Canadian Politics (Federal), Opinion, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

Beware of those who cry ‘fake news’

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Since last year’s U.S. Election, the term ‘fake news’ has entered our political discourse like a ton of bricks.

Although intended to signal an actual phenomenon — web articles that appear to be actual news but are entirely fabricated to serve a political agenda — the term has taken on a life of its own.

It seems that those who are most quick to label reporting they dislike “fake news” are its truest purveyors.

As George Orwell wrote in his masterful 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.” What he said then of the ‘fascist’ label could be said of the ‘fake news’ epithet today.

The most prominent practitioner of calling undesirable news fake is, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump, who refused to allow CNN reporter Jim Acosta to ask a question at one of his first presidential press briefings, because, “You’re fake news.”

The question of whether fake news — like an article that baselessly claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed The Donald — helped propel Trump to victory in the U.S. Electoral College is entirely debatable.

That Trump himself used blatant falsehoods to stir up emotion amongst his supporters, however, both on the campaign trail and in office, is beyond dispute.

Some of his most egregious claims, for those in need of a refresher, include the allegation that three million people voted illegally in the election where he lost the popular vote by three million, that he personally witnessed thousands of Muslims celebrating on the streets of New Jersey after the September 11 terrorist attacks and, my personal favourite, his insinuation that “Lyin’” Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination.

Clearly, when Trump cries “fake news,” he’s projecting his insecurities onto the American news media, which although not without its flaws and frailties, is largely in the business of reporting facts.

This psychological projection is by no means exclusive to the pro-Trump crowd, or even the U.S.

Here in Canada, there are those who criticize “the media” for its apparent coziness with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing the soft news surrounding our media savvy prime minister, such as his Star Wars socks that inexplicably got international media coverage.

It’s rather disingenuous to claim that the Canadian media hasn’t covered Trudeau’s ethical lapses, such as his cash-for-access fundraisers that are increasingly being outlawed provincially.

Sure, the media as a whole could do better reporting hard news rather than fluff, but this has little to do with ideological bent.

It’s more about how revenues are generated in the digital world. Traditional newspapers and news media outlets need content that generates clicks, which generate advertising revenue, which allows them to chase important stories.

There is no such singular entity as the media — different media organizations have distinct ideological bents, and that’s as it should be.

With that said, there’s certainly a credibility gap in news reporting.

The New York Times, which in many ways is the gold standard of news reporting, has yet to fully recover its credibility after it presented allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, based on the claims of anonymous sources within the Bush administration, as objective fact.

This significantly weakens the paper’s clout when it goes after fake news sources, whether it’s the president of the United States or Russian bots.

Skeptics can point to its role in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and ask how the Times is any different.

This is a misguided criticism, as most newspapers, though they all have an ideological slant, don’t generally fabricate news for ideological purposes.

When we lump the news media, for all its flaws, together with the malicious intentions of fake news, we do a disservice to the journalists who put all they’ve got into holding the powerful to account, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Global Affairs, Published Articles

Trump lumber tariffs cause local concern

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision on April 24 to impose a 20 per cent tariff on Canadian lumber was met with stiff opposition from local industry leaders.

“We’re completely opposed to it,” said Brock Mulligan, spokesman for the Alberta Forest Products Association and the Alberta Softwood Lumber Trade Council.

Since 1982, U.S. trade representatives have claimed that the Canadian lumber industry is unfairly subsidized, due to its harvests occurring mainly on public land, whereas it is done mostly on private land in the U.S., Mulligan said.

“We’ve seen this happen before and time and again their allegations have been thrown out by various tribunals, whether it’s NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) or WTO (World Trade Organization). We’re confident that this will happen again, but unfortunately we’re going to have to go through the process,” he said.

The previous agreement on the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber trade expired in October 2015.

Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak emphasized that this is an ongoing dispute in U.S.-Canada relations, regardless of which president or prime minister is in power.

“The issue of softwood lumber is one we’ve faced now for the fifth time. We’ve weathered the storm before and we will weather it again. It’s just a matter of how long that dispute will continue on,” Chichak said, predicting that that there will be no regional job losses in the short term.

“As this dispute continues, if it’s not resolved, then we will see job losses, not just for our community but across Alberta and Canada,” she said.

