Public support for C-51 has sunk in the polls

In his April 15 review of Bill C-51, the Conservative government’s anti-terrorism legislation, Conservative nominee Dr. Martin Barker is convinced that the “Harper government is just trying to keep us safe” and that “the great majority of Canadians support the government on Bill C-51 in their effort to stop terrorism here and abroad.”

I am not sure what polls he is looking at, but a Forum Research poll on March 17 showed support had dropped to 56 per cent from a previous Angus Reid poll in February showing 82 per cent in support. An EKOS poll at the end of March now shows only 22 per cent of Canadians are in strong support of the bill. That certainly does not look like a great majority of Canadians to me, and I think Dr. Barker has fallen victim to the “political rhetoric” he warned us against in his letter.

If we take off the Conservativetinted glasses and look at the polls, a very different narrative emerges, and that is this: the more Canadians learn about this sweeping and dangerously vague bill, the less likely they are to support it.

Anyone vying to become this riding’s next member of Parliament must demonstrate a clear understanding of the consequences of legislation they propose to support. The Conservative nominees should know that more than 100 of Canada’s brightest legal experts from institutions across the country sent an open letter to all members of Parliament expressing their “deep concern” about C-51. They call the Conservative bill a “dangerous piece of legislation in terms of its potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada’s democracy.” Former prime ministers, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and all sorts of experts have looked at C-51 and are convinced it is unconstitutional.

Bill C-51 would not have prevented the tragic deaths of Corporal Nathan Cirillo or Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Police did not need Bill C-51 to foil the Toronto 18, the Via Rail, or BC Legislature plots – these were all prevented with the existing legislative tools that our police and intelligence agencies use on a daily basis to keep us safe.

Terrorism is a real threat, and everyone agrees that public safety is a top priority for any government. But Canadians don’t have to choose between their security and their rights – this is Stephen Harper’s false choice. The Conservatives appear to be using national security as a wedge issue, using fear to divide us at the very time Canadians rightly demand non-partisan collaboration to keep us safe.

We need concrete measures that keep Canadians safe without eroding our freedoms and way of life. The NDP’s proposed amendments to C-51 included strengthening existing oversight of security and intelligence agencies, ensuring Canada adopts a system of parliamentary oversight, and creating a community outreach and de-radicalization coordinator – a measure that goes right to the heart of the problem instead of dealing with the symptoms. Sadly, the Conservatives put politics ahead of principle and voted against all of our amendments.

Residents of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford can count on me to stand up against any law that erodes our Canadian way of life. I am hosting a community discussion on Bill C-51 at the Kerry Park Recreation Centre in Mill Bay on May 2 from 1-3 p.m., and my special guest is MP Randall Garrison, the NDP’s Public Safety Critic.

Alistair MacGregor is the NDP candidate for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford