It’s not either freedom or security – it’s both

The morning of Oct. 22 gunshots rang out. I hit the floor, my back to the wall, bracing a table across a door into our caucus room. Bullets flew on the other side of the door.

It was very real for a few moments. It seemed very real for much longer, fueled by rumours, guarded by jittery security in our East Block retreat. I could see the headline. I could see my wonderful and blessed life ending this way.

As the day dragged on, as security gathered around us in increasing numbers with ever more lethal-looking weaponry, tension gave way to restlessness and much time to contemplate the day and the future.

All minds were drawn, it seemed then, to one conclusion – that we couldn’t let this day and this murderous lunatic, or others like him – even the prospect of more of him – change who we are, how we choose to live, and what we hold firm as our values. For me, it is unthinkable to be pushed backwards when there exist too many constraints on freedoms already and too many rights not fully realized.

Late that night, back at my Ottawa home, I took to Facebook to pledge to you that I would do all I could to ensure that we didn’t let this day force us backwards: “… Our Parliament, the way it functions, what it reflects and represents, distinguishes us as a great country, as Canadians … We will begin the work necessary to ensure that today stands out in our history as an exception … a day never to be repeated. And we will do what we need to do to ensure that we remain the distinguished nation that we are, the country of which we are so proud.”

And so I, along with my caucus, oppose Prime Minister Harper’s “Anti-Terrorism” Bill, C-51. It betrays our history. It betrays the resolution all of us with the privilege to sit in the House of Commons made in the wake of the events of Oct. 22: to not let this change us. Party leaders embraced on the floor of the House, signaling that on this point we all stood united and resolute.

But the politics of division, suspicion and fear – what the Prime Minister does in place of governing – returned speedily, and more ominously, in the form of this bill.

As I said in the House: “We are all of us in this House concerned with the threats to the security of Canadians and all of us, I would assume, in this House take the protection of the security of Canadians as our priority. However, I am stunned and confounded that the current government would do voluntarily to this country what those who oppose freedom and democracy would have done to this country. We send young men and women around the world to protect what the current government would deny to Canadians through this bill. What this bill has defined as “terrorism,” with its broad and sweeping definition, has significant overlap with what Canadians understand to be reasonable expression of opinion and the normal practice of dissent in a free and democratic society…”

At the heart of this bill is a principle that is fundamentally wrong-headed and dangerous – that security and freedom stand in opposition to each other and that, therefore, the former requires the sacrifice of the latter. Those who seek only to amend this bill accept this principle. They talk about finding the right “balance.” They talk about the suspension of rights and freedoms – but only for a while. They call those “sunset clauses.” They talk about oversight – as though a more transparent suspension of rights and freedoms makes it okay.

No. As Tom Mulcair put it in his speech opposing C-51, what we are offered by Prime Minister Harper and those who support him on this bill is false choice: “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.”

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