and protect the public must also be allocated. In fact, what happened in the meat processing plants was the result of a system of self-regulation and the elimination of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. What happened with the railway companies is the same thing: a system of self-regulation where the government no longer plays the role that it is its job to play.

We can make a very long list of things that the government gave up on or did not have the courage to move forward with. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights unanimously voted in favour of legislation to crack down on impaired driving. Nothing was done. We never heard about it again. The Conservatives love to chat with groups of mothers who lost their children or loved ones to impaired driving, but in all their years in power, they have never done anything to address this important issue. Compelling evidence shows that these changes alone would have saved hundreds of lives. This too is a way of protecting the public.

There is no question that terrorism is a real threat, both here at home and abroad. Taking effective action to protect public safety must be the top priority for any government, but we as parliamentarians also have an obligation to protect Canadians' way of life by standing up for our freedoms and our values.

Parliamentarians must come together to address this threat with responsible, effective measures that are targeted on the threat, rather than playing political games as we saw today.

At a time when we need a responsible and serious approach to this threat, an approach that protects Canadians' values and freedoms, we saw the Prime Minister playing games and putting the freedoms of Canadians at risk. Canadians saw it today. We asked him five times to provide one single example, and he was incapable of doing it. Why? It is because this is a political play more than anything else.

The Conservatives have even admitted it. They see the recent events, as one of their officials put it, as a “strategic opportunity� for them, so Canadians are right to suspect that the Prime Minister's new anti-terrorism bill, Bill C-51, goes too far.

The NDP team analyzed, examined and reviewed this bill from every angle. We consulted our civil society partners to see if the Conservatives' new approach would be effective in protecting Canadians and their civil liberties. We also asked for clarification from the Prime Minister and his ministers responsible for this portfolio, but to no avail. As we have seen, they are unable to answer us. That proves that the Conservatives are playing political games.

Unlike the Liberals, who supported this bill without even reading it and abdicated all power to negotiate amendments, the NDP took the time to read, think about and analyze this long and complex piece of legislation. The NDP will not support the Conservatives' Bill C-51 in its present form because it has too many flaws and will undermine the rights of Canadians.

After studying this complex piece of legislation, after consulting with experts, after talking with Canadians, and after lengthy democratic discussions in our own caucus, the NDP has come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister's approach is one we cannot and shall not support.

Bill C-51 is sweeping, dangerously vague, and ineffective. It does not do things that are proven to work, and it puts politics ahead of protecting Canadians.

Why do I say that? Well, instead of introducing this legislation right here in Parliament, as he should have, the Prime Minister chose to do it in an election-like campaign-style event. That is called tipping one's hand. He even went so far as to make remarks that singled out Canada's Muslim community. That is not leadership that unites Canadians, and he should be ashamed of himself.

Canadians are being told by the Prime Minister that they need to choose between their security and their rights, that safety and freedom are somehow, in the Conservatives' minds, mutually exclusive. It is the classic Conservative political approach, which is not based on good policy but entirely on what Conservatives see as good partisan politics: to drive wedges, to put one region against another and one community against another, and to create false choices.

The Prime Minister should know that it is not either the environment or the economy. It is both. It is not either free trade or human rights. It is both. It is not either public safety or freedom. It is both.

The Conservatives are once again offering us a false choice. We should not have to choose between our freedom and our safety. It is our duty to protect both for everyone at all times, at every opportunity and in every way.

We can and we must have both at the same time. We are convinced that we can have them both.

The Prime Minister could have decided to put forward concrete measures to make Canadians safer and protect our freedoms. Instead, the Conservatives have once again put politics over principle and have introduced a bill that is so broad it would allow CSIS to investigate anyone who opposes the government's economic, social, or environmental policies. Bill C-51 proposes to give CSIS a sweeping new mandate to disrupt the activities of people or groups it does not like or that it believes pose any kind of threat under any of those chapters.

