05/05/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 05/05/2016 05:59 EDT

Making Canadians Choose Between Safety and Privacy Is Wrong

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four surveillance camera to see all main points of the great metropolis

In what many have criticized as a cynical and desperate election ploy, the Harper government is forcing Canadians to choose between safety and privacy.

The trouble is that it is a false choice. Canadians must protect both.

The now notorious Bill C-51 -- Canada's new Anti-Terrorism Act -- was introduced at the end of January 2015 and set out to extend Canada's anti-terror laws in such a sweeping fashion that it could affect the democratic rights of every Canadian. This one bill would amend the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, Secure Air Travel Act, Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Criminal Code all in one fell swoop.

The mega-bill grants sweeping new powers to Canada's spy agency, allows Canadians to be arrested on mere suspicion of future criminal activity, allows the Minister of Public Safety to add Canadians to a "no-fly list" with illusory rights of judicial review, creates a new speech-related criminal offence of "promoting" or "advocating" terrorism and, perhaps most alarmingly, gives Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) the unprecedented new powers to intervene in peaceful advocacy, protest and dissent that may be deemed "unlawful."

The timing of the bill is no coincidence. With an October 19, 2015 deadline for a federal election looming overhead, the Harper Conservatives must be feeling particularly vulnerable over plummeting oil prices, a lagging Canadian dollar and a limping economy. Why wouldn't they? After all, they had banked our economic future on tapping the tar sands to cement Canada as a "global energy superpower" for decades to come. So, with his reputation as a sound economic manager in tatters, Harper has made a desperate move to change the political channel.

That's where Bill C-51 comes in. The murder of two Canadian soldiers and assault on the Parliament buildings in October 2014, as well as the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, are often cited by members of the government as justification for more police powers, but when considered against Harper's campaign against the niqab and religious Muslim face coverings, it is apparent that his agenda is much more cynical. Under the guise of national security, Bill C-51 seeks to exploit Canadian fears over threats of terrorism on home soil and taps into deep-seated racism in the hope that voters will forget about the Harper government's shortcomings on the economy.

If we allow ourselves to be ruled based on fear and hatred, we will undermine the values that are the cornerstone of our democracy. We must not allow Stephen Harper to demonize the Muslim community and transform the rest of us into a nation of suspects and self-censors. We will not allow an act of racism to divide our nation.

While early polling suggested that the public supported new anti-terror legislation, details of the bill have given all but the most fervent Conservatives pause for thought. Widespread public protest against the bill appears to be shifting the ground underneath Harper's feet. Nearly 100,000 protested in 70 cities across the country on March 14 and the sustained public attention to the bill has proven that the more people know about the bill, the more they disagree with it. Recent polling shows that among citizens aware of the controversial anti-terrorism bill, 50 per cent now disapprove of it, while just 38 percent approve. This lesson is fueling a growing movement to educate more of the population about the impact of the bill...and it spells disaster for Harper's re-election campaign.

Add your voice to the growing opposition to Bill C-51, sign this LeadNow letter to MPPs and Party Leaders.


What Liberals Would Change About Bill C-51