Monday, May 9, 2011

Omnibus Crime Bill: Coming Soon to a Country Near You

One of Harper's campaign promises was to push through an omnibus crime bill, within the first 100 days of his new mandate.

What he has done is simply lumped several law and order initiatives into one huge missive, making it a bit more difficult to critique.

He has blamed the Liberals for the necessity of this venture, but the fact is that many of these individual bills died when he prorogued Parliament for naked self interest.

But with no real opposition now, he needn't worry. The most aggressive shift to Canadian justice is upon us and we are powerless to stop it.

Of immediate concern, is Internet surveillance, which will move us closer to becoming a police state.

According to Michael Geist:
...the Conservatives new commitment to lawful access - new laws that would establish massive Internet surveillance requirements and the potential disclosure of personal information without court oversight - is incredibly problematic for the Internet, privacy, and online freedoms. It requires real debate yet seems likely to slip under the public radar ...

There are several concerns with the Conservatives lawful access plans. First, it bears noting that these bills have never received extensive debate on the floor of the House of Commons and never been the subject of committee hearings. Police officers may support the legislation, but there has never been an opportunity to question them on the need for such legislation or on their ability to use lawful access powers if the bills become law. Federal and provincial privacy commissioners have expressed deep concerns about these bills, yet they have never had the opportunity to air those concerns before committee. Internet service providers, who face millions in additional costs - presumably passed along to consumers - have never appeared before committee. By making a commitment to passing lawful access within 100 days, the Conservatives are undertaking to pass legislation with enormous implications for the Internet that has never received parliamentary scrutiny and will receive limited attention.

Second, more important than process is the substance of the proposals that have the potential to fundamentally reshape the Internet in Canada. The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers.
But that will not happen now. Why form committees, or hold hearings, when we know that absolutely nothing will change Stephen Harper's mind, once he decides to do something?

And it will be difficult for Jack Layton to argue against the crime bills, because according to James Laxer in his piece, 'Fake Left Go Right', Layton has also tapped into urban fears of gangs and rampant lawlessness.

His platform included the promise to add more police officers, and during the debates he caught Harper off guard when he accused him of promising more officers, but not delivering.

However, this could give the Liberals an opportunity to set themselves apart from both the Conservatives and the NDP. They need to raise holy hell about this. Accusations of being soft on crime must be brushed off, while instead focusing their debates on being smart on crime.

And they can tap into history to justify their arguments. Successive Liberal governments gave us our once envied Just Society. According to Michael Ignatieff in the Rights Revolution:
Our legal culture has roots in the three great legal traditions of France, Britain, and America, and yet we do not carry the baggage of an imperial past or the menace of an imperial present. We have few enemies and many friends, and we have the problems to which the world needs answers. So it is not surprising that when the chief justice of our Supreme Court, Beverly McLachlin, visited a judicial training college during a recent trip to China, she found Chinese judges discussing Canadian Supreme Court cases."

When I visited the Constitutional Court of South Africa, I discovered that the judges there make frequent reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The originality of Canadian rights culture may be obvious to South Africans, but it is not obvious to Canadians. (1)
Crime rates in Canada are the lowest in our history, and our unique rights culture can take much of the credit.

Many believe that the NDP will have to move the centre, if they hope to compete with the Conservatives next election. But unfortunately, Conservatives on both sides of the border, have moved the centre. So just how far to the right is Layton willing to go?

The Liberals need to focus on the contributions that their party has made in shaping the Canada that most want to live in, offering themselves as the only option to restore both our image and our Canadian values.

And they have at least four years to do it.


1. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, Pg. 13


  1. So, let me get this straight: The government that doesn't believe in disclosure of any of their doings (information to which the Canadian people are entitled) want to have access to everything WE say?
    Hello? Is this backward or what?
    No accountability for the government, but surveillance instead of privacy for the people...not MY idea of what Canadians want.
    By the way, I attempted to find Hansard for the federal government on the internet and got something from 2005. Are we really no longer entitled to find out what happens in Parliament?

  2. They closed down some of the information sites. That may have been amoung them.

  3. Kay,try this ;Official Report * Table of Contents * Number 149 (Official Version)