Editorial — Oversight of anti-terrorism activities is critical

Bill C-51 is based on a real problem, but anti-terrorism agencies require oversight from more than just the government.

Over the weekend, there were numerous protests against the federal government’s Bill C-51, which proposes a number of new measures to combat the prospects of terrorism.

The Conservative government has proposed giving additional powers to the RCMP and CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Many of those protesting say these new powers will strip privacy from many Canadian residents. They also argue that both the RCMP and CSIS do not have sufficient independent oversight.

The Liberals have already said they will support the bill, and make amendments if they are elected as the government in the election this fall. NDP MPs, on the other hand, are stalwart foes of the bill.

The very different reactions from the two opposition parties speak volumes about the perceptions of this bill. The Liberals are clearly banking on the broad support among Canadians for more counter-terrorism measures, in the wake of the attack on Parliament Hill last fall and numerous homegrown terror plots.

The NDP, on the other hands, is taking its traditional principled approach, in standing up for civil rights over enhanced anti-terrorism measures. The principled stance gets them plenty of positive mentions, but often does not translate into votes. Virtually all polls show the NDP will finish third in the election, barring a last-minute shift by voters.

The need for enhanced anti-terrorism measures is pretty clear. However, there should be more oversight of both CSIS and the RCMP, should they be granted new powers. At the very least, there needs to be a Parliamentary committee with MPs from all sides taking an ongoing close look at just how these new powers are being used.