Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Canada's Insecurity

In recent weeks two pieces of legislation have moved their way through the House of Commons in Ottawa. The first was to reform the organization of security on Parliament Hill. The second seeks to increase the powers of our police/security forces.

For centuries the House of Commons in the United Kingdom jealously projected its security as a separate, independent entity from the government. Each house in the parliament commanded its own security detail, answering to the Speaker. But for reasons of 'improving' security the RCMP will now be taking the lead on Parliament Hill. Why is this an issue? Well, first, there's that old tricky thing about parliament. The RCMP is accountable to the government and the Prime Minister. In centuries past the executive (or king) was moved away from the security of the legislature in order to protect it. Perhaps it is an outdated and meaningless holdover from another time, but I believe it matters for symbolism and the supremacy of Parliament if nothing else. Second, in the wake of the October tragedy in Ottawa not a single group has reported with its findings or recommendations. Experts have yet to formally instruct the public how to best proceed with security of our national capital. Third, after an embarrassingly short debate in the House of Commons this legislation was passed. The government moved time allocation, because heaven forbid the Commons extensively debate a matter such as this.

And then there's Bill C-51. Insert heavy sigh here. The bill has recently passed second reading. I think it's fair to say that the proposed legislation has draconian measures to allegedly improve our national security. The new law, when passed, will allow the government to intervene and arrest people who express support online for groups such as the Islamic State/ISIS. Furthermore the law will increase the powers of police and security forces more generally and provide no additional oversight. Of course there is no evidence that additional powers are needed. The state will always find justifications to expand its own powers against its own citizenry. Clawing those powers back always seems much more difficult, which is why they should not be lightly bestowed.

Politically our Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have been playing rather fast and loose with the identification of our 'enemies'. I have no doubt that Islamic State and its supporters wish Canada harm, but the broad brush the government has been applying feeling increasing Islamophobic. I was relieved when much of the heated rhetoric on Islam never really surfaced in Canada in the wake of 9/11. It seems that we may have been devoid at that time of a political class willing to stigmatize an entire religious group at that time. It all makes me deeply uncomfortable.

What the federal government does not seem to understand is that religious extremism will never be defeated through a more strenuous, prying state. These movements and the threat of domestic terror will be curtailed through pluralism, tolerance and an open society, not to mention proper supports for mental health and a measured police effort. The more people feel more like outsiders in their own home the more likely festering resentments will grow. The thing we must always be mindful of is that one day these new powers could be turned against others and that is the ultimate reason to stand for the freedoms of others, it guards your freedoms too.

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