New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair was joined by two former British Columbia provincial court judges turned future NDP candidates as he renewed his campaign to stop the government's sweeping proposed anti-terrorism legislation on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
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The NDP leader reiterated his opposition to what his party describes as "Stephen Harper's dangerous and controversial Bill C-51" at a news conference in Robson Square, just steps from where hundreds of protesters gathered last weekend as part of the cross-country "day of action" against the bill.
Mulcair was flanked by former provincial court judges Carol Baird Ellan and Bill Sundhu, who are both slated to run for the NDP in the next federal election.
Pointing to what he described as a "groundswell" of opposition to C-51, Mulcair recalled that when the bill was first introduced, "it was supposed to be an unfair fight."
Since then, however, "the tide has started to change," he said, pointing to recent polls that have suggested public support for the bill may be dropping.
Both Baird Ellan and Sundhu spoke out in support of the NDP's position on the bill.
"I couldn’t just stay on the sidelines anymore," Baird Ellan told reporters.
"During my career as a judge, I presided over many difficult cases, and I always made sure that anyone with something to say was able to say it. "
This "fundamental principle of Canadian justice" is threatened by Bill C-51, she said.
Sundhu, who currently works as a human rights lawyer, called the proposed new laws "fundamentally flawed."
He also accused the government of putting forward a "fake choice" that suggested Canadians would have to choose between "fundamental freedoms" and security.
"This is not a real choice," he said. "We can have both."
When asked whether an NDP government would amend or scrap the bill, Mulcair was categorical.
"We would get rid of every offending provision of Bill C-51, that's for sure."
Committee study resumes next week
The bill will likely be back in the political spotlight when MPs return to Ottawa next week.
The House public safety committee is currently reviewing the legislation, and is expected to meet twice daily until next Friday in order to hear from more than 50 expert witnesses.
Among the witnesses scheduled to appear before the committee on Monday night:
- Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, who has called for greater parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies.
- Louise Vincent, sister of slain soldier Patrice Vincent.
- Protect Our Privacy Coalition members Stephen Anderson (OpenMedia) and Solomon Friedman (Canada's National Firearms Association).
- University of Western Ontario political science professor Salim Mansur.
- Royal Military College associate dean Christian Leuprecht.
During the press conference, Sundhu revealed that the Canadian Bar Association, which he assisted in drafting a submission on the bill, had not been invited to appear during next week's hearings.
Mulcair also reiterated that the New Democrats – the Official Opposition in the House of Commons – will vote against the bill when it returns to the House in April.
The federal Liberals, meanwhile, have indicated that they will continue to support it despite concerns over the failure to increase independent oversight.
"We are always a little bit surprised to hear Liberals across the country say they're opposed to the bill, but plan to vote for it," Mulcair observed.
"We have strong convictions … and you have to have the courage of those convictions."
Quebec worried by new CSIS powers
The proposal to expand the mandate of Canada's spy agency to monitor and "disrupt" potential extremist threats has also raised the official ire of the Quebec government.
Earlier this week, three provincial ministers sent a highly critical letter to their federal counterparts in which they laid out their concerns with the bill, particularly the "vast powers" the bill will give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
"It is worrisome that the bill gives CSIS such vast powers, including the possibility to take certain actions that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian law," the letter reads.
Additionally, the ministers say, more oversight is required to ensure the new CSIS powers are used only for their legally intended purpose.
The Quebec ministers also criticized Ottawa for not consulting with Quebec on the bill.
In response, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said he was "pleased to receive support from the Quebec government on the new measures aimed at ensuring public safety from violent extremism," and pledged to "continue to maintain a dialogue" with his provincial counterparts.