Anti-terror bill threatens Charter rights, Ed Broadbent warns

Mark Kennedy / Ottawa Citizen

The federal Conservative government is jeopardizing the civil rights of Canadians through its anti-terrorism legislation and has sat idly by as a wealth gap makes this a “vastly unequal country,” says former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

Moreover, he says that as Canadian voters prepare for a federal election this year, they must consider replacing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories after nearly a decade in power.

Broadbent says Harper is wrong to boast about his economic record – as “good jobs” increasingly become scarce – and that the governing Conservatives have abandoned environmental regulation in favour of letting oil companies “trample” the interests of many communities and First Nations.

As well, although Broadbent is not specifically singling out Liberal leader Justin Trudeau by name, he is concerned that the Liberals aren’t coming to the “defence” of the Charter of Rights that Trudeau’s father helped establish.

The messages are contained in a strongly worded speech Broadbent was to deliver Friday morning at a conference designed to foster “progressive” policy and politics. A copy of his remarks was provided to the Citizen.

Broadbent takes direct aim at the Conservative government for proceeding with the anti-terrorism bill, Bill C-51, despite the concerns raised by legal experts.

He has already publicly expressed some of those concerns in a recent newspaper op-ed he wrote with former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

“We made the case that not only will it be ineffective to combat terrorism, not only does it threaten our civil rights, but most serious of all, it places the very protections guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the shadow of wider powers to interfere with lawful and legitimate conduct.”

Broadbent said the bill, now being studied at a House of Commons committee, is “flawed” and “dangerous” and “must be defeated by Parliament.”

However, the bill’s passage is virtually certain. It has the support of Conservative MPs, who hold the majority in the Commons.

Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats, who are the Official Opposition, want amendments to the bill and if they don’t get them will vote against it.

Trudeau’s Liberals say they like parts of the bill but are also pushing for amendments, such as more robust oversight of CSIS. If they don’t get those changes, they will still vote for the bill but if they win the election will make the changes in the next Parliament.

Broadbent, who was NDP leader when federal and provincial governments negotiated a revised Constitution and a new Charter, is critical of today’s Liberals for their stance.

“I worked hard with Pierre Trudeau between 1980 and 1982 to create what is possibly the best Charter of Rights in the world. I never thought I’d see the day his party would back away from its defence.”

On Friday and Saturday, more than 800 people are attending a conference organized by the Broadbent Institute, a think-tank established in 2011 that is chaired by the former party leader. Participants will discuss issues including job creation, medicare, pensions, aboriginal people, the oil sector and union activism.

Apparently aware that he is reaching out to a broad swath of “progressive” Canadians, Broadbent steers clear of explicitly endorsing the NDP in his speech. However, Mulcair is slated to deliver a mid-day speech Friday.

In his speech, Broadbent takes a couple of digs at the Liberals — for their position on Bill C-51 and their past record in government on the environment.

“Election years are about choices,” says Broadbent.

“And Canadians this year will have some important choices to make.

“Yes, we need to defeat bad Conservative ideas. But we also need to ensure that it is progressive ideas and policies that take their place.

“Canadians deserve better than a new federal government that, while perhaps being a bit more polite, continues to make inadequate decisions.”