The looming threat of job losses underscores the importance of the provincial government coming up with a caribou range plan that is economically and socially feasible, Chichak added.

“A poor range plan compounded by a dispute that continues could have very devastating effects on communities such as Whitecourt and Woodlands County,” she said.

The dispute also underscores the necessity of Canada expanding its market access for lumber beyond the U.S., Chichak said.

According to Canada Trade, China and Japan comprise 20 per cent of Canadian lumber exports.

“This brings a heightened awareness to the importance over the upcoming decade that we really strengthen and encourage industry and our provincial government to look for other markets for lumber, that we don’t rely on the United States in the event that there’s a sixth dispute in the future,” said Chichak.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley recently returned from a 10-day trade mission to China and Japan, for which Chichak expressed her approval.

But there are limits to expanding Canadian access to east Asian markets, said Mulligan.

“With the Russian rouble collapsing recently, not only are they closer to us, but they also have a big currency advantage on us too,” he said.

The Japanese market has always been dependable for high-grade Canadian lumber, but there isn’t a lot of room for growth there, due to its ageing population and slow economic growth, Mulligan said.

Mulligan said the tariff would backfire on the U.S., due to its dependence on Canadian lumber for homebuilding.

“They depend upon having an adequate supply of lumber. The Americans don’t produce enough for their own market and they need Canadian lumber,” he said.

Tariffs would increase the price of a single family home in the U.S. by $1,236, which would push more than 150,000 families out of the housing market, said Mulligan, citing a study from the National Association of Homebuilders.

Countries like Chile and Russia, who were previously too far to access the American market, would be at a competitive advantage with the artificial increase in Canadian prices, he added.

“We’ll probably see a substitution of their products in, but the American consumer will have to pay a higher price,” Mulligan said.

Local MP, MLA weigh in

Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, who represents Whitecourt and the area, emphasized the importance of this dispute to his constituents.

“Softwood lumber, the pulp and paper industry, (and) forestry in general is a big deal in northern Alberta,” said Viersen, noting that 6,000 people in his Westlock-Peace River riding work in the industry.

He agreed with Chichak that this is simply the return of an ongoing dispute that would occur regardless of who’s in charge.

“It’s perhaps different in terms of Donald Trump’s bluster, but it’s the same players at stake,” Viersen said.

He said it’s largely the result of certain union interests in the U.S. who are trying to protect their workers’ employment.

“They’re not that concerned about the end user of the product. They’re worried about their jobs, so basically this is an easy way to protect some of their market share,” said Viersen, who agreed with Mulligan that the move will increase the price of American lumber by restricting the market’s supply.

Viersen said that Trudeau and his Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was previously the international trade minister, should have prepared better for this issue to come up.

“We knew this was coming along. We’ve been through this before,” he said. “It should’ve been top of mind.”

Whitecourt-St. Anne MLA and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier similarly emphasized the industry’s local vitality.

“Our government stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Alberta’s forest workers, their families and communities that rely on a strong forestry industry,” said Carlier.

He said the Alberta government has been working closely with the federal government, particularly a task force headed by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, to explore the most appropriate course of action.

“All options are on the table,” Carlier said, that the provincial government had anticipated the re-emergence of this dispute.

He cautioned against linking the softwood lumber dispute with other trade issues, such as supply management for dairy farmers.

“There’s a lot of known measures here in the softwood lumber agreement and in other potential disputes there are so many unknowns,” said Carlier.

It’s important to distinguish between the U.S. administration’s tough rhetoric and what actually occurs during negotiations, he said.

“It’s at this point just comments out of the blue that aren’t necessarily tied to any potential negotiations that haven’t even yet started taking place. Once those have taken place, we can have a little more meat and potatoes where we can go and make those gains,” Carlier said.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Opinion, Published Articles

Time for a name change

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

The Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Edmonton Eskimos recently stopped in Whitecourt and Grande Prairie as part of their northern Alberta tour.

The trip has been presented as an opportunity to engage northern Albertans in the CFL by giving locals the opportunity to meet players from the closest CFL team.

But if the Eskimos are truly serious about engaging northern Albertans, they may want to consider changing their team’s name from a term used for Inuit people, many of whom reside in province’s north.

