Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, much to my frustration, seems to be coated in the same Teflon as the country itself, our squeaky clean public relations obscuring our role in American torture programs and a smattering of other egregious human rights violations around the world. While it is true (and important) to acknowledge that these programs were engineered by our former Conservative government, the Liberals have been slow to remove them, including the notorious Conservative Bill C-51* which greatly enhanced domestic surveillance powers. Said powers had a chance to flex their new muscles in 2015 when they persecuted civil rights organizers for actions that were not their own.
Unfortunately, too many people seem to be getting distracted by the inane “we caught Trudeau topless!” puff pieces to notice. Conservatives peddled a stereotype of the average Liberal voter who claim to have selected him because “his hair is pretty.” I don’t have any data to corroborate exactly how true that perception is, but I do know that the Liberals have not been substantially different from the Conservatives on areas of government that matter to me, and that I have seldom underestimated the depths of human shallowness.
So, back to business: Once we scrape off the Teflon, what are the Liberals actually doing about the human and civil rights violations they’ve inherited? In a word–fuck all.
In opposition, the Liberals were being squeezed by this bill. C-51 was the Conservatives’ attempt to assert they were taking muscular measures against terror. It came after two attacks in 2014, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and on Parliament Hill, and not long before the 2015 election. The bill was initially very popular.
But gradually, a campaign developed against a bill that civil-liberties advocates labelled an overreach. The NDP said they’d repeal it. But the Liberals, worried about looking either soft on terror or too much like the Tories, said they’d vote for it, and repeal the “problematic” elements later. A dodge.
So when the Liberals took power, it appeared to be one of those things they’d have to address quickly. A significant chunk of the left-leaning voters that elected the Liberals saw it as one of those Harper-legacy items that had to be undone. But from day one, they delayed.
That turned out to be shrewd. Time cooled the angry politics around it. The protest organizers – who had argued that Bill C-51 gave authorities powers to violate rights, interpret protests as security threats, and collect and share too much information on Canadians activities – directed their energy to influencing the consultations.
(Hey, about that “interpret protests as security threats” thing…)
“While this consultation was taking place, that’s certainly, for example, where my organization was investing its energies,” said David Christopher, spokesman for OpenMedia, an organization that played a sizable role in drumming up the protests.
Now, Mr. Goodale can go forward in calmer waters. Some of the controversial elements of C-51 didn’t really become the focus of criticism during the consultations. C-51 gave CSIS ill-defined powers to disrupt threats, rather than just gather intelligence; in the consultations, people expressed concern about that, but it wasn’t clear what they wanted in its place.
However, the consultation did find people aren’t sanguine about the accumulation of electronic-surveillance powers by government: warrantless interception of metadata, sharing of information between government agencies. Canadians want those things controlled. But some of those Canadian intelligence agencies will be arguing they need latitude.
Read more about Liberal waffling and stalling here. And remember this for the next election: The Liberals are saying one thing and doing another.
*Not to be confused with the Liberal Bill C-51.
Edit, June 20 2017: I wrote this post a few days ago before this news came up. Everything above is irrelevant. Bill C-59 is ten steps in the wrong fucking direction. I take it back–Liberals are not “waffling” on civil rights–they’re actively expanding its violations.