Security and civil liberties

Why have calls to scrap Bill C-51 disappeared from the media?

Liberal Minister Ralph Goodale is getting an easy ride as he moves the goalposts on Harper’s draconian legislation
Photo: Justin Trudeau

Ralph Goodale is the Mr. Perfect of Canadian politics. I’m convinced that Justin Trudeau, Mr. Perfect’s much younger and prettier boss, would love to make lots of male and even female copies of the Public Safety Minister on a 3D printer. Well, it is 2016, isn’t it?

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Ralph is Mr. Perfect largely because he has mastered the art of bureaucratic-speak which means spouting meaningless, but serious-sounding bromides in a scrum with a polished, earnest expression that suggests he possesses the kind of unmistakable gravitas that’s in desperately short supply in Ottawa these days.

Since Mr. Perfect has mastered that art of spouting meaningless bromides, he rarely gets himself or the Liberal governments he has faithfully served for so many years in much, if any, trouble.

The establishment press likes Mr. Perfect a lot because he’s apparently a decent chap, plus all of the above. I’m sure that every one of Ralph’s gooey, laudatory press clippings has been safely tucked away in what surely must be his bulging “Mr. Perfect in the Media” 2015-16 scrapbook, Volumes 1 to 3.

This is slightly puzzling because as far as I can gather from my admittedly distant perch in Toronto, Mr. Perfect hasn’t really accomplished much, beyond saying over and over again that he’s been busy accomplishing stuff.

Still, here’s Mr. Perfect loudly tooting his own horn in a recent “column” for the Huffington Post.

Ralph’s latest offering reads like a dry, lifeless grocery list or a state-cleansed press release — take your pick — masquerading as a column about how he intends to supposedly “fix Canada’s national security framework” practically all by himself. Gee, Ralph isn’t just perfect, he’s the superman of federal cabinet ministers.

Ralph begins his ode to Ralph with the kind of stale rhetoric that every other Public Safety Minister before him — Conservative or Liberal — has trotted out about the necessity to keep Canada “safe,” while “safeguarding” our rights and freedoms.

In times of a “national crisis” — real or phantom — establishment politicians and the establishment press work hand in glove to kindle a sense of fear and vulnerability.

With that predictable business promptly out of the way, Ralph briefly revisits the “painful aftermath of the October, 2014 events when Canadians…shared in the grief of those sorry days. We leaned on each other, on all sides.”

Ralph is, of course, referring to the mass hysteria that was stoked by a spectrum of politicians and much of the callow, flag-waving corporate media after one disturbed man with one gun murdered an innocent man on Parliament Hill and bull rushed Centre Block.

In times of a “national crisis” — real or phantom — establishment politicians and the establishment press work hand in glove to kindle a sense of fear and vulnerability that sets the political, social and psychological framework that inevitably leads to so-called “anti-terror” legislation like Bill C-51.

Not surprisingly, Ralph’s rank historical revisionism allows him to absolve the Liberal Party of Canada for the undeniable role it and it’s craven, boy-wonder leader, played in doing precisely that in the aftermath of the tragic events of October, 2014.

Instead, Ralph scolds the Harper government for introducing the bill “unilaterally.” Mysteriously, Ralph fails to note that he, his boss and most of the then Liberal caucus fell right in behind Harper and voted in favour of C-51 — without the government having adopted a single amendment — a bill that he now claims that “Canadians found seriously defective.” My goodness.

“Defective”? How’s that for a weaselly, bureaucratic euphemism. Newsflash, Mr. Perfect: Millions of Canadians don’t think C-51 is simply “defective.” No, like me, scores of Canadians believe that C-51 is a Charter of Rights and Freedoms-sapping abomination that needs to be scrapped. But you aren’t going to do that, are you, Mr. Perfect? (More on this later.)

Given the fact that Ralph conveniently forgot to mention it in his “column,” it’s also important to recall the intellectually insipid, breathtakingly parochial rational Trudeau Jr. proffered to “reluctantly” vote in favour of C-51.

Trudeau Jr. said that he intended to support C-51 not so much because it would “protect” Canadians from the latest iteration of the world’s worst terrorist outfit, but because he was reluctant to “expose his national security flank” during the last election.

