Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says his caucus will vote in favour of a bill to vastly increase the powers of Canada's spy agency — with or without the improved oversight civil rights experts are calling for.
The announcement, made Wednesday afternoon, seems particularly odd because the bill includes a measure that would let the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) apply for a warrant to ignore the charter. The charter is indelibly linked to Trudeau, as it was written and enacted under the Liberal government headed by his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
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Trudeau said he wants to see the bill changed to include better oversight for CSIS and regular reviews of its measures. But, he said, his party will vote for Bill C-51 even without amendments.
"This bill can be improved. But on the whole it does include measures that help keep Canadians safe," Trudeau said.
"Matters of national security should be beyond partisanship."
Later Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice promised more funding is coming for CSIS and the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
"Specifically in C-51, more resources are going to be made available to security forces," Bob Dechert said on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
"The minister of finance will give you the number on how much it will be, but more resources will be made available to make Canadians safer, that much is clear."
Asked to clarify, Dechert said he believes there will be money in the upcoming budget.
MacKay used to favour MP oversight
Trudeau said the Liberals will present amendments when C-51 reaches the committee stage, and that he hopes the government rises above partisanship in discussions of the proposed measures.
He also said his party welcomes the changes that lower the threshold of evidence needed for preventive arrests, strengthen no-fly lists and allow greater information sharing between federal departments and agencies.
But, he said, if the Conservatives don't accept that Canadians want changes to the bill, the election is coming.
"The current government can accept that Canadians want greater oversight and accountability, or it will give us the opportunity to offer that to Canadians in the upcoming election campaign," Trudeau said.
Earlier this week, Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter pointed out that Justice Minister Peter MacKay was among the MPs who 10 years ago voted in favour of creating a parliamentary committee to oversee CSIS.
MacKay now says things have changed. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in question period Wednesday that SIRC, in reporting that CSIS won't hand over information, was showing it was an effective watchdog.
Concerns about abuse of powers
Trudeau invoked the party's name in explaining his position on the bill.
"I'm a Liberal. I believe that when a government asks its citizens to give up even a small portion of their liberty, it is that government's highest responsibility to guarantee that its new powers will not be abused," he said.
Asked whether the decision was a tactic so the Conservatives can't use security as a wedge issue against the Liberals in this year's election, Trudeau said that view doesn't do justice to the concerns of Canadians.
He also said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair did nothing for the debate when he accused Harper of leaning toward Islamophobia.
"Making a broad political point, as both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Harper seem to be doubling down on a little bit, I don’t think is helpful," Trudeau said.
"I think we need to recognize that positive and strong relations with the Muslim community across Canada, pushing back against these people who are using a deformation of Islam to justify their heinous acts, is something we can all agree is wrong."