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Harper's scary new terror bill needs oversight

In this opinion piece, the author argues that the extended powers Harper seeks through Bill C-51 are ripe for abuse.

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From where does this fear arise? 

Certainly these are troubled times. But the trepidation of 'bad people' doing terrible things to 'us' is not entirely a genuine one. Nevertheless, elsewhere there is plenty of fodder for fear.

Climate change, nuclear arsenals located throughout the world, an increasing scarcity of arable land and clean water—none of these are existential. They are unfolding as we speak and are clear threats to the survival of the species. And our government—like many others—is doing precious little about them.

In other words, the proportionality of a threat does not appear to correlate with the response. At least when political interests are involved.

Politicians here, just as in America and Europe, are intent on fomenting fear designed specifically to extend government powers through legislation which curtails freedoms that people in our societies fought hard to win.

While perhaps different in magnitude, the Canadian strategy is similar in kind to those adopted during the McCarthy era of the cold war or in the Patriot Act of post-9/11 America.

Just listen to Stephen Harper.

"A great evil has been descending over our world, an evil that has been growing more and more powerful: violent jihadism... one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced." So said our Prime Minister of late.

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney was more specific in introducing the bill. "The international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada and our allies."

Blaney's statement is, of course, open for some debate since—last I checked—we were the ones dropping bombs on faraway countries, while none have come our way.

However, if we accept that we are at war—against 'evil' no less—then the unjustifiable, not to mention the unnecessary, becomes justifiable (and apparently necessary).

But we should all be wary. History tells us that once we give up hard-won rights, such rights are very difficult to get back.

And it would be naive to think that the state does not have its own agenda in all of this. Under this new bill, protests against pipelines may well be fair game. Protests against trade agreements. In other words, activities that make democracy strong. Unlike this bill, which only serves to erode democratic principles.

The ongoing leaks by US whistleblower Edward Snowden show just how far the US government was willing to go once given the green light. When the Snowden story and the abuses by the National Security Agency were surfacing back in 2013, US President Obama famously reassured Americans that "nobody is listening to your phone calls" or reading private emails.

As we all now know, Obama was lying. The NSA was indeed mining data of American citizens.

Then there is the oft-quoted argument—heard ad nauseam here in Canada and to the south—which follows the line that if you aren't doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.

But tell that to Maher Arar, who spent a year in a black hole in Syria after US and  Canadian governments colluded to hand him over to Syrian authorities, presumably to extract information from him.

He was repeatedly tortured before finally being released. He never committed a crime. 

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