Academics, digital rights activists and the sister of slain soldier Patrice Vincent took centre stage at the House public safety committee on Monday night as MPs resumed their review of the government's proposed anti-terror bill.

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Justice Minister Peter MacKay, left, suggests non-violent protests wouldn't fall under the broad definition of terrorism included in his government's proposed legislation, Bill C-51, despite questions raised by legal experts and critics of the bill. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Louise Vincent, sister of Vincent, the soldier killed by Martin Couture-Rouleau last fall, urged MPs to give law enforcement and government agencies more freedom to share information.

She noted the RCMP hadn't been able to get a peace bond against Couture owing to the high evidence threshold. She also suggested that, under the new laws, Couture's family and friends might have been able to warn police and prepare more material for the RCMP that would have allowed a warrant to be granted

If that had happened, she said, "my brother would not be dead today."

"Patrice Vincent must not have died in vain," she told the committee. "We need this."

OpenMedia president Steve Anderson came to committee bearing a petition signed by more than 100,000 Canadians who, he said, agree that the bill is "reckless and dangerous."

He pointed to the enhanced information sharing it would allow, which, he suggested, could result in law-abiding Canadians having their personal data trafficked among as many as 17 departments and agencies.

Anderson also cautioned MPs that "careless drafting" could ultimately hinder police investigations, thus making Canadians less safe.

Threats 'are real'

Neda Topaloski

After her topless protest against the government's proposed anti-terror bill, Neda Topaloski was taken out of the public gallery by security and ticketed for public indecency by the RCMP. She was also banned from the Hill precinct for a year. (CBC)

The committee also heard a dire warning from Simon Fraser University professor Gareth Davies, who told MPs that, while he isn't a lawyer, he has spent years studying terrorism.

"The threats to Canadian lives are real," he said, as he outlined the changing risks, from effectively "meaningless" borders to the phenomenon of self-radicalized "lone wolf" attackers.

"It has changed the context of terrorism and our conversation around it, and we need to modernize our thinking," he told the committee — and he sees the bill as a necessary part of a "larger process" that recognizes those new dynamics.

He predicted that the next attack "will likely not involve storming Parliament," but something else entirely.

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Demonstrators protest at a national day of action against Bill C-51 in Toronto March 14. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The committee also heard from Connie Fournier, founder of the "principled conservative" website FreeDominion.ca, who appeared alongside Anderson and Canadian Civil Liberties Association executive director Sukanya Pillay as representatives of the Protect Our Privacy coalition.

The National Firearms Association was originally slated to appear as part of the Protect Our Privacy Coalition, but pulled out late last week.

During the question-and-answer session, Fournier called on Conservative MPs to heed the same concerns that had led the party to vote unanimously in favour of repealing the "hate speech" provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2012.

Like that section, she said, the bill before the committee is "broad and vaguely worded," with even the word "terrorist" not defined, and lacks due process, as the court proceedings would take place ex parte and in camera.

Even the two witnesses most supportive of the bill — Davies and University of Western Ontario professor Salim Mansur — had no objections to Liberal MP Wayne Easter's proposal that the bill be amended to remove the word "lawful" from the section exempting some protests from being targeted by the new provisions.

Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal also appeared before the committee to urge the government to consider increasing the oversight powers. 

Non-violent protests won't be targeted: MacKay

Earlier in the day, Justice Minister Peter MacKay suggested non-violent protests wouldn't fall under the broad definition of terrorism included in his government's proposed legislation, Bill C-51, despite questions raised by legal experts and critics of the bill.

The legislation would give sweeping new powers to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) without increasing oversight for Canadian spies. The government argues judges would have to sign off on certain activities, but the bill would let CSIS itself decide when it needed a judge's permission to breach someone's charter rights.

The bill would allow scrutiny and disruptive measures be taken against anyone participating in a range of activities, including unlawful protests. That could include any protest that is peaceful but breaks municipal bylaws, or provincial or federal laws.

MacKay, however, said protesters needn't worry.

"They will continue to have that ability to do so as long as it is peaceful. As long as there is no acts of violence. As long as there is no attempts to create a situation where people would be harmed or critical infrastructure would be harmed," MacKay said at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday.

"Let's speak practically ... if they're not burning police cars or blowing up critical infrastructure, this is not going to be criminalized. If it's simply holding a sign, chanting, starting a petition or protesting, and it is peaceful, it is the type of protest that we are seeing frankly in some communities with the response to C-51, that will of course continue and be perfectly permissible under Canadian law."

Asked specifically about blockades, MacKay wouldn't say whether those would be considered to be harming critical infrastructure.

"There's all sorts of scenarios, it's going to depend on the specifics of the circumstances," he said.

Protester bares breasts in House

MacKay wasn't the only person trying to make news on Bill C-51 Monday morning.

A woman seated in the House of Commons gallery managed to put the government's proposed anti-terror legislation back in the parliamentary spotlight, albeit briefly, when she interrupted the proceedings to raise her voice — and bare her breasts — to protest the bill.

"Seconds ago, tattooed, bare-breasted young #C51 protester in #HoC grabbed and removed by security," Liberal MP Joyce Murray tweeted moments after the interruption took place.

The protest was loud enough to be heard on the feed, however, with the woman yelling that C-51 is a "war on freedom."

FEMEN, a radical feminist protest group, claimed credit for the disruption and identified the protester as one of its members, Neda Topaloski. She was taken out of the public gallery by House security and ticketed for public indecency by the RCMP.

Later in the day, House Speaker Andrew Scheer cleared the way for the committee to continue its study by ruling against a point of order raised by the New Democrats over the heavy-handed tactics employed by the government to cut off debate during the debate process earlier this month.

In his ruling, Scheer noted that past rulings have made it clear that a Speaker cannot intervene in committee disputes unless and until that committee formally reports the matter back to the House. Under current committee structure, that would require the support of at least one Conservative MP.