When we see online memes saying that a Canadian is more likely to die from an interaction with a moose than a terrorist, we can justifiably relax and even admire the characteristics of a country where a gangly antlered mammal is more to be feared than the kind of ideological threats rampant around the world.
The moose meme is part of a campaign that views the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as fear-mongering, trying to drive voters back to the Conservative party lest more “soft on terrorism” parties come to power in this fall’s election. The Conservatives’ weapon at hand is Bill C-51, which is seen by critics as a bludgeon against a mosquito.
It may be true that in the history of our country moose have been more deadly than terrorists, but times change. Moose are not mobilizing globally to attack civilians across the West. Vigilance tempered by pragmatism would seem to be in the Canadian tradition.
The difficulty of balancing overreaction with being prepared has been most evident in the mixed reaction to Bill C-51 from Canada’s opposition parties. Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats voted against the bill; Justin Trudeau’s Liberals voted for it but Trudeau said he would make changes to the law if he forms government.
Canada has blessedly not suffered the magnitude of terrorist or hate-motivated violence seen in Europe recently, including the brutal Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cache attacks. But we have seen so-called “lone wolf” violence in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where warrant officer Patrice Vincent was killed and another Canadian Forces personnel was injured, and in Ottawa, where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was killed while standing guard at the War Memorial.
Barring a stunning reversal in a Conservative-dominated Senate, Bill C-51 will become law in the coming weeks. The legislation will make it easier for government departments to share information about Canadians across jurisdictional silos. It will also give police new powers to “preventatively” detain or restrict individuals who are suspected of plotting a terrorist act. It bans the “promotion of terrorism,” gives the public safety minister the right to add people to the country’s “no-fly list” and increases the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
CSIS is Canada’s spy agency and until now has had a role limited to observation. C-51 would expand that role to something called “disruptive” powers, allowing agents to act more directly in ways that are not fully spelled out.
Critics also fear a loss of individual privacy as, for example, tax information that is now secluded in the Canada Revenue Agency could be shared with other government departments.
These concerns are justified, particularly those that increase the powers of CSIS, which has been criticized for lacking adequate civilian oversight.
Some Canadian Jews, including the recently deceased Alan Borovoy, have been among Canada’s greatest civil libertarians and bulwarks against government overreach in individual lives. With a history deeply affected by totalitarian governments, some in our community may have a special sensitivity to legislation that threatens to impinge on individual rights. Because this is not an exact science, it will always be a matter for disagreement, with some arguing that security legislation goes too far and others declaring it absolutely necessary.
At the same time, though, terrorist attacks and hate crimes in Europe have been disproportionately directed toward Jewish people and institutions. Statistics on hate crime incidents in Canada also indicate that Jewish people and institutions are vulnerable to acts of hate in numbers disproportionate to population.
Most Canadians may be more vulnerable to a moose than a terrorist, but Jewish Canadians understand that terrorism needs to be taken seriously. Of course, so do civil liberties.
Canadians across the country will rally against Bill C-51 Saturday. Even so, it will almost certainly become law. When it does, concerned Canadians should pressure the government to improve civilian oversight of our spy agency, which is perhaps the most crucial measure needed to ensure the law does not lead to lawlessness by government officials.
We should also strengthen public vigilance by supporting organizations that monitor and measure government intrusions into private spheres, such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
And we should do all we can to ensure that Canada remains a place that is both safe from a collective standpoint – and secure in terms of our individual liberties.