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Shekhar Parmar Headshot

Bill C-51 Takes a Sledgehammer to the Canadian Charter

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Shutterstock / Nzescapes
Shutterstock / Nzescapes

As a Canadian citizen, lawyer, immigrant, and a student of world politics, I have always marveled at the beauty and principles of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To me it was the quintessential Canadian document -- one that protected the rights of all, promoted equality, celebrated our differences, and made our laws subject to a very high ethical and moral threshold. The Charter very carefully balanced individual rights versus the power of the state and purposefully set a high bar for when it would be appropriate for the individual's right to be secondary to the states. Our legal system had also added beauty to the Charter by adopting a living tree approach, which allowed the Charter's interpretation to evolve over time. So very rational. So balanced. So progressive. So Canadian.

On Wednesday our parliament passed bill C-51; a bill which takes a sledgehammer to the principles in the Charter. The bill is called the "Anti-terrorism Act" and it will give security agencies in Canada a much broader and easier to use set of tools in combating terrorism. All of that sounds good in theory and one would be hard pressed to argue that we should not equip our police with better tools to combat terrorism. And that is exactly what the government is hoping you focus on. Why does the government hope you don't care about this? Because most legal scholars and virtually all civil liberties organizations feel that C-51 eviscerates citizen privacy rights and expands the power of security agencies and the government. All of which seem very un-Canadian to me. I know we live in a different world today than we did in 1982 but to me the Charter is more important today than it was then.

Over the past few weeks I have seen a lot of concerned citizens talking about C-51 on social media and felt that perhaps there was a chance that our government would listen to its constituents. Organizations like OpenMedia did their best to educate Canadians about the bill and as people learned more and more about it, support for it dropped drastically. I thought to myself, surely a controversial bill could not pass with 52 per cent of Canadians opposing it and only 33 per cent supporting it. However, as it happens on occasion, my idealized sense of democracy was defeated by the cold reality of politics.

It is amazing that this vote happened a mere day after Canada's most right leaning province elected an NDP government. Clearly the federal Conservatives failed to learn from the mistakes of their provincial cohorts. Ignoring the voices of your constituents is dangerous, especially in an election year. Bill C-51 will be a device election issue and one which I don't think will work in the current governments favour. I am almost certain that the Trudeau Liberal support of this legislation will also come back to haunt them dearly.

Let's build a Canada that we are proud of with a government that listens to its population. I want to live in a nation that is indeed "strong and free" and not scared and quiet.


What Liberals Would Change About Bill C-51
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