The Liberals' version of the post 9/11 Patriot Act allowed for “secret” trials, “preemptive” arrests and detention of terror suspects for questioning without a lawyer present.

In other, simpler words, Trudeau Jr. didn’t want to risk becoming Prime Minister, so he was ready to vote for a bill written by Darth Harper that much more learned people than him or I believe grievously undermines the national interest, rather than defending it. Now, isn’t that the definition of principled leadership?

Ralph is so blinded by his revisionism that he can’t even seem to remember that long before he and his colleagues voted almost unanimously to support C-51, his former cabinet chums and fellow media darlings, Anne McLellan and Irwin Cotler, were party to drafting what was arguably the draconian legislative precursor to C-51, Bill C-36, way back in 2001.

The Liberals' version of the post 9/11 Patriot Act allowed for “secret” trials, “preemptive” arrests and detention of terror suspects for questioning without a lawyer present, and it gave this nation’s vast, unaccountable security-intelligence infrastructure a lot more money and surveillance powers.

You won’t find a word of any of that well-documented history in Ralph’s turgid column. True to form, Ralph serves up more banalities about he plans to make “key changes” to C-51 after extensive “public consultations.” Yeah, right.

The powerful, deeply entrenched institutional voices inside Canada’s sprawling, cobweb connection of security and intelligence services, agencies, departments — some of whom are already publicly cautioning against substantive changes to C-51 and any additional “scrutiny” of their work — will ultimately trump the profound concerns raised by you, me or anyone else at what will amount to ‘show’ hearings.

In any event, Mr. Perfect, along with his government, have successfully moved the goalposts around the public discourse concerning C-51. There’s little mention anymore or anywhere — outside independent media sites — about junking the bill, despite the impressive scale and breadth of opposition to C51 that continues to universally demand that it be repealed, not just amended.

In the prevailing and, no doubt, agreeable climate, Ralph is likely confident that he can make a few cosmetic changes to C-51 as a sop to appease the bill’s “naïve critics,” while keeping the core of this dangerous bill intact without triggering much blowback.

Finally, and perhaps most disingenuously, Ralph pats us all on the head — figuratively, speaking — and says, in effect, that we shouldn’t fret about the ‘new and improved’ C-51 because the ‘new and improved’ Liberals will finally establish a parliamentary “mechanism” of checks and balances for this nation’s spooks.

I’m not buying Mr. Perfect’s oh so carefully worded chicanery, and neither should you. Here’s why.

During the last election campaign, the Liberals promised to create a parliamentary committee to “monitor and oversee” the litany of government bodies that make up what Ralph describes as the security and intelligence “architecture,” including, most prominently, CSIS and CSE, Canada’s civilian and electronic espionage agencies, respectively.

The “monitor and oversee” language is critical, because it implies that Ralph and company planned to move away from the existing “review” model of keeping watch over the watchers, where limp, underfunded, understaffed and somnolent review outfits like the Security Intelligence Review Committee keep tabs from time to time on CSIS only after the fact or if someone files a complaint about the spy service’s conduct.

The use of “monitor and oversee” in Liberal campaign bumph clearly implied that Ralph and friends were going to empower the soon to be revealed parliamentary committee to possibly act as an oversight agency over the security-intelligence architecture’s day-to-day operations.

However, in his column and during his lengthy testimony before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on May 30, 2016, Ralph drops “monitor and oversee” and replaces it with “scrutinize and review.” That wasn’t an accident.

Pressed on this seminal distinction between “oversight” and “review” by senators, Ralph repeated again and again like a metronome that the proposed parliamentary committee’s principal function will be limited to “scrutinize and review” what our spooks are up to in the amorphous name of national security.

Make no mistake, that’s a reassuring signal by this savvy, career politician to CSIS, CSE, and all the other cogs involved in the security-intelligence “architecture” that they can relax since the status quo is going to prevail and his spooks can continue to break the law and stomp on Canadians’ rights and freedoms with impunity.

To add injury to insult, does Ralph seriously expect us to believe that a solitary parliamentary committee, however constituted, will be able to watch over the thousands of ‘civil servants’ that populate the 19 federal agencies and departments involved in intelligence-gathering of one sort or another?

If Mr. Perfect actually believes that fiction, then he still must believe in tooth fairies and Santa Claus, too.

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