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Innisdale students grill candidates on Bill C-51

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Barrie-Innisfil candidates, from left to right, John Brassard of the Conservatives, Bonnie North of the Green Party and Myrna Clark of the New Democratic Party, fielded questions Wednesday morning from Innisdale Seconadary School student in Barrie.
BOB BRUTON/BARRIE EXAMINER

Barrie-Innisfil candidates, from left to right, John Brassard of the Conservatives, Bonnie North of the Green Party and Myrna Clark of the New Democratic Party, fielded questions Wednesday morning from Innisdale Seconadary School student in Barrie. BOB BRUTON/BARRIE EXAMINER

What else would high school students care more about than their security and privacy?

Not much, or at least not at Wednesday morning's candidates forum at Innisdale Secondary School in Barrie.

With the Oct. 19 federal election looming, three of six Barrie-Innisfil candidates attended two one-hour sessions and answered student questions about environmental protection, post-secondary tuition, the economy, party leaders and other campaign issues.

But it was Bill C-51 (see pullout) which produced the most passionate questions from students, and answers from candidates.

Conservative John Brassard was asked whether Bill C-51 violates the rights and freedoms of Canadians; his party made C-51 law during Parliament's last session.

“I truly believe the first priority of government is to protect its citizens,” he said. “It (Bill C-51) gives the police and government the opportunity to access information, primarily to keep us safe.”

Brassard said the war on terror is not a traditional war, with national armies and battles lines drawn.

“The reality is your privacy has already been compromised,” he said, asking students how many of them were on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

But Green Party candidate Bonnie North wasn't buying that argument. She said terrorism isn't as big a threat here as the Conservatives would have Canadians believe.

“Terrorism is a threat but we do have to consider where it is a threat,” she said. “Why are we spending so much money to institute law that spies on us?”

New Democratic Party candidate Myrna Clark said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) already have enough power to deal with terrorism and security threats.

“I don't think there is a way to make it safer,” she said, noting there are other risks.

“I don't think the government can prevent abuses. Mr. (Conservative leader Stephen) Harper doesn't respect the rule,” Clark said.

But Brassard said Bill C-51 does have checks and balances.

“It doesn't give all -encompassing powers to (police and security) agencies,” he said. “It still requires a warrant to detain or arrest someone. It doesn't give overwhelming powers.”

North urged Innisdale students to vote in the federal election if old enough, but to get involved in the campaign one way or another.

She noted that 40% of eligible voters don't cast ballots.

“We don't have a vote-splitting problem in Canada, we have vote abandonment,” North said.

Clark stressed the NDP's national childcare program, and that it could be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, especially on multi-nationals which take government loans or grants while accepting tax breaks at the same time.

Brassard said Canadians face a fork in the political road on Oct. 19.

“Do we stay the course (with the Conservatives) or move to tax debt and deficits,” he said.

Gary Nail of the Christian Heritage Party, Jeff Sakula of the Canadian Action Party and the Liberals' Colin Wilson did not attend Wednesday morning's candidates forum – although Wilson did send a video that was played.

Innisdale Secondary School will hold its student vote on Oct. 14 and release the results on federal election night.

bob.bruton@sunmedia.ca

BILL C-51 AT A GLANCE

  • Bill C-51, the Conservatives' anti-terror legislation, became law last June.
  • It has faced intense scrutiny for the expanded powers it gives police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
  • Opponents have argued the bill's wording is too vague, which could lead to dangerous and unlawful measures.
  • Federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has said the bill is necessary to keep Canadians safe.
  • It makes promoting or encouraging terrorism a criminal offence, with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. This is expected to lead to a larger crackdown on people who share both physical and online copies of terrorist propaganda.
  • Police have the power to preventatively arrest more people without a warrant, and makes slight tweaks to the current Criminal Code wording to widen the net of who police can arrest on suspicion.
  • If someone is deemed a threat to national security, government departments can share that person's personal information with even more departments – which falls under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act.
  • CSIS has more power to disrupt suspected terrorist plots, rather than just collect information about them. If CSIS has reasonable grounds to believe a security threat exists, it can interfere with the travel plans and bank transactions of suspected terrorists, disrupt radical websites and Twitter accounts.
  • CSIS has the ability to ask judges for approval in cases where its measures would breach rights or freedoms otherwise protected by the law.
  • Critics naturally worry CSIS lacks sufficient oversight to ensure these new powers are not abused.