Editorial: Bill C-51, Human Rights & Civil Liberties

The summer of 1970 wasn’t propagated by government, but by domestic terrorists

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Editorial: Bill C-51, Human Rights & Civil Liberties
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It was mid-August 1970, when my high school friend Eddie told me a secret that changed Canada. Back then, few of our Anglo-Montrealer crowd spoke French as well as Eddie. He spent his summers up in the Laurentians (les Laurentides) at his family’s summer home – what Ontarians call a cottage.

For most of the summer, Eddie hung out with his francophone friends up there. Now back home, we had been tossing around a football and stopped to take a break. He told me: “I was told a secret. I’m not supposed to tell anyone.” He had my attention. “There’s going to be a revolution this fall. The French guys up north were talking about it. The FLQ is going to try to overthrow the government and take over the broadcasting towers.”

I thought about it for a day. Then I asked my Dad. He said: it’s unlikely to happen and if Eddie knows, the RCMP and the government must already know. It turns out, they didn’t. Not two months later, Pierre Laporte was murdered and James Cross was kidnapped. Officers on Mount Royal defensively encircled transmission towers. Those of us on the ground in Montreal were grateful for the Trudeau Government’s War Measures Act.

But there were those voices, those nattering voices whining about civil liberties. Well, I love my civil liberties, too. Sometimes, you need strong medicine to protect those liberties. And that brings me to Bill C-51.

Unlike many with strong opinions, I’ve taken the time to read the proposed legislation. I’ve noted its flaws, some of them addressed by recent amendments. But on balance, it’s about government’s “job one.” The highest priority of a government is to keep its people safe. At the same time, that must be balanced against the need to protect individual rights against invasive and unlawful government activity.

This was addressed by Daryl Kramp, MP for the Ontario riding of Prince Edward-Hastings and member responsible for shepherding the bill through Parliament in a presentation at Oakville’ s River Oaks Community Centre, Saturday March 28. He was the guest of Ms. Effie Triantafilopoulos who is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in the newly created riding of Oakville North-Burlington.

To his credit, Kramp, a former law officer, dealt with the civil liberties issues head on. He told the gathering about the genesis of the legislation, that it had been contemplated for 18 months and had been constructed by what he called a “battery of lawyers” to protect – not limit – civil liberties. Kramp made the point that there is “no ‘over there’ anymore”: cyber-terrorists can reach us here, and the seeds of terrorism are here, in our native land. He described the hearings and the process whereby witnesses were selected by all parties to testify before committee.

He repudiated alarmists who have been saying that the new legislation will infringe on freedom to protest and assemble.

As I listened to his presentation, I realized that very few Canadians are aware of the circuitous process that legislation must pass through before it receives royal assent and becomes law. Few citizens understand how laws can be repealed or subjected to court challenges and modified or struck down accordingly. I have to wonder just how bad a job the schools are doing in teaching basic civics. People get up in arms about sex education, but I’ve yet to hear anyone complain that their kids can’t tell a divisional court from a superior court, or differentiate a first reading of legislation from a third. Democracy suffers.

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The legislation, as I understand it, permits law enforcement to keep up with cyber-terrorism and internet-based recruiters. It gives law enforcement the tools it needs to combat everything from ISIS recruiters on Twitter to the North Korean cybertechs who took down Sony. How? Well, for starters the walls between various police jurisdictions will come down. Local police, OPP, RCMP, CSIS will be able to share information instantaneously. For SciFi enthusiasts and people who read a lot of Philip K. Dick, this is scary. If you need an example of why the government is introducing this legislation, look no further than 9/11. The Clinton administration had reinforced the information-sharing firewall between the CIA and the FBI. It has been widely asserted that had they been permitted to share information, the hijackers who the CIA had been tracking at flight school in Arizona, would have been stopped before they started: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=129563

If job one is to keep us safe, I want law enforcement to have that authority.

To the civil liberties advocates, I say this: the greatest travesties and infringements on individual Canadian liberties in our lifetimes have occurred not from law enforcement but from those who were ostensibly trying to protect our human rights. In Oakville, we don’t have to look far.

Ted Kindos, the owner of Gator Ted’s Tap & Grill in Burlington was caught in a Kafkaesque squeeze play rundown between two agencies in something right out of Orwell or Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”.

A medical marijuana user insisted on smoking pot near the entrance of Ted’s. However, the LLBO threatened to remove Kindos’s license and fine him if he did allow the man to smoke marijuana at the entrance to his bar. When Kindos told the man he had to move a legal distance away from the entrance, the marijuana user went to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which took up his case. Kindos was then compelled to use his own funds to hire legal representation. Damned if he did. Damned if he didn’t. The future of his livelihood and business was hanging between a jurisdictional and legal fight made by government and its agencies. If he permitted the marijuana smoker at his entrance, he was at risk of being subject to fines of up to $250,000, together with the loss of its liquor licence. But if he didn’t permit it, he was compelled to pay for a legal defence and face potential liability before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Follow the link, the facts are all here.

After five years and significant expense, the matter finally ended. See here However, I never heard those nattering voices of civil liberties advocates coming to the aid of Mr. Kindos. A man losing his livelihood through no fault of his own, is nowhere near as attractive as the hint of a government conspiracy to secretly rob us of our freedoms via legislation.

Speaking of secrecy, the dark secret I encountered in the summer of 1970 wasn’t propagated by government, but by domestic terrorists bent on depriving all of us of our democracy.

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Readers Comments (1)

  1. Maps Onburt says:

    Great article with good context into the actual legislation versus the panic cries from the uniformed who haven’t actually read it. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

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