Last week was a sad week for Canadians. On October 20, Canadian Forces officer Patrice Vincent was killed in Quebec after a targeted hit-and-run. Two days later, unarmed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, just 24, was gunned down while standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. These tragic events sent shock waves through our country. Each of us mourned for the fallen men who had risked their lives for our safety and freedom, only to pay the ultimate price. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten.
At times like these, it is natural to be afraid. As a former police officer, I know we must, as best as is practical, protect ourselves, our families and our institutions from those who would do us harm, whether out of ideology or mental disease. Sometimes, our instinct may be to overreact, without care for protecting the civil liberties of the vast majority of law-abiding Canadians. In times of crisis, we risk sacrificing our freedoms if we don’t balance them with the need to protect our safety.
Unfortunately, it seems the Harper government is overreacting. On Monday, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney tabled bill C-44, which will expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), allow the government to unilaterally strip Canadians of their citizenship, and broaden already questionable confidentiality protections for intelligence sources.
The government has taken advantage of a crisis to introduce sweeping security measures, which run counter to our Canadian sense of justice and democracy. And they may soon expand CSIS powers even further! Cyber security expert Michael Geist says C-44 is “shocking” as it grants CSIS “effectively unlimited powers globally.”
The Conservatives have yet to justify these measures, or how they are supposedly connected to the events of the past week. The two deranged men responsible for the murders of Cirillo and Vincent had no ties to ISIL or any other organized terrorist group. They were not even connected to one another.
Further, we already allow CSIS to curtail our constitutional rights, in the interest of public safety. But, as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Since coming to power, Harper has consistently expanded intelligence powers, without justifying it to Canadians.
This has led to international embarrassment. When Edward Snowden revealed a massive international surveillance operation led by the US National Security Agency (NSA), the Canadian intelligence apparatus was shown to be illegally spying on Canadians. CSEC set up spy posts for the NSA, and used airport Wi-Fi to track ordinary Canadians. This kind of spying isn’t just a real danger to the privacy rights of Canadians, protected under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The enormous economic cost of these programs is inconsistent with the cuts to benefits for seniors, veterans, unemployed workers, and climate action … all of which are costing health, welfare, and even lives.
Blaney says we must stop “under-reacting” to the supposed threat of terrorism. In reality, the government has greatly exaggerated the threat for political gain. Conservatives insist CSIS needs greater power to “work with our allies to share information.” As we saw with the Snowden scandal, however, this may mean CSIS acting as an errand boy for the NSA in the USA, and skirting our own laws to spy on law-abiding Canadians.
The deaths of Cirillo and Vincent are tragic. Our whole country mourns the loss of these brave men. But to use their murders as an excuse to limit the rights of all Canadians is a disservice to their memory. They gave their lives in defense of the freedoms we are so lucky to enjoy in Canada. Now, the government wants to use their deaths to undermine those freedoms. If we want to honour their memories, we must not use them for political expediency. Instead, we must provide balance, and continue to protect the rights that these men stood on guard for, and that we all hold dear