Federal election candidates clashed over the federal government’s new security act at a forum here Oct. 6. Conservative hopeful Tyler Nesbitt accused New Democrat incumbent Nathan Cullen of spreading misinformation about the intent of Bill C-51.
The act expands the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) beyond its past role of observing individuals to allowing it to disrupt activities. It would also permit more sharing of information, such as tax returns, between federal agencies.
Nesbitt framed his comments around the need to counter terrorism and said security authorities would still need to convince a judge of their intended activities.
“Read that bill,” Nesbitt urged. “Any disruption measure that goes against that person has to be reviewed by a judge. We are the only country within our …allies where a warrant to go and take action on that person is actually required.”
He said NDP opposition to the bill was an example of fear mongering, something he called “the modus operandi” of the NDP.
Cullen countered by reading from a copy of Bill C-51 he pulled up from his laptop computer to say its measures go beyond counter-terrorism.
“Well, here is the actual bill…a redefinition of what terrorism is, away from Al Qaida and ISIS and all these things, to say any activity that undermines the security of Canada or interferes with the economic or financial stability of Canada or interferes with critical infrastructure,” said Cullen. He also said CSIS has already been spying on northwestern citizens and that it has had agents at the All Native Basketball Tournament that is held each year in Prince Rupert.
Nesbitt responded: “I think it is totally irresponsible to take things that are accusations before the courts and say them like they are de facto, and that is exactly what’s happening, that you know CSIS spies were working at this and that.”
“It keeps the country safe,” he added of the bill. “This has to do with terrorists’ acts, these people [NDP] have never voted for one security measure in the history of that party, Liberals are more measured on those things, and that’s where we have a lot more in common. They [NDP] have never voted for security legislation.”
Nesbitt finished off by saying that the NDP “will come clamouring to us when something happens and there is a terrorist at your doorstep.”
Liberal candidate Brad Layton distanced himself from Nesbitt, saying that he only agreed with one thing the Conservative had said on the matter, and that was that “there is some misinformation.”
He also defended the Liberal party decision to vote in favour of the bill in parliament.
“It was passing anyway, there was no way we could stop it,” he said. “We needed to get a voice into it, to get those four amendments. We wanted 10, and we got four. But to just vote straight against it? It’s passing. It’s a majority government.”
Don Spratt from the Christian Heritage Party, an anti-abortion activist arrested and charged several times over the years for activities within “bubble zones” around abortion clinics, said he was told by a “reliable source” that CSIS has in the past been listening to his phone conversations.
“I don’t know if it was true or not, but it was pretty reliable and I am 80 per cent sure it was happening,” he said.
The Bill C-51 exchange was touched off by audience member Grace Thompson who asked Nesbitt how he could “reconcile your personal stance that it is unfair to expect citizens to fill out a long form census with the Conservative government stance that freedom should take a back seat to security and we should expect to see warrantless searches.”