Strong and free: Where do the parties stand on security?
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, October 1, 2015 10:44AM EDT
The top three federal parties are proposing different ways to balance Canadians' individual rights against terrorism threats at home and abroad, with much of the discussion focused on Bill C-51 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
CTV's Canada AM held a discussion panel with candidates from each of the three federal parties to ask them how their parties plan to keep Canadians secure.
James Bezan, Conservative candidate for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman
The Conservatives have already introduced the Anti-terrorism Act, better known as Bill C-51, in an attempt to crack down on and prevent homegrown terror threats, by making it easier for law enforcement agencies to share information. Bill C-51 also grants police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service expanded powers to act pre-emptively against suspected terror threats.
James Bezan, who served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence in the last government, says Bill C-51 keeps Canadians safe, without forcing them to give up their personal freedoms.
"You can't have freedom unless you have peace and security. That's why we're in this war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria," Bezan told CTV's Canada AM.
He added that, with the measures implemented by Bill C-51, Canada is "doing exactly the same thing that most of our allies have done in dealing with the security threat that we have here, within Canada.
"We have to make sure that we have the tools in the toolbox so police agencies can protect Canadians," he said.
Bezan said Bill C-51 allows government and security agencies to take "preventive moves" to stop terror attacks and radicalization, while also permitting them to share information in ways they did not in the past. "Now, those agencies can cooperate, identify and more accurately deal with any of these threats that are coming at us," he said.
"We've taken a very reasonable and measured approach in Bill C-51, and we also have to remember that that comes with judicial oversight to ensure that the rights of Canadians are respected," Bezan said.
He also addressed Bill C-24, another oft-debated, Conservative-introduced law that allows officials to revoke the Canadian citizenship of dual nationals suspected of being involved in terrorist plots against Canada. "For Canadians that are dual citizens, that become terrorists and commit treason or declare war on Canada, those individuals have forfeited their right to be a Canadian," Bezan said.
Judicial oversight is part of these new measures, he said, to ensure that law enforcement agencies are held accountable, and that the rights of Canadians are not violated.
"The Charter of Rights trumps anything within Bill C-51," Bezan said.
Bill Blair, Liberal candidate for Scarborough Southwest
Bill Blair, Toronto's former police chief, stressed the Liberal Party's desire to strike a "balance" between the expanded security powers introduced in Bill C-51, and the need to protect Canadians' rights. The Liberals voted in favour of Bill C-51 in the House of Commons, but they have repeatedly said they would change parts of it.
"We recognized that both our law enforcement and our national security agencies needed certain authorities in order to keep us safe," Blair said on Canada AM. "That's why we supported those provisions of Bill C-51, but we also made an effort to try to bring forward the amendments that were necessary to ensure people's rights and freedoms."
Blair acknowledge that it is "the government's responsibility to keep our citizens safe," but he also stressed the need for "checks and balances" in the system.
"Those checks and balances must be in place," he said.
Blair referred to his experience as a Toronto police officer in discussing the need to balance individual freedoms with public safety. "I was on the executive management team of the Toronto 18 investigation, so I've seen at the front line, the nature of that work," he said. "But at the same time, we also have a responsibility in this country to protect people's rights and freedoms, and I think that's the part that's missing from C-51, and the part that we will amend and fix."
Blair also attacked the Conservatives for Bill C-24, claiming it creates "two classes of citizens" within Canada – those who cannot lose their citizenship, and those who can. The accusation stems from the measure that allows officials to revoke citizenship from dual citizens. "The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees due process to all of our citizens, and it also guarantees equality of treatment before the law," Blair said.
Harbaljit Singh Kahlon, NDP candidate for Brampton East
NDP candidate Harbaljit Singh Kahlon said Bill C-51 "goes too far" in granting expanded powers to law enforcement, at the cost of individual freedoms. "It does not help assure public safety," he told Canada AM.
Kahlon's party voted against the bill in the House of Commons, and have pledged to repeal it if they form a government.
"The information-sharing between agencies, giving overarching powers, broadening the definition of terrorism – all these things are very concerning," Kahlon said.
Kahlon said the NDP would take a grassroots approach to preventing homegrown terror by reaching out to communities in danger of radicalization. "We need to work with local communities, local stakeholders to ensure that Canadians are safe and they're not going towards violent ideologies," he said.
He also accused the Conservatives of drumming up security issues like Bill C-51, Bill C-24, and the niqab debate in order to frighten Canadians. "They're focusing on issues which are not everday issues for Canadians, and keep on focusing on the politics of fear and division," he said.