The Commons: A day to debate terrorism

Justin Trudeau, the Boston Marathon bombing and Uncle Albert

At noon, the House moved to government orders. To present S-7, the Combatting Terrorism Act, stood Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety.

“In closing,” she concluded shortly thereafter, “I would like to express my deepest condolences to all of those who have suffered as a result of the despicable acts that occurred in Boston this last week. The way that the city has come together has been an inspiration for all of us. They have shown the world that fear would not define them and I would hope that Canadians, if such a thing would happen, would do the same thing.”

So let us say that it is not fear, but general awareness of fearsome possibility that guides us now.

“At the same time, I would like to say that it is so important to ensure that Canada has the necessary laws and tools to prevent such a heinous attack,” Ms. Bergen continued. “We want to make sure that we are fully prepared and that we can combat terrorism and possible future terrorist acts, as well as making sure that anyone who has been involved in terrorist acts in Canada is dealt with. We have to ensure that the evildoers are met with the justice that they deserve. Otherwise, we as parliamentarians have failed our most basic duty: To protect Canadians.”

Up first was Charlie Angus, who quibbled with nothing less than the fact that this debate was happening now.

“Mr. Speaker, certainly today, thinking of my dear friends in Boston as people all over the world are thinking of Boston, I would like to refer my honourable colleague to the editorial in today’s Globe and Mail,” Mr. Angus offered. “It says that the two-day debate in Parliament on the government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation, ‘smacks of political opportunism, and it is regrettable that it will take place. The debate politicizes the Boston Marathon bombings when few facts are known.’ ”

Mr. Angus now managed the neat trick of pronouncing shame on both the party opposite and the party beside him in a single sentence. “The Globe and Mail calls on Parliament to take the time to reflect on this bill,” Mr. Angus informed the House, “and not to use it just to embarrass the fuzzy thinking of the Liberal leader.”

Ms. Bergen was not impressed. “It is too bad the NDP does not seem to understand that terrorism is a threat. We have seen it over this last week. It is not just a notion. It is not just something for academics to talk about.”

The NDP’s Dany Morin suggested that this bill’s sudden reemergence on the legislative agenda reeked of partisanship.

Ms. Bergen was not impressed. “They can support the legislation or can stand and give an informed, intelligent response. But what we are hearing so far today is again pretty shallow and I would say intellectually bankrupt.”

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux wondered whether, were this bill to pass the House today, the Liberals might have their opposition day tomorrow.

Ms. Bergen was, once more, not impressed. “Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by assuring both the NDP and the Liberals that this is not about them. They need to stop the navel-gazing and thinking that the whole world revolves around them because it does not.”

You will perhaps forgive the members of the opposition—and the editors of the Globe and Mail—their suspicions.

The bill passed the House at report stage on February 13 and thereafter had not moved forward. The Boston Marathon was attacked on the afternoon of April 15. By the testimony of Liberal MP Marc Garneau, S-7 was not mentioned at that day’s meeting of House leaders. And it was not mentioned two days later when the Government House leader stood to inform the House of this week’s agenda. Not until last Friday afternoon, did Peter Van Loan stand and declare, in the interests of “decisive and serious action,” that S-7 would be brought forward for its final hours of debate. This just about an hour after Liberal leader Justin Trudeau had announced his intention to use this day to give party leaders a smidge less power and a couple days after the Prime Minister took a moment to criticize Mr. Trudeau for offering that meandering response to a question posed by Peter Mansbridge.

It is the New Democrats who actually oppose S-7, the official opposition insisting on their concerns about civil liberties. Mr. Morin recounted 18 amendments the NDP had attempted to make when the bill was before the public safety committee. Mike Sullivan, the NDP MP for York South-Weston, attempted to explain his concerns with the hypothetical case of Uncle Albert of Moose Jaw, who might apparently be locked up for 12 months because his hypothetical nephew is suspected of something to do with terrorism. (Keeping in mind that Uncle Albert’s hypothetical nephew is hypothetically innocent until hypothetically proven hypothetically guilty.)

“That is the kind of thing that could happen to Uncle Albert, in Moose Jaw, who has absolutely no terrorist inclination whatsoever,” Mr. Sullivan explained. “However, because he is related to somebody the police are only investigating because they suspect there might be some kind of terrorist activity, Uncle Albert would be put in jail for up to 12 months.”

What ensued was mostly a discussion between the New Democrats and Mr. Lamoureux. It was Mr. Lamoureux who eventually felt it necessary to stand and defend his leader’s honour. Pronouncing shame on the Prime Minister for his eager criticism, the Liberal for Winnipeg North took a moment to review what a couple other leaders had said about such things. “President Barack Obama said: ‘Obviously tonight there are still many unanswered questions. Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and our country resort to such violence?’ ” Mr. Lamoureux recounted. “That came from a real leader, President Barack Obama.”

So there. And so it was, a couple hours later, that Mr. Lamoureux’s leader, Mr. Trudeau, walked out into the foyer and, with news of an upended terrorist plot circulating, seemed momentarily uninterested in a discussion about causation. What, he was asked, were the root causes of the bombing in Boston?

“There are a lot of questions still to be asked,” Mr. Trudeau allowed, “but on issues of terrorism, I think the first thing we need to do is anticipate the thanks that we will have for law enforcement officers here in this country and agencies in this country who, reports have it, have managed to thwart a potential terrorism plot here in Canada. And this is the kind of work that the men and women of Canadian law enforcement agencies need to continue doing and they have our thanks and our full support in that.”

A few minutes later, an RCMP officer appeared on the television in the foyer to allege that two friends of al-Qaeda had been plotting to attack a VIA Rail train near Toronto.

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