As Natan Obed, president of Canada’s national Inuit organization, observed in 2015 Globe and Mail opinion piece, ‘Eskimo’ has never been a term Inuit people have used to describe themselves. It was imposed on them by European settlers as part of the colonization process.

“The CFL football team does not honour our culture, our history, our present, or our future. The name is an enduring relic of colonial power,” wrote Obed.

It’s not just the Eskimos that have an offensive team name, of course. There’s the Cleveland Indians in baseball, Washington Redskins in American football and hockey’s Chicago Blackhawks, to name but a few.

These team names share a common thread — they’re all directed at indigenous peoples.

It’s noteworthy that Edmonton’s CFL team is the only professional Canadian sports franchise faced with this issue.

Canadians often pride ourselves on being more tolerant than our southern neighbours, so let’s act the part.

Particularly at a time of heightened awareness regarding the plight of aboriginals, it would be a measure of considerable goodwill for the team owners to at least consider a name change.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, a former CFL commissioner, said last year that the time was right for the Eskimos to change their name to something more inclusive.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, whose overall politics are far more progressive than Tory’s, has been conspicuously absent from the debate, merely calling it “an important (question) to grapple with.”

Understandably, Iveson doesn’t want to offend fans of a popular franchise, but sometimes one must risk offence to do the right thing, particularly when it’s as simple as changing a name.

The CFL continues to defend the Eskimos brand, pointing out that the team doesn’t use race imagery in its advertising, unlike the Cleveland Indians’ notorious Chief Wahoo.

If the team is genuinely trying to avoid using discriminatory images, then it’s all the more reason for them to change its name.

So what would Edmonton’s CFL team change its name to?

Nearly anything would be less odious then the current moniker, but I think Tory was correct to suggest the team hold a contest for fans to select a new name.

This would be a means of truly engaging the entire community with the franchise, while demonstrating respect for indigenous peoples by treating their diversity of cultures as more than a caricature.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Published Articles

Council debates attendance at FCM in Ottawa

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

How many councillors should represent Whitecourt at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Ottawa?

That was a subject of debate at Town Council on Feb. 13, with a motion in favour of sending four councillors passing by a razor-thin margin.

The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Maryann Chichak, Deputy Mayor Paul Chauvet and Coun. Norm Hodgson voting in favour. Two councillors — Bill McAree and Derek Schlosser — were not at the meeting.

“Since I started on council eight years ago, I’ve always been steadfast that the FCM conference is a very expensive one to go to, and I believe council needs to limit the attendance,” said Coun. Darlene Chartrand in explaining her vote against the motion.

The average cost per councillor is $4,904 and five members have indicated a willingness to go, which would cost the town almost $25,000, she added, suggesting that only two members be permitted to attend.

Coun. Eris Moncur joined Chartrand in voting against the motion, stressing the poor optics of council spending $25,000 on a conference in Ottawa while businesses are struggling at home.

“Given the economic times we’re in … I think it’s prudent for us to consider at least whether or not this is the right time, or a good time, for all members to be able to attend,” he said.

Chauvet suggested that the conference’s cost doesn’t take into account the economic opportunities provided by meeting with other municipal leaders and their federal counterparts.

“I understand the concerns. What actually happens, who actually goes, is different from who says they want to go. We have a responsibility to protect the interests of Whitecourt, but also to promote Whitecourt,” he said.

Due to attendance at last year’s conference, the town was able to get the federal government to commit $6 million to help with its river erosion problem, Chauvet added.

Chichak said she met with Adam Vaughan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary, and he agreed to work with local MP Arnold Viersen to fix the south bank of the Athabasca River’s erosion.

“That (meeting) did result in us getting the approval through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I’m not too sure that project would have gone through without that actual contact. (Vaughan) was the one who pushed it through,” she said.

But Chartrand disagreed.

“I don’t believe for a second that the river erosion project wouldn’t have happened without the attendance,” she said.

Hodgson defended the mayor and deputy mayor’s position, saying that their appearance at the conference directly resulted in movement on the river erosion file.

“I was there and I saw and know what happened, but you weren’t,” he said. “You can believe what you believe.”

This year’s FCM conference will be held from May 30 to June 5 in Ottawa.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Published Articles

Everything you need to know about the federal Conservative leadership frontrunners

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at This

The Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race, scheduled to conclude in May 2017, is off to an inauspicious start. Between fights in the name of “Canadian values” and hot takes on same-sex marriage, the candidates appear to be competing to see who can advocate the most regressive policies, with a few notable exceptions.

This takes a look at the five frontrunners—Kellie Leatch, Brad Trost, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Lisa Raitt—and their respective proposals for immigration, social issues, the environment and the economy.

Kellie Leitch


Leitch’s signature proposal is “screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors for anti-Canadian values.” Her website boasts, “Kellie is the only candidate who will ensure that those coming to Canada believe in the equality of women, freedom of religion, and equality under law,” but is short on details on how she plans to achieve this.

According to a recent interview with Toronto Life, the Simcoe Grey MP opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, supports gay marriage, and identifies as anti-abortion.

She vows to repeal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national carbon tax if elected, insisting that carbon pricing should be left to the provinces.

Leitch vows to balance the budget by instituting a cap on government spending. Her website hints at mass privatization when it says that the government must “find new ways to get things done—new ways that don’t involve increasing taxes or borrowing money.”

Brad Trost


Though critical of Leitch’s vague “Canadian values” test, Trost (Saskatoon-University) said in an emailed statement that he wants to distinguish between immigrants who “Choose Canada” for its values and those who “Use Canada” for its public services.

Trost is staunchly opposed to gay marriage, wants “legislation to protect pre-born victims of crime,” and supports tough on crime legislation. “Catch and release is great for fishing, but not so great for criminals,” he said.

“I don’t think the uncertain science around climate change should be leveraged to force producers to leave oil and gas and coal in the ground,” he wrote, contending that the negative of job losses from reducing fossil fuel dependence outweigh the positives.

Trost aims “to keep corporate and income taxes LOW (sic),” which he said would be his main priority as prime minister.

Maxime Bernier


Bernier “plans to make an announcement on immigration later in the campaign,” says spokesman Maxime Hupe.

The Beauce, Que. MP supported the removal of the party’s “definition of marriage as being the union between a man and a woman” at its May 2016 policy convention in Vancouver, according to his website.

However, he vowed to reopen the abortion debate if party members request it, allowing a free vote. This is despite the vehemently anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition rating him as consistently pro-abortion and therefore “not supportable.”

“Our prosperity is, and will remain for decades to come, dependent on fossil fuels to a large extent,” his website reads. He calls advocates of national carbon taxation “extremist green activists” who “want to see their standard of living significantly reduced to contribute in a negligible way to the global fight against climate change.”

Bernier advocates leaving the issue of carbon taxation up to the provinces and allowing the private sector to develop green energy of its own accord.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto, Bernier called for a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 10 per cent from 15 percent and the outright abolition of capital gains taxes.

Michael Chong


Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills) seeks to maintain the status quo on immigration, noting in a statement that immigrants and refugees are already “screened for criminality, war crimes, terrorism, health, and economic reasons.” Leitch’s proposal to vet newcomers for “Canadian values” is thus “not workable.”

He also vows not to “reopen divisive social issues,” namely those that have already been decided by Parliament, like abortion, same-sex marriage, and assisted suicide.

An outlier amongst the leadership candidates, Chong advocates a carbon tax, albeit one that is revenue neutral, to discourage fossil fuel consumption and reach the international target for emission reductions by 2030. 

To make up for the carbon tax, Chong vows to slash personal income taxes by 10 percent and corporate taxes by 5 percent.

Lisa Raitt


The Campaign Life Coalition rates Raitt as “unsupportable” due to her participation in the 2016 Toronto Pride parade and pro-abortion voting record. However, the group notes her opposition to assisted suicide, which she attributes to her Catholic faith.

In parliament, she vocally opposed the federal Liberals’ carbon taxation plan, advocating corporate solutions to what she acknowledges as the reality of man-made climate change.

During the party’s November leadership debate in Saskatoon, Raitt hinted at a reduction of inter-provincial trade barriers as a central tenet of her fiscal policies.

As the most recent addition to the leadership race, the Milton MP has yet to outline specific proposals on most issues, nor did her office respond to requests for comment. 

Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

A reprieve for Dakota land defenders, a warning for Canada

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

While many Canadians “checked in” on Facebook to Standing Rock Reservation near Cannonball, North Dakota, to express solidarity with the Great Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, some of their compatriots went down to join the anti-pipeline struggle in what has become its epicentre.

The battle pits the Sioux band, who have set up a protest camp, and its supporters against a militarized Morton County sheriff’s department and the National Guard. The latter have used mass arrests and force in an effort to crush the movement fighting Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ planned $3.8-billion, 1,900-km pipeline that snakes across four states from western North Dakota to Illinois, threatening Indigenous heritage sites and the drinking water below.

On December 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the company approval to drill under the Missouri River, forcing it to find another route, but the decision is subject to appeal and can be reversed by the incoming Trump administration.

“We’ve been able to greatly rattle the inevitability narrative that big oil continues to weave into the minds of the public,” Clayton Thomas-Muller, the environmental justice group’s Keep It in the Ground campaigner, told the Monitor from Standing Rock in the wake of the U.S. army’s announcement.

In response to the potentially historic decision, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement expressing special gratitude to “all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us,” promising to return the favour “if and when your people are in need.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s late-November approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will pump Alberta tarsands oil to the coastal town of Burnaby, B.C., for shipping to Asia, and Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin, means the Standing Rock Sioux will soon have the opportunity to reciprocate in Western Canada.

“Justin Trudeau needs to understand that we’ve faced tougher foes than him and we have removed them from power,” Thomas-Muller, a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, said. “His administration will bend to the will of the Indigenous rights and climate justice social movements. I guarantee it.”

If it gets built, the Trans Mountain expansion will increase an existing pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels from 300,000, casting doubt over the government’s climate change commitments and vows to improve relations with First Nations.

“Even though it’s down in the United States, our struggle as First Nations is the same everywhere,” said Snookie Catholique of the Dene Nation. The former CBC journalist and Northwest Territories language commissioner had just returned from her second trip to Standing Rock in mid-November when she spoke to the Monitor. “We’re all fighting to protect Mother Earth and for a better, cleaner environment, so that my grandchildren will have the experience I had as a child.”

Thomas-Muller said stewardship of the environment is an essential component of the Indigenous rights movement. “Our livelihoods, our cosmology and our worldview are fundamentally tied to the relationship that we have with the sacredness of place,” he said. “Environmentalism is, for us, a human rights issue.”


Kevin Settee, president of the University of Winnipeg Student Association and a member of Fisher River Cree Nation, also made the trip down to Standing Rock with two comrades in late August. He said part of the reason he went was to send a message to people back home “not to let the United States border divide them and stop them from going south [to support social movements].” Thomas-Muller concurred, calling it a “false border.”

Settee said he sought to learn organization tactics from the demonstrators that he could apply to environmentalist and Indigenous movements back home. “Why is what they’re doing so powerful?” he pondered.

Settee and his allies were some of the first people from Winnipeg to make it down to the protest. When crossing the border, at around 2 a.m., they told the guards they were going to a powwow, fearing that if they told them they were going to Standing Rock they would get turned away.

“Some people said they dealt with border guards who were supportive, giving them thumbs up,” he said, noting that he doesn’t know anyone who was turned back, but many were searched extensively.

At Standing Rock, Settee said he witnessed police intimidation—erecting cement barricades and checkpoints, for example—but also the use of psychological tactics meant to demoralize the demonstrators. “It’s the most peaceful place you’ll ever be in your life…but the Morton Country sheriffs issued a press release saying that we had guns and pipe bombs and that there were shots fired,” a claim Settee emphatically denied.

Protestors faced both state troopers and private DAPL security, Catholique told me, and it was often difficult to distinguish one from another. She said “a few bullets were fired” at a demonstration she attended on her initial trip over the Labour Day weekend, which she suspects came from both the police and security.

Catholique vouched for the peaceful nature of the protests, but said the tension emerged as the standoff wore on. On her first trip, the Lakota Sioux were in charge. “They were the ones who were really putting it out there that this was a peaceful protest. We do not want to lose any lives. We do not want to get into any kind of conflict that is going to linger after everybody leaves.”