What has happened to the rule of law in our country? We have been asking the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to explain what that means. He has been entirely incapable. Neither he nor his officials nor the Prime Minister, for that matter, have been willing or able to describe what activities this new mandate would cover. Anyone who was here today during question period saw what happened: a Prime Minister wholly incapable of providing a single example of what this bill was supposed to correct as mischief. That is because it is a political ploy.

However, according to the brilliant and oh so talented Minister of Public Safety, we must not get caught up in definitions.

As we just heard from his empty speech, however, he has no problem at all getting caught up in the platitudes and talking points written out for him by the Prime Minister's Office, which are completely meaningless.

The rule of law is the very essence of a state of law. It is the very wording of the law; it is the construction of the law; it is what is written in the law. That is why he is incapable of talking about it, because he does not understand what he just wrote in his own bill.

For absolute clarity and so that everyone has the same understanding and the same interpretation of the bill, let us be clear. If the Conservatives had wanted to do things right, they would have begun in Parliament and announced that experts would be given the time to clarify the bill and study it together.

Instead, we were treated to an election campaign-style announcement hundreds of kilometres away from Parliament, and that revealed their deepest thoughts. This is all a political game to them.

Those experts who are starting to write about this, those highly respected individuals, are warning that the broad measures in Bill C-51 could lump legal dissent together with terrorism and lump strikers together with violent anarchists. Bill C-51 proposes to make it an offence to advocate or promote terrorism “in general�. Can the minister even explain what the words “in general� are doing in a legal text?

Canada already has strong laws that make it an offence to incite a terrorist act. That is why the Conservatives cannot give a single example of what is taken care of by this new bill that is not already taken care of by existing legislation.

Those same experts, and we are seeing more and more of their papers appear, are saying that the language in this new provision is so vague and so open-ended that it could vastly expand the kind of statements that could get a Canadian arrested. Anyone who is genuinely inciting violence against others of course should be stopped. However, we need measures that keep Canadians safe without eroding our fundamental freedoms.

This government should be known as the “government of fear�.

When a government plays with people's fear and takes advantage of Canadians' sensitivity and raw emotions following a tragedy, there is a high risk of abuse.

Like many Quebeckers, I remember the improper arrest and detention of hundreds of innocent people when Trudeau's Liberal Party passed the War Measures Act during the October crisis. At the time, the NDP shrugged off criticism, had the courage of its convictions and stood firm against this attack on the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. It was difficult at the time, but history has proven us right, and we are proud of that.

All parliamentarians are responsible for ensuring that such abuses of power are never repeated. Never again. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them, and that is what we are seeing with these people.

Today the Conservatives want to give significant new powers to CSIS without addressing serious deficiencies in oversight. We know that there are currently serious deficiencies in the oversight of CSIS. The last report of the under-resourced Security Intelligence Review Committee found that CSIS is “seriously� misleading the committee in one investigation after another, and it faced “difficulties�, which is their term, and “significant delays� in getting information about the spy agency's activities. In other words, they are hiding the information from the people who are supposed to be guaranteeing oversight, because the oversight is deficient, ineffective, and weak. That is the reality. That is before the enhanced responsibilities. It is already problematic.

We are concerned that the Conservatives want to give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more powers without improving the inadequate oversight mechanisms currently in place, mechanisms that resulted in the Conservative government putting Arthur Porter in charge of that oversight. They seem to think that Arthur Porter is a model of ethical conduct.

To us, this is quite straightforward. If the government wants to give CSIS more powers, then it absolutely must increase oversight. That is crucial.

By the way, this is on top of the Conservative decision in 2012 to simply eliminate the position of CSIS inspector general. That, of course, further weakened the reviews, but that is exactly what the Conservatives wanted.

In view of these shortcomings, it is simply irresponsible to give the agency such broad new powers without providing additional oversight and without in any way attempting to prove what such new powers are supposed to do that are not already in the law. The bill also comes on the heels of cuts to our security agencies, cuts that sideline other public safety priorities, and the Prime Minister has yet to offer a plan to support Canadian communities that are combatting radicalization on the ground.

