Government looks to better balance security and freedoms

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith is hosting a National Security Town Hall on December 4. PHOTO: Submitted

Where a government seeks to limit the rights of its citizens, it must justify why such limitations are necessary and proportionate to an important objective. The Harper government failed to meet this test when it introduced C-51, its overreaching anti-terror bill. Among other things, the bill gave new powers to CSIS and the RCMP, and expanded information sharing within government, all without sufficient safeguards.

As a lawyer, with a background in civil liberties, I joined the legal community in speaking out against this draconian legislation. Throughout last year’s election, and since, these concerns were echoed by many here in Beaches-East York.

As a candidate in the last election, I promised to work to fix these laws, and my Liberal Party promised a suite of measures to strike a better balance between our security and our freedoms.

Now in government, we have already introduced bill C-22, to establish an all-party parliamentary oversight committee to review the activities of our national security agencies. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on bill C-22 at the University of Ottawa, hosted by Professor Craig Forcese, and there is a consensus that it represents a significant improvement over the status quo.

Our allies – the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand – all have similar committees to hold security agencies accountable, and it’s time for Canada to catch up.

Minister Goodale has also reaffirmed our remaining platform commitments, including our promises to ensure compliance with the Charter, to protect advocacy and protest, to fix the no-fly list appeal system, to narrow overly broad language, and to require warrants for the surveillance of Canadians.

Importantly, Minister Goodale has stated that our election promises form the minimum that will be done to fix C-51, and stressed that our government remains open to further improvements. To that end, Minister Goodale has launched national consultations on our security framework to solicit recommendations.

As part of our consultation, I will be holding a C-51 and National Security Town Hall on Sunday, December 4 at 2 p.m. at East Toronto Branch 11 of The Royal Canadian Legion. We will be joined by an expert panel, and I encourage all those with questions and concerns to attend.

Your feedback will also directly inform my own work as a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety & National Security. In this role, I’ve already asked questions about C-51 on a number of occasions.

Specifically, I’ve asked RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson about the use of preventative arrest/detention powers, and learned that they have not been used. It is doubtful whether such powers are necessary or justified.

I’ve also asked CSIS Director Michael Coulombe about the use of its new threat reduction powers, and learned that they have been used more than 20 times, without any warrant or judicial oversight. More information is required to determine what specific activities CSIS has engaged in, and whether these new powers are necessary.

Finally, I’ve followed up on the concerns with information sharing, raised by the Privacy Commissioner, and my second committee – the Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics committee – will be conducting a fulsome review of C-51’s privacy implications.

Our government’s commitment to a broad and public consultation on national security is unprecedented in our country, and it stands in stark contrast to the previous government’s refusal to consult with experts or Canadians on this subject. I hope you’ll be a part of the process, and that I will see you on Sunday, December 4.

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Glad to hear our MP seems to recognize how unnecessary a rushed piece of unconstitutional, Charter Rights-violating legislation like C-51 is, but he has overstated the “oversight” of C-22. It will not be direct oversight, it will be after the fact review, and the word “oversight” never appears in the text of C-22.

C-51 should never have been law, it was passed in the fear and duress of the Ottawa shooting and Quebec rundown. It needs to be repealed not have a bandaid slapped on a gaping wound in our democracy.

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