Focus On

Tall order for vet Goodale in revamping bill

Thursday, November 19, 2015 @ 7:00 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

A national security law expert says new Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has the experience and cabinet clout to spearhead the complex job of overhauling Canada’s anti-terror laws.

The Regina MP has held a string of cabinet posts in his 27 years as a member of Parliament, including finance, agriculture, natural resources and public works. On Nov. 4, the 66-year-old University of Saskatchewan law graduate became first in line to take over as acting prime minister if incumbent Justin Trudeau is incapacitated. He is the only MP to have served under both Trudeau prime ministers (Justin and Pierre), having been elected for the first time at age 25 in 1974 (he has been re-elected without interruption since 1993).

University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese says Goodale’s latest cabinet portfolio bodes well for the Liberals’ election promise to replace the “the problematic elements” of the Harper government’s anti-terrorism legislation (C-51) with a new law — developed in consultation with experts and Canadians — that better balances collective security with individual freedoms.

“You need a public safety minister, first of all, at whom the buck will stop, but who also has sufficient gravitas, and political and administrative experience, that they can actually take charge of that department, and so Ralph Goodale fits those criteria in the sense that he’s held very senior portfolios in the past, and…he’s basically the most experienced cabinet minister, so that is heartening,” said Forcese.

He and University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach argue in their new book on Bill C-51, False Security — The Radicalization of Anti-terrorism, that to Canada’s detriment, no one official is in charge of overseeing and co-ordinating anti-terrorism measures. Forcese noted the sprawling Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness comprises several complex agencies dealing with anti-terrorism, such as CSIS, the RCMP and the Communications Security Establishment, while other government agencies outside the department’s purview also have responsibility for fighting terrorism. “Everyone’s in charge,” he said.

The big question now is how far the new Liberal government will go in reforming the overlapping tangle of national security laws. “We have some hint of that in their platform, and aspects in the platform are good — it’s just that they themselves are not alone sufficient,” Forcese observed. “The problem with C-51 isn’t that the security ills that C-51 was trying to cure are wrong. It’s just that the execution was so poor in C-51 that it not only will not cure those security ills, it will have…counterproductive implications for rights and everything else.”

Forcese and Roach argue that Canada’s national security laws desperately need a holistic review and profound rethink, rather than only piecemeal reforms.

The Liberals’ election platform did not expressly go that far. It committed to ad hoc changes, but does not address, for example, the complexities of information-sharing by government entities.

“What we said in our book is: ‘You need to press pause on that and you need to go back to basics and you have to rebuild this — not just tinker with the language,’ ” Forcese advised.

“And that means going right into the text of some of the existing laws, rather than layering wallpaper over a cracked wall — that’s what C-51 does for information-sharing.”

Forcese suggested the minister could immediately issue an administrative directive to CSIS not to seek new disruption warrants under C-51 that authorize Charter breaches. “But then, on a fairly urgent basis…I think we need an overarching architectural rethink” of the national security regime, he said.

Alternatively the government could adopt “a graduated process,” beginning with amendments that eliminate the constitutional problems, as well as adding due process protections for those put on no-fly lists and for those whose passports are revoked (C-59). A second round of amendments could deal with more complex issues, such as information-sharing.

Forcese said the executive might be held more accountable after the Liberals implement their pledge to create an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities. “But I think the most important virtue of a specialized committee with access to secret information is you’ll suddenly enhance competency in national security — which has been more or less non-existent in our Parliament,” he said.

Above all, he urged, before tabling a bill the new government should consult widely on anti-terrorism reforms. It should then strike a committee of legislators engaged by the subject matter. “Put together some really smart, capable people who are going to look at this through the optic of what’s good for the country and not what’s good for party.”

Forcese recommended that the government send any proposed legislation for committee study before, rather than after, second reading debate. This will ensure that the bill’s parameters are not set in stone. “Process matters. It’s not a guarantee of good outcomes but it’s a prerequisite to that.”