No stranger to the threat of terrorism, the United States of America, under President Obama, has taken a proactive approach to combatting radicalization. The White House has spearheaded work with at-risk communities to make them more resilient against the lure of radicalization. The U.S. government works to support community and faith leaders by connecting them with counter-radicalization experts, providing information on how to recognize the warning signs of radicalization and training in the kinds of tactics that are proven to actually work to diffuse radicalization.

Absolutely none of this is being done in Canada by the Conservatives. In fact, the Conservatives have chosen a very different approach. For example, the RCMP plan to work with communities to counter violent extremism has sat on the drawing board for years. Why? It is because it does not suit the Conservatives' purpose.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has cut the budgets of both the RCMP and CSIS, and top officials have testified that they do not have the resources to monitor terrorism suspects and keep fully funding other areas of their policing. Why? It is because they prefer talking about it to doing anything about it.

Instead of doing the things that are proven to work, this bill sees the Conservatives once again putting wedge politics ahead of protecting Canadians.

Bill C-51 is silent on one element that we feel is essential to attacking terrorism at its root: Canada needs a strategy against radicalization right here at home. We want more measures to help communities. That is what communities are asking for. They want to be able to carry out major educational campaigns.

How we tackle the threats posed by radicalization, terrorism, and attacks by disturbed lone wolves merits a real debate, but by seeking to divide and score points, the Conservatives have succeeded in intimidating the Liberals into giving them a blank cheque to pass any laws, even before they are tabled and even when they go too far. They say that they are going to write a little something on the memo line, but it is still going to be a blank cheque.

The truth is that if we cannot protect our freedoms, we are sacrificing our freedoms. Freedom and public safety have to go hand in hand. We will hold true to our principles and oppose this overreaching legislation. Our rights and freedoms define our Canadian way of life, and as long as I am here, no one is going to undermine who we are and what we stand for as Canadians.

In the coming days, coming weeks, and coming months, we will urge the government to resist its normal urge to try to railroad legislation through. It has broken all records for using the guillotine to pass things more quickly. It has used time allocation and closure more than any other government in the history of Canada.

There are few things that we have ever looked at in this House that are more important than what we are looking at right now. It deserves serious analysis. It deserves the time to hear the experts who have a lot to bring to this debate. We will be proposing amendments, and we hope that the government will listen to our proposals and their merit and to the experts who come to the committee.

We hope that the government will invite not only experts to committee. We hope that it will invite community leaders as well. These are people we should also be listening to. These are people on the front lines who often have to deal with young people who are facing the siren song of radicalization. We should be listening to them, and we should be putting in place the types of solutions they will be talking to us about.

We also urge the Liberals to reconsider their position to support this bill unconditionally. We hope that we all, as parliamentarians, will take this bill seriously. Here, I want to salute the leader of the Green Party, who has also raised serious concerns about Bill C-51. We hope that Conservative MPs will be willing to consider practical amendments to strengthen oversight and to protect Canadians' freedoms.

Free societies are safe societies. Canadians can count on New Democrats to take a principled stand against this and any Conservative law that undermines the freedoms and values that define our Canadian way of life.

The day after the shooting here in Ottawa, I asked the Prime Minister if he would be able to resist his strong tendency to always attack anyone who speaks out against him and his positions.

I asked him if he understood, if he was able to broaden his perspective enough to realize that even though we do not agree on the approach, all parliamentarians want the same thing: to protect Canadians. Again today, the words that were used demonstrated that he is not able to broaden his perspective.

I know that all parliamentarians and all Canadians want to live in safety and peace. We all want to eradicate terrorism. In this sometimes emotional debate, no one should be playing political games, and the NDP therefore wants to do everything it can to get the government to improve its bill.

It is our duty as legislators to implement intelligent and effective policies to protect Canadians. We cannot make any compromises when it comes to safety and freedom. We need to protect both of these things at the same time and at all times.

In closing, I would simply like to say that if we give in to fear, the terrorists are the ones who win.

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