The Bill C-51 protests that took place across the country on March 14th in reaction to the Conservative government’s proposed anti-terrorism law could, on one hand, be easily dismissed as a vocal response by an extreme few who don’t represent the majority of Canadians.
We saw a similar reaction to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s omnibus budget bill in 2012 and while nothing could deter the government from flexing its majority muscle and pushing through the infamous Bill C-38 at the time, it did get people talking.
Which, at the very least, is what Saturday’s protests will achieve. Bill C-51, another sweeping legislation proposed by the Harper government, this time in the name of fighting terrorism, had protesters carrying signs warning of “Big Brother,” and speaking about the potential loss of civil liberties.
In a world made increasingly smaller and less private by the Internet with more government control being legislated, any thinking member of a democracy will want to hear a lot of debate on any proposed laws that give police more power over the public, and the government more power over freedom of expression. Had Harper not taken such a strong stance against anti-pipeline environmentalists, the public outcry would have likely be less (and had Harper had stricter laws on oil sands emissions, Obama would likely have supported Keystone, but that’s another story). Now, with Canadian activists feeling themselves labelled as terrorists, they’re taking this particular bill personally, and discussion on the true threat the bill is attempting to address is being lost. Reports in recent weeks of ISIS recruiting Canadians and sending them overseas, or of the Surrey couple accused of a Canada Day bomb plot, or of the shooting at Parliament Hill, reveal that Canada is not immune to terrorist violence. But if the government defines “terrorism” as any movement that opposes its political agenda, then there is definitely something to be alarmed about.