Stop Bill C-51 #IAmCanadian by Mike Gifford (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Stop Bill C-51 #IAmCanadian by Mike Gifford (CC BY-NC 2.0)


Why the Liberal Party Defence of Its Support for Bill C-51 Falls Flat

Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, became law yesterday as it received royal assent. As polls continue to suggest that the Liberal support for the bill is shifting potential voters to the NDP, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has conducted several interviews defending his position as the “right move for Canadians.” Trudeau’s arguments, which have been echoed by other Liberal MPs such as Marc Garneau, boils down to three key claims: he doesn’t want to play politics with security, there are elements in Bill C-51 he likes including greater information sharing, and he will fix the problems with the bill if elected.

For those Canadians looking for an alternative to the Conservative position on Bill C-51, Trudeau’s defence falls flat.

First, the claim that the Liberals do not want to play politics with Bill C-51 is simply not credible. Indeed, the decision to support the bill was all about politics. The Conservatives introduced Bill C-51 on January 30, 2015, with both opposition parties saying they were reviewing the legislation and would seek “robust” parliamentary hearings. Several days later, the Liberals had apparently seen enough, indicating that they were ready to support the bill but push for greater oversight. Given that leading experts such as Craig Forcese and Kent Roach took weeks to comprehensively assess the impact of the legislation, it simply was not possible to assess all the implications of the bill in a few days.

The decision to support the bill was surely the result of a political calculation based on the fear of being labeled as weak on security. Indeed, Trudeau acknowledged precisely that a month later, telling students at UBC that the government was hoping the opposition would reject the bill so that it could “bash people on security.” Trudeau added that “this conversation might be different if we weren’t months from an election campaign, but we are.”

Trudeau also claims that he won’t politicize the issue by calling out the NDP opposition to the bill, stating “you won’t hear me say, ‘Mr. Mulcair, who voted against physical security, doesn’t care about Canadians’ safety.’” Perhaps not, but his MPs have done pretty much that. For example, last month in the House of Commons, MP Joyce Murray responded to criticism of Liberal support for Bill C-51 by stating “I would ask the member whether he would want it on his conscience should there be an attack that leads to deaths of Canadians because of the loopholes that the bill is attempting to fix?”

Second, the Liberal position on Bill C-51 has consistently cited the information sharing provisions in the bill as a reason to support it. Yet the information sharing provisions are among the most problematic aspects of the bill drawing criticism from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and numerous experts. In supporting those provisions, the Liberals are not only siding with the government, but they are also rejecting the analysis of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Third, the promise to fix the bill by adding accountability provisions and a sunset provision if elected does not address the fundamental concern with supporting the bill. Since the bill’s introduction, Trudeau has delivered major speeches and policy positions on liberty and freedoms and on fair and open government. There is much to like about those positions. But talking the talk is the easy part. Walking the walk is far harder. Speaking about defending liberty, while voting for a bill that every civil liberties group in the country opposed is difficult to reconcile. Similarly, calling for major parliamentary reforms while effectively giving tacit approval to the shameful hearings on Bill C-51 (chronicled here and here) by supporting the outcome is tough to square.

The Conservative record on digital issues is far more balanced than Harper’s critics would like to admit. For most issues, there is good and bad: the government has been a strong supporter of consumer interests on telecom and broadcast policy, it has passed good copyright laws (elements of 2012 reforms) and bad (digital locks, copyright extension in a budget bill), and it has enacted privacy reforms that at that their best provide new safeguards (security breach rules) and at their worst could have been worse (lawful access). Yet Bill C-51 was emblematic of the very worst of the government: constitutionally suspect legislation, the rejection of oversight or accountability, embarrassing hearings, exclusion of expert analysis, and the persistent demonizing of critics.

The Liberal position on Bill C-51 is similarly reminiscent of the worst fears of past Liberal governments that sought middle of the road positions based on politics rather than principle. Given the way the debate on Bill C-51 unfolded, all parties were forced to pick between being labeled as weak on security or characterized as weak on privacy and civil rights. The Liberals made the wrong choice.


  1. I suspect a lot of Liberals who are on the progressive end of the spectrum are giving serious thought about voting NDP for all of the reasons you cited.

    • IT_Canuck says:

      I know I am. I was behind Trudeau for the past few years, but this is making me take a second look at the NDP. Harper has got to go, this much is obvious.

