The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security completed its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-51 yesterday with a hearing that Green Party leader Elizabeth May described as the “most offensive she has experienced.” In all, the government rejected 61 Green Party amendments, 28 NDP amendments, and 13 Liberal amendments. Yesterday I posted a “by the numbers” review of the committee hearings on Bill C-51 noting that Conservative MPs rarely asked substantive questions about provisions in the bill and that important voices such as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada were blocked from appearing altogether.
One of the most striking aspects of the hearings was how difficult it was for the government to find expert supporters of the bill. There were certainly some – police associations, Robert Morrison, Peter Neumann, Garth Davies, Christian Leuprecht among them – but the line-up of supporting organizations also included:
- the Center for Security Policy, a U.S.-based organization founded by Frank Gaffney. Gaffney is the author of a short book claiming the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the Obama White House, was a leading voice in the Obama birther movement, and is concerned by the “increasingly obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam.”
- the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, who no longer operate a functioning website and seem mainly concerned with slowing immigration to Canada.
- Matt Sheehy, a former Air Canada pilot, who typically focuses on airline security issues. Sheehy claimed that the legislation created a more robust and resourced oversight of CSIS and that in talking to some associates (“front line type people”) he learned that police have been reluctant to deal with terrorism.
- David Harris, who has described Canadian immigration policies as “making Canada a kind of Islamic extremist aircraft carrier for the launching of major assaults against the U.S. mainland.”
- the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing U.S. think-tank that is said to push Republican members of the Congress further to the right.
- the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which appears to have a full-time staff of one person with a rather small board.
- the Canadian Thinkers’ Forum, a small Toronto NGO which runs a barely functioning website that does not say anything about Bill C-51
- Salim Mansur, a Western University professor who has also focused on muslim immigration and who ran as a Freedom Party of Ontario candidate in last provincial election, picking up 636 votes.
The role of these commentators was rarely to discuss specifics on the bill. In fact, witnesses such as the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, the Center for Security Policy, and the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform did not comment on any Bill C-51 provisions during their opening statements. Instead, those groups were often used by Conservative MPs to avoid asking questions of critics of the bill. For example, when the Canadian Bar Association appeared before committee, Conservative MPs did not pose a single question to their representatives. Instead, virtually all their questions went to the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
When more mainstream groups and experts supporting Bill C-51 did appear, they often could not bring themselves to fully supporting the bill:
- B’nai Brith Canada, which spoke specifically in support of the advocacy or promotion of terrorism offence, urged the government to create a new defence against the charge
- the Mackenzie Institute criticized the CSIS provisions and called for improved oversight
- former Senator Hugh Segal warned “that any time we set aside any freedom if we don’t have to, any time we set aside any core constitutional protection if it’s not absolutely necessary, we’re going down the wrong road; and we should do our best not to do that.”
- the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on the government to establish improved oversight and to reform the information sharing provisions
- Ron Atkey, former chair of SIRC, argued that “Part 4 authorizes the federal court to issue a warrant to CSIS to take measures that may contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This provision, in my view, is clearly unconstitutional and it will be struck down by the courts.”
- Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary professor, called for improved oversight
The bill has now passed the committee and heads to the House of Commons for third reading. Left behind is an anti-democratic approach to the bill has attracted the attention of leading commentators who have concluded that Canada now has “a fake legislature designed to fool the tourists and visiting dignitaries Canada retains a vibrant parliamentary democracy.”