She continued, “This time around, the Red Warrior camp tried to take control. They were the ones who were really being aggressive and that was not the original goal.”

Catholique attributed the movement’s prominence, particularly compared with other anti-pipeline struggles, to social media. “It’s at the forefront of media now, but it wasn’t when I was there in September. Our airwaves were being scrambled.” When demonstrators “got online for their livefeeds from camp, then it really took off.”


In late October, two University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) medical students, Nicole Schafenacker and Katriona Auerbach, were arrested at the demonstration, according to the CBC, which prompted UNBC President Daniel Weeks to issue a statement defending their right “to take a position, to exercise their rights to free speech, to peacefully assemble, and to develop and foster informed opinions across a wide range of subject areas.”

The students were charged with conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion, engaging in a riot and maintaining a public nuisance, as were dozens of other protestors who were arrested after a police barricade was set on fire. As of November 3 they were back home in Prince George, B.C., but will have to return to North Dakota unless the charges are dropped.

U.S. Green Party leader Jill Stein and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman were also arrested for protesting the DAPL on separate occasions. The rioting charges against Goodman were dropped, while the criminal trespass and criminal mischief charges against Stein had yet to be resolved when the Monitor went to print.

The Sioux had gone to court in September to block the pipeline’s construction, represented by the environmentalist law firm Earthjustice. Their request was rejected on October 11, although the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that their ruling “is not the final word.”

Outgoing U.S. president Barack Obama had been mildly critical of the project, saying it ought to be built along a different route, “to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans.” Senator and recent Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had written an open letter to the president the week before, calling on Obama to reject the project, as he had done with the Keystone XL pipeline.

But the surprise election of race-baiting climate change denier Donald Trump, who now wants to proceed with Keystone XL and is able to reverse the decision to reroute the DAPL, underscores the anti-pipeline movement’s urgency, said Settee. “The government is going to be pushing these pipelines through as fast as possible.”

Trump until recently owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock with Energy Transfer Partners and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the DAPL. A spokesperson for the new U.S. president told the media in early December that Trump had sold his entire stake in the former company, but would not comment on the latter.

“The more people that we have that organized, that are trained, that are on the frontlines,” Settee said, “the better chance we have for a sustainable future.”

Canadian Politics (Federal), Published Articles

Conservatives against Bill C-51: Opposition to dangerous legislation crosses political affiliations

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression)

In politics, party unity is not always as it appears. Gaps can often emerge between a party’s voting patterns in the House of Commons and the opinions of many of its members and supporters. This dilemma has been experienced by many Members of Parliament (MPs) since the Anti-Terrorism Act, better known as Bill C-51, was first introduced by the former federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In 2015, Conservative MPs voted to approve Bill C-51 wholesale. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party joined the Conservatives in voting for the proposed legislation but vowed to amend its problematic elements if they won the upcoming federal election—a promise they have not yet upheld. In contrast, the New Democrat caucus and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (the party’s sole MP) voted against Bill C-51, arguing that it casts too wide a net, criminalizes certain forms of speech without sufficient justification and lacks parliamentary oversight.

These many concerns are not restricted to left of centre political supporters, however, as indicated by the opposition voiced by an assortment of organizations and prominent individuals who are frequently considered natural Conservative allies.

Gun owners against Bill C-51

In June 2015, the National Firearms Association (NFA) joined a loose coalition of right-leaning groups, including both conservatives and libertarians, in signing a letter to then-Prime Minister Harper that expressed their concern with Bill C-51.

NFA Executive Vice President Blair Hagen told CJFE that his organization opposes the anti-terrorism law on many of the same grounds that it opposed the far-reaching Firearms Act (also known as Bill C-68) tabled by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government in the early 1990s.

According to Hagen, Bill C-68 was a piece of “watershed legislation, because for the first time it imposed mandatory firearms licensing (and) universal registration,” which the NFA regards as an unjust infringement on private property rights. In fact, it was the bill that inspired Hagen to get involved with the NFA.

Similar to the Firearms Act, Bill C-51 purports to protect Canadians while “imposing onerous laws that allow for the trampling of rights, confiscation of property and targeting of people who are, basically, law-abiding Canadians,” said Hagan.