    • I know I am. Or possibly Green, who I probably most strongly align with in my views right now. I’ve only ever voted anyone other than Liberal once before in either federal or provincial (federal NDP the year Martin’s government lost power), but this will be a second time and most of that decision comes down to C-51.

      • Mrs. Green Acres says:

        Ditto to the Green party (and not just because of my moniker!) It will be my first time not voting Liberal, and I’m not anywhere close to drinking the Orange Crush :)

        • I get regular emails from the Green Party, no problem. But when I email it with a simple question (Did Bruce Hyer vote for or against Bill C-300? –, I’m ignored. I also seem to recall that once you filter out the green stuff, what remains is rightwing. Do Greens believe in social housing for example?

          They want my support but don’t have time for me or the courtesy to answer a simple question. Pfft!

    • Bill Owen says:

      Trudeau is taking bad cynical advice, or the man who said that the October “Crisis” and martial law was his dad’s “finest hour”. Either that or he figures a secret police force that “disrupt” his enemies, just might come in handy.

      Do not buy.

    • Jim Lauder says:

      Long long time liberal voting NDP this time. Trudeau’s dad must be spinning in his grave.

      • Jimbo Jones says:

        You mean his dad who was the only PM in history to declare martial law?

        • Some can argue that that instance of martial law is exactly what led him towards co-creating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Karmic atonement, if you will, freely undertaken.

          • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was an idea Trudeau stole from Douglas. Douglas had a bill of rights in Saskatchewan before Canada or even the UN had a bill of rights! ;) Thanks Tommy Douglas! All the good things Pierre did were Tommy’s ideas…to bad Pierre half-assed them.

    • Pretty much

    • Yup. Me too. Justin’s position on this had me looking at the NDP platform. To my surprise I found them far more progressive than I thought they were. On many other issues I care about, Health Care, funding of the CBC, evidence based decisions, they had a much stronger positiin than the Liberals. I’d have to say that this C51 fiasco got me to look at the NDP. But upon looking I am mostly happy with what I see. And how can you not take delight in how effective and entertainingly Mulcair eviscerates Harper in Question Period. Compared this to Justin’s lack luster luke warm performance and equally temped Liberal platform and the choice is becoming clear.

    • I always voted for the conservative, but for the first time in my life I Am leaning towards voting NDP. It all comes down to Bill C51, this is the Kind of a bill tailor made for the third world dictatorship countries to embrace. What Harper wants is to change this beautiful democratic country into a police state (Gestapo state) so that canadians would not have the right to protest against the government. Harper definitely has to go, because there is no room for the draconian Bill C 51 in Canada!!!

    • Wheat field_soul says:

      I am slightly more conservative than the Liberals and I just don’t know what to do. It seems there is no party in Canada that is right for me.

  2. I was a Trudeau supporter until Bill C-51. Passing bad legislation despite the myriad of experts telling you so and promising to fix it later when you’re elected is bad decision making, and smacks of hubris. Seriously looking at the NDP now. At least Mulcair has shown himself to be at least somewhat analytical and thoughtful, and we have a good local candidate. If the Greens had a snowball’s chance in our changing climate to win, they might be in the running for my vote too.

    • Depending on what riding you live in, the Greens do have good chances of electing a number of strong MPs. I have a lot more trust in Green MPs pushing to repeal C-51 than others.

  3. Ronda Zwierz says:

    I can’t support any party that agrees with “preventive detention”.

    The Magna Carta is 800 years old and ‘habeus corpus’ specifically states that no one will be jailed without a reason. It’s one of the basics of our system of laws, yet C51 allows people to be jailed because someone thinks they “may” commit a crime, with no charges, no proof, no warrants, nothing. They can be held for several days without knowing why they are there and without access to a lawyer.

    This is one of the provisions of C51 that Trudeau agrees with.

    • Yup. Completely disgusting.
      This article nails it. Time to put both teams in the penalty box. Thank Goodness we have a multiparty system. Time to call in another team and if they don’t get it. Boot them out and get tge Greens in. Eventually maybe, if they figure it out, they’ll realize its important to listen to Canadians and Charter Rights matter.

  4. It was political cowardice, full stop. That said, I’d expect the Liberals in government or the Liberals in concert with an NDP minority, to substantially amend the law. They just don’t want to be labeled “soft on terror”, being whipped into quivering panic by the hard men in government.

