Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorist Act has provoked a great deal of rhetoric based on fear. On the one hand, the Conservative government has focused mostly on the fear that terrorist acts are going to happen on Canadian soil unless we give police more powers. On the other hand, the NDP has focused mostly on the fear that our rights and freedoms are at risk, while saying nothing specific so far about the need to address national security. Both are important and neither can be ignored.
In contrast, the Liberal Party has decided instead that as legislators, we must take a responsible approach that recognizes the need to address both issues: security AND citizen`s rights. We owe this to Canadians.
Let`s be clear. It was certainly not because we approved of the bill in its entirety. In fact we adamantly object to many parts of it and came forward with concrete amendments to change it. A few changes were accepted but the bill remains unacceptable for many other reasons, chief among them, the risk it poses to our rights and freedoms. We would never have addressed the security of Canadians the way the Conservative government chose to do so. It was the Liberal Party that brought Canadians the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, arguably our proudest achievement.
It was also the Liberal party who in 2005 and on other occasions since, pushed for parliamentary oversight of our security forces to ensure that our rights would be protected. In fact we had all-party concurrence in 2005 to the creation of parliamentary oversight but were defeated in the 2006 election before an oversight law could be passed. The Conservative government then ditched the plan when it took over and to this day, unlike all of our partners in the Five-eyes alliance, refuses to recognize the need for parliamentary oversight.
So why didn`t we just vote against the bill? The reason is simple. As we have stated many times, we have, as responsible legislators, a duty to address the safety of Canadians and we believe that we need to acknowledge that. As a responsible party, we must address both citizens’ rights and their security.
Governments are expected to protect their citizens from the possibility of terrorist acts on Canadian soil. Estimating the odds of such acts occurring is extremely difficult as are the decisions as to what preventive measures must be put in place. However, if something awful does occur, Governments must face the question: is there anything you could have done to prevent this from happening?
As legislators, we would all like to be able to say that we achieved the right balance between citizen security and citizen rights. This is not an easy call. The Liberal Party`s decision to vote for the bill was recognition that we supported what we considered to be the useful parts of the bill (in terms of increasing our security) so that they could be implemented before Parliament rises in June. In that way, preventive arrest (if necessary) of potential terrorists will be made possible in the months to come. Although few Canadians know it, the RCMP tried to restrict the movements of Martin Couture-Rouleau weeks before he used a car last October to run down two Canadian soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, including Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, but prosecutors said they didn’t have enough evidence to obtain a peace bond, which would have seriously curtailed Couture-Rouleau`s movements.
If our party is elected in October, I know that Bill C-51 will be modified to ensure that Canadians rights and freedoms are protected. In the meantime however, as Parliamentarians, we cannot ignore the duty we have to ensure that we do the most we can to protect the lives of Canadians against the possibility of a terrorist act on Canadian soil. The NDP and others may choose to say that Bill C-51 is only bad. That is incorrect. Like many Omnibus Bills the Government puts before us and expects us to settle with a single vote, there are some good parts and some bad parts and we as legislators have to make that difficult choice. I believe we made the right choice.
Marc Garneau is the Member of Parliament for Westmount–Ville-Marie and the Foreign Affairs Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada