Candidates Debate Bill C-51
Prince George, B.C. – There was a strong show of public interest in what the candidates in the two Prince George region ridings had to say about Bill C-51 and the rights of Canadians Wednesday night. Enough interest in fact that the all candidates meeting, organized by the Stand Up for the North Committee, was moved from its original classroom venue into the larger Gathering Place area at CNC.
All of the candidates from both Cariboo-Prince George and Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies were invited to discuss a bill which the Conservatives describe as anti-terrorism legislation but which has been opposed by four former Canadian Prime Ministers including one Conservative, seven former solicitors general and ministers of justice, three former members of the intelligence review committee, two former privacy commissioners, a host of legal advocates, environmental groups and 60 Canadian business leaders, as well as a majority of Canadians.
The PG-Peace River-Northern Rockies candidates taking part were, in alphabetical order, Barry Blackman (Progressive Canadian), Kathi Dickie (NDP), Matt Shaw (Liberal) and Bob Zimmer (Conservative). Elizabeth Biggar of the Green Party and Todd Keller, Libertarian, did not attend.
Cariboo-Prince George candidates attending were Tracy Calogheros (Liberal), Sheldon Clare (Independent), Adam De Kroon (Christian Heritage), Richard Jaques (Green) and Trent Derrick (NDP). Moderator Vivian Lougheed informed the crowd that Conservative Todd Doherty sent word that he was unable to attend, which elicited a loud chorus of boos from the audience.
Bob Zimmer told the crowd that Bill C-51 was introduced because the attack on Parliament Hill last October showed that “in some cases security couldn’t talk to each other and they should have been able to.” He says that was really the impetus behind the bill.
Matt Shaw asked whether the government is working for us or is it seeking to take more control. He says there is a distinct pattern when a government tries to control its citizens: invoke a terrifying threat, show contempt for the press and then “set up an internal surveillance system to start spying on its citizens.” Shaw believes that is what Bill C-51 is about.
Richard Jaques read out the definition of terrorism and said “now this ongoing Conservative fear mongering, I’ll call it what it is, this jihadist war we’re apparently fighting, Mr Harper says the jihadi terrorist is one of the most dangerous enemies the world has ever faced. No Mr. Harper, you’re one of the most dangerous things we’ve faced.”
Kathi Dickie says communities are in distress and there are so many important issues we should be talking about such as the boom-bust cycle, health care, unemployment, overcrowded classrooms. She believes Bill C-51 and supposedly-relevant questions about women wearing niqabs “is all just to distract, divide and conquer, using fear, mistrust, focusing on differences and then making us afraid of each other so we don’t trust each other. And also curtail opinions that they see as threatening.” She noted federal scientists who have been forbidden from speaking publicly and taking part in critical discussion.
Trent Derrick says democratic ideals are under attack by the fear tactics employed by Harper and the Conservatives and says the NDP will bring strength back to families and involve all Canadians in discussions build the economy and strengthen the country.
Adam De Kroon says Bill C-51 takes away individual liberties “and I think we have embarked on a slippery slope the last four years with the Conservative government in regards to privacy.” He says under this government “we’ve been giving up essential liberty under the guise of security.” He says there are several contentious bills which have been passed in secrecy.
Sheldon Clare says “I have significant concerns about Bill C-51, particularly giving CSIS powers to detain which in my view is a law enforcement division, and I do not believe that law enforcement division should be in the purview of an intelligence-gathering agency. He also says the “number of people detained on terrorism charges since 2001 is extremely low, and they were caught not because of this new kind of legislation but by good old-fashioned gumshoe police work. He says what’s needed is for the RCMP to have their funding re-stored so they can do the job properly.
Tracy Calogheros says this election is about trust, and that trust is under threat because the country is becoming something foreign. “The divisive politics, the pitting one Canadian against another Canadian, not trusting our neighbours, not trusting each other, not trusting ourselves, not trusting our government. That’s the scary part about a lot of this discussion around personal rights and freedoms.”
“Pretty well everyone at this table will agree that Bill C-51 is a dangerous piece of legislation. There may be bits and pieces in it that will strengthen something in particular……but the piece of legislation, when you combine it with the behavior of the government and with the behavior of the individual running the government, it makes it a scary piece of paper.”
Barry Blackman says “all of these bills that we’re talking about today, these are all untested theories. The Patriot Act down south is gone, but now we get our own version in the north. It doesn’t make sense.” He says we have a constitution which is meant to guide the people and provide the rule of law.
A member of the audience wanted to know who was going to stand for their constituents before their party in Ottawa. Sheldon Clare says he wants to see more parliamentary oversight and balance the needs of his constituents with the needs of the country. Bob Zimmer says “I value our liberty as much as you do, honestly.” He says a portion of Bill C-51 dealing with what constitutes terrorism says for greater certainty “does not include advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression. It explicitly says that in the bill.”
Matt Shaw noted that “CSIS actually had spies going to an all-native basketball tournament in Prince Rupert and circulating amongst the general population. Not only that, they went to a church basement where much older ladies were making some protest signs. They were circulating amongst those ladies and sharing that information with Enbridge. Now this is alarming stuff.” “So to answer your question, will I step up to bat? Absolutely, and I will do anything to get rid of this kind of stuff because that is absolutely not the kind of country we want to live in.”
On the Fair Elections Act and tougher identification and vouching regulations two questions were posed by an audience member: Are you in favor of restoring the pre-2011 voter I.D. regulations, and are you in favor of restoring the power of Elections Canada as an independent office with investigative powers?
Trent Derrick says restoring democracy is part of the NDP platform and restoration of both the ID regulations and the independence of Elections Canada receive his support.
Adam De Kroon says he dislikes the removal of the ability to vouch for other voters and says it’s important to balance voter I.D. verification with a freedom to vote easily and conveniently.
Richard Jaques says the act got rid of vouching other than for one person only. He says “Elections Canada should have a mandate to promote voting. We should be out there teaching people how to vote, where to vote, when to vote, period.”
Some candidates were asked what they will do to scrap Bill C-51 and protect the citizens of Canada. Tracy Calogheros says there has been a lack of leadership and Bill C-51 is not legislation that is going to help us. She says there will be changes to the bill which is now on the books and adds there has to be transparent, fact-based discussion. Trent Derrick says NDP leader Tom Mulcair will be meeting with provincial and municipal leaders and a regular basis to discuss the issues. He also says review will be conducted on Bill C-51 and the TPP deal.
Bob Zimmer pointed to the Constitution and said “all the laws we make are all backstopped by this.”
Varying thoughts, pro and con, were offered by audience members who rose to the microphones during the discussion. Someone asked why any law-abiding person would have anything to fear in Bill C-51, another said the language is broad and vague and could be misused by any government of any stripe. Another said CSIS will be able to break Canadian law and employ dirty tricks against Canadians. Matt Shaw question why we need a special parallel law for different groups of people.
Three candidates were asked whether they would lobby their party to repeal C-51. Tracy Calogheros said yes, as did Trent Derrick. Bob Zimmer said no.
The next debate in the run-up to the October 19th election goes tonight at 7 at UNBC’s Canfor Theatre.