    My own concern is less about the privacy elements than about the implicit transformation of CSIS from an intel gathering agency into a gestapo, reporting to the PMO. “Oversight” is not nearly enough – a secret police force is unacceptable (and hopefully unconstitutional) in and of itself.

    • My feeling if Mulcair can stand up to the Harper and his hench men as he has done so many times, he can stand up to the CSIS bosses too. I just don’t see Justin (the boy wonder) doing that.

      • You trust Muclair? Okay. Personally, I could never support a party that supports Bill C-51 and/or Israel’s regular mass murder of Palestinians and/or free trade deals. I know. That’s leaves us nowhere. Well, That’s where we are. There are no people’s parties and few people’s champions. There’s no help coming from earth.

        What the hell is up with the captchas? Please do something else! Are those spaces to included or not? Who has time for this crap?!

  5. Pingback: Examining Liberal Party Position on Anti-Terror | Mind Bending Politics

  6. We voted for the NDP ever since Glen Clark.

  7. The liberals supported this bill yet still use it to demonize the opposition who introduced it. If you go to the liberal parties latest page on their website which features an article about wanting to introduce mandatory voting for all canadians, they say that Harper is a dictator over reaching his power, this is hilarious because Trudeau once praised China for their “basic dictatorship”, they support every dictatorial policy the conservative push and then some(mandatory voting, mass redistribution of wealth via carbon taxation etc)

    • China is different than canada. The culture is different.
      When u see it on that spectrum yes they are doing a good job being a dictatorship country cuz thats how china has always been. :/

  8. David Collier-Brown says:

    It was a classic Reform-party booby-trap for any opposition party. If a party supported it, they were indistinguishable from the “conservatives”. If not, they were soft on terrorism.

    Heads I win, tails you lose.

    • To paraphrase SunTzu, “do not fight a battle you cannot win”. Indeed, this was one of those and no matter the stance of the Liberals or NDP, they would lose, yet chose to fight it (by supporting it or opposing it) making themselves look impotent. And some people still think Harper isn’t sly.
      At the very least though, the Liberals should have grown a backbone and resisted this bill if they truly thought it not in the best interests of Canada. Some might side with them and some against them but at least you would be able to respect them for having principles and sticking to them. Oh well, too late for that.

    • I disagree! Even with the backlash, the Liberals have had ample opportunity to correct thier stance on the bill, instead they continue to push preventative arrests, and lowering the evidence threshold to that of accusations. None of which were supported by the experts in committee. I was sure society made it very unacceptable to continue Witch hunts. We learned from that, and the Liberal platform isn’t charter compliant, with lots of opportunity for the party to change its position.

      What kind of leader will you be, if you are afraid of your political opponents? The Liberals have nothing to fear, but fear itself. I was expecting much more from the party of the charter.

      • “…the Liberals have had ample opportunity to correct thier stance on the bill…”
        Yes, they have. The problem with that is then you are accused of back-peddling. The Conservatives will then have a field day with the election commercials which will go something like…”the Liberals cannot make up their minds as to what they stand for. One day they support keeping you safer and the next they are against it. Do you want people who can’t make up their minds on how to keep you safe running your country”? And we all know that’s the Conservative’s favourite type of commercial.
        Unless there have been consultations or public discussions, you cannot go back on your stance as you have no reason to do so other than to pander to the public. Then, you just tell me that you have no spine.
        In any case, I do stick to David’s (and mine) opinion that this was a fight that the Conservatives could not lose as “Joe public” did not know or care about the bill (hence did not know or care about what it truly entailed) and any opposition was “anti-security”.

        • You appear to be agreeing with those of us who believe the current Liberals lead by their inexperienced “leader” have no spine when it comes to the powerful public relations machine of the Harper Conservatives. This would make them weak in opposition, and even weaker in government.

          My solution would of course be to allow the more mature and seasoned leadership of the NDP and the Greens take that on, with the help of a strong team behind them, as both have had far more years dealing with this type of opposition. They even demonstrated with C-51 that they are willing and capable of taking on the “when did you stop beating your wife” type political commentary.

          While the Greens will not form government nor official opposition (they will be lucky to gain official party status), Elizabeth May knows what it is like to do the right thing in the face of massive opposition (and sometimes even ridicule).

          Nobody has convinced me that the lawful access aspects of C-51, which the Liberals seem to agree with, make us more rather than less safe from the *isms and *ists of the world. Them changing their mind on this wouldn’t be back-peddling about C-51, but back-peddling from a policy direction Liberals supported even when they were in government.

          It’s time to move-on, and let the Liberals fade away…

        • @Pat – You are suggesting the Liberals are afraid of thier political opponents. Makes me wonder what kind of leadership Trudeau would bring if he’s basing his policy decisions around the fear he has with his political opponents, let alone our international adversaries. I think Canadians have had just about enough of policy being developed as a result of fear rather than empirical evidence.

          I would suggest you do a Google search on: “US congressional hearings + NSA”. No empirical evidence has surfaced in anyway that lawful access has prevented any terror attacks. It’s not needed, and does nothing to stem the roots of radicalism. The Liberal platform on c51 isn’t credible!

          Read the link!

  9. Edward Ruberto says:

    I have a question for the NDP… If they win the next election. Will they bring in their own Security type Bill? Because since C-51 is law now whether we like it or not and if the NDP are going to scrap it then they will have to come up with their own bill.
    They will have to introduce a new Security bill of their own. As much as I don’t like C-51 we are all going to have to realize that a strong security bill which protects Canadian Freedoms and Rights is what we need. I hope the Liberals if thye get in make the changes they said they would do. But again only with a majority or cooperation of one of the other parties in a Minority Government.

    • Not sure new legislation is needed; I don’t see anything in C-51 that would have prevented the October attacks. But if there is to be a replacement for C-51, I hope the criticisms of this bill are taken to heart and fully considered while drafting it.

  10. I’m traditionally conservative but was voting liberal because Harper strikes me as a meglo maniac, but now I will vote ndp

  11. While I held my nose and voted for the Liberal nominated candidate in my riding in the past, I won’t be doing that this election. I would be far more happy with an NDP or Conservative government with an NDP or Conservative official opposition than the Liberals being either government or official opposition. I recognize the Greens may gain seats, but won’t be either government or official opposition.

    I believe it would be better for Canada’s future if the Liberals were returned with so few seats that they folded the party and allowed any remaining MPs to join more appropriate parties.

    Contrary to what the Liberals often claim, they are the party of fear: fear of allowing vote splitting (a bug in the Canadian electoral system the Liberals have helped delay fixing) to allow some “frightening” other party to get in. It is time for Canadians to not get duped by the Liberal campaign of fear.

    • A really good question to pose to the Liberals, What’s your policy on copyright reform. Dion attacked fair use a few years ago to try and shield the party from political attacks. Media companies followed suit last year with the same ideology in which MG debunked.

      I have a gut feeling if Liberals get in we’re going to see quite the draconian copyright reform. They need to be really pushed on their copyright policy during the election. They need to come out with it.

  12. “It was a classic Reform-party booby-trap for any opposition party. If a party supported it, they were indistinguishable from the “conservatives”. If not, they were soft on terrorism.”

    Right on, David. The key is that terrorism is undefined. Unfortunately, the press is afraid to unravel that one.

  13. I have never voted NDP in my life, always voted for the Liberals with one exception, when I supported Mulroney, because I thought he would bring the budget deficit under control,- fat chance!

    Wanna repeal (spy-) Bill C-51 – vote NDP, the only party of the big 3 committed to do that
    Wanna participate in AIIB, the world’s largest economic association – vote NDP, the only party committed to do that*
    Wanna have the best chance to curtail the influence of big internationals like Monsanto, Bayer and Merck – vote NDP
    Wanna have the best chance to get rid of Harper – vote NDP

    Harper sporting already the lowest growth rate of all PMs since WWII Missed that boat. Just go to and scroll down to the membership list. All the large European Countries are there as founding members, but Canada isn’t.

    The NDP pledged to join the AIIB when elected, but the Conservatives and ‘Just-not-ready-Trudeau missed it completely. So much for the NDP being the one, which is not competent in economics.

  14. Darryl Moore says:

    I was willing to overlook his blunder with Eve Adams ( What was with that? ), and even sticking his nose into riding nominations after he said he wouldn’t, but I cannot be so generous with C-51. The choice for me will be between Green and NDP this election.

  15. i agree with Darrell, except that voting Green will not help to get rid of Harper, only a vote for the NDP will get rid of Harper

  16. NO one in their right mind would have voted for the Gestapo==Secret Police==Bill C51 easy to figure out ABCL