Indeed, Bill C-51 gives the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) new “disruption powers” that allows the agency to confiscate or tamper with property if they suspect it could be used for terrorist purposes. Law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach call this the “most radical feature of the bill.”

“The right individuals have to be targeted, not entire communities, such as the firearms community, because it’s a waste of resources and lends itself to abuse,” Hagen added.

Though the NFA has its own firearms-specific perspective, Hagen explains that the organization’s opposition to Bill C-51 is based on sentiments shared by other groups protesting the anti-terrorism legislation. He emphasizes that he supports the broader goal of anti-terrorism, “but we already have laws on the books to address these issues.”

“The government, in the quest for public safety, was proposing to bring in laws and regulations that would adversely affect the rights and freedoms of Canadians,” Hagen said.

Hagen argues that the NFA is non-partisan but admits many of its members supported then-Prime Minister Harper, largely because he eliminated the long-gun registry in 2012, which was a major component of Chrétien’s firearms legislation.

Rebel rebel

M.J. Sheppard is a blogger at The Rebel, a right-wing news website established by former Sun TV host Ezra Levant. Sheppard published a piece last year entitled “Why are conservatives supporting Bill C-51?” in which he calls the legislation “the single most statist, freedom crushing piece of legislation in my lifetime.”

“Groups Left and Right can be targeted by it,” he writes, observing that the legislation broadens the definition of terrorism to such an extent that disruptions to the Canadian economy are now subject to prosecution under the Act.

Bill C-51 replaces the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Sheppard continues, with the “whims of our domestic spy agencies,” namely CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s equivalent of the National Security Agency. All they need is a judge to sign off on their spying, a procedure that was followed by RCMP officers when they obtained warrants to surveil at least ten journalists in Quebec.

The bill’s lack of parliamentary oversight is ironic, he notes, as the former federal government “spent a full decade railing against the power of the unelected bureaucracy and judiciary over the will of Parliament.” This is precisely the type of power that Bill C-51 represents.

It also creates a new category of “advocating” for terrorism, which, as Sheppard writes, is easily open to abuse. It can be used against those on the left who acknowledge Hezbollah as a legitimate Lebanese political party, which enjoys strong support in that country’s embattled Shiite community, and those on the right who support the MEK in Iran as a means of promoting regime change.

Hezbollah is currently considered a terrorist organization in Canada while the MEK was removed from the Canadian list in 2012, which some argue to be a double standard given that both organizations have been known to attack civilians. Yet Hezbollah is aligned with the Iranian regime, whereas the MEK is dedicated to its violent overthrow. By Bill C-51’s logic, pointing this out could be considered advocating for Hezbollah and thus a form of terrorism.

A Conservative leadership candidate makes his case for Bill C-51

Maxime Bernier, an MP from Beauce, Quebec, and a libertarian-leaning Conservative leadership hopeful, joined his caucus in voting for the anti-terrorism legislation in 2015. This may surprise some, given Bernier’s penchant for disagreeing with his party on other policy matters.

“Jihadist terrorists have declared war on the West, including Canada,” said Bernier in an emailed statement to CJFE.

He specifically cites the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa attacks in October 2014 that resulted in the deaths of two Canadian soldiers as evidence of the need for a tougher approach to national security.

Further, Bernier defends the controversial law as a “balanced legislative response to gaps in our national security legislation” that will help deter future attacks. The MP’s newfound passion for national security is particularly notable, given that he was forced to resign as Prime Minister Harper’s foreign affairs minister in 2008 after he left classified documents at the house of his then-girlfriend, who allegedly had ties to organized crime.

On the question of why Bernier, a professed libertarian, voted for a bill that has been derided by many as an assault on civil liberties, he states: “Without security, there can be no liberty.”

Although the federal government has not yet repealed any elements of Bill C-51, it is currently conducting public consultations on Canada’s national security framework. The Liberal Party has also introduced Bill C-22, which would create a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians with the capacity to monitor classified security and intelligence activities and report findings to the prime minister. The proposed legislation has passed second reading in the House of Commons and is currently with the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for review.

In the meantime, CJFE’s Charter challenge against Bill C-51 (in partnership with CCLA) is before the Ontario Superior Court, and Canadians across the country—from all political affiliations—continue to mobilize against the dangerous anti-terrorism legislation.