Bill C-51 committee hears monologues, but few questions
Government makes it clear it's not entertaining amendments to anti-terrorism legislation
A lot can be inferred as to someone's leanings on a particular topic by the questions they ask.
In the first hour of testimony at Thursday’s review of the government’s anti-terrorism bill, Conservative MPs posed only one question.
"Are you fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the streets?" Conservative MP Rick Norlock asked Carmen Cheung of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association — an echo of former public security minister Vic Toews’s "stand with us or with the child pornographers" statement.
- Bill C-51 hearings: Diane Ablonczy's questions to Muslim group 'McCarthyesque'
- Bill C-51: Blaney, MacKay questioned on anti-terror bill fine print
- Bill C-51: Privacy watchdog blocked from committee witness list
- Proposed new CSIS powers a 'constitutional mess', ex-watchdog warns
Under committee rules for these sessions, government MPs are afforded half of the estimated time for questions — divided into two seven-minute segments.
The exercise is designed and meant to have a small number of MPs with knowledge of the subject matter hear expert testimony on the nuances and potential lapses of a particular piece of proposed legislation.
They then report back to the House of Commons with suggestions as to how to improve the bill.
It rarely goes that way — more often than not it becomes a committee of monologues.
Norlock was up first. He opened by referring to the BCCLA’s website as "long-rambling" before proceeding with a nearly 5½-minute preamble to his only question.
Roxanne James, the parliamentary secretary to the current public safety minister, and fellow MP LaVar Payne divided the government’s second segment.
No more questions
James said she wanted to use her time to "correct some of the misconceptions I’ve heard so far."
She then restated the government’s positions on various aspects of the bill without asking anything of those present.
Do you think it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure its citizens are safe from terrorism?— Ted Falk, Conservative MP
Payne picked up where James left off and almost asked a question when he wondered aloud to the witnesses "if you consider yourself to be a national security threat and if you understand the definition won’t apply to you as long as you don’t commit any of these terrorist activities?"
Alas, it ended up being a rhetorical question, since Payne had used up the last of the committee’s time for the session and committee chair Daryl Kramp called it to a close before anyone could respond.
Between the two Conservative soliloquies, Megan Leslie was up for the NDP. In her time, she asked Greenpeace how Bill C-51 compares with other countries' laws when it comes to handling protests.
She also wanted to know whether the group felt the law was designed to provide a "chill" on protests by dangling the label of "threat to national security" in front of anyone who "interferes with … the economic or financial stability of Canada" or causes "interference with critical infrastructure."
Could that mean strikers who shut down a port, or protesters who block construction of a pipeline in their community?
They're questions to which Leslie likely already knew the answers.
Wayne Easter, the lone Liberal MP on the committee, was left to complain he had not been afforded a question in the entire hour.
The NDP suggested it was because three witnesses are too many to hear from at once.
James countered it is standard practice and suggested they should "reduce the opening remarks" by witnesses so MPs could have more time to speak.
Astonishing, when you think about it.
For the second hour, Kramp did ask the next witnesses to keep the opening statements short — and also reduced the amount of time each MP had to ask their "questions."
It seemed to have little effect.
Conservatives quadrupled their question count in the second hour to four — including asking human rights lawyer Paul Champ if he believed Canada had experienced a terrorist attack.
When Champ replied with a to-the-point "yes," Conservative MP Ted Falk's followup question was: "Do you think it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure its citizens are safe from terrorism?"
Opponents of C-51 also don't like terrorists
Since the questions were asked, it should be noted that none of the witnesses — all of whom have criticisms about Bill C-51 — said they believe terrorists should roam the streets freely without being bothered by the government.
A position the Conservative MPs also likely already knew.
Opposition MPs are still demanding to hear from far more than the 48 witnesses the government is so far allowing. But it seems clear that would not make much of a difference.
Bill C-51 will be reported back to the House of Commons without any significant amendments from this committee.
The witnesses so far seem to have either been preaching to the choir on one side of the room, or to the walls on the other.