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Tensions Simmer at Bill C-51 Hearings

Activist and Tory committee member spar over anti-terrorism law.

Jeremy Nuttall 27 Mar

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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OpenMedia's Steve Anderson, pictured, testifying at House of Commons committee.

Appearing before the House of Commons public safety committee this week was a disappointing experience, punctuated by one Tory MP's "arrogant and elitist" attitude toward the public, says Vancouver activist Steve Anderson.

"The government reps there weren't there to listen; they're obviously there to just make their talking points known and try to get the people they invited to agree with them on the record," Anderson, national coordinator for internet freedom advocate OpenMedia, said in an interview Wednesday after he had returned to Vancouver.

"That was disappointing, but I guess not that surprising."

Anderson, who testified on Bill C-51 -- the government's Anti-Terrorism Act -- took particular exception to a comment made by Conservative committee member Roxanne James, who vigorously defended the government's controversial legislation.

James at one point suggested that people opposed to the legislation "actually think" they could be arrested as terrorists.

During his testimony before the committee, Anderson responded to that comment.

"I just want to say... I found that the comments mentioned a second ago from MP James kind of insinuate that Canadians are not informed and are stupid. I find that really distasteful for a public office holder."

James responded by saying she wasn't calling Canadians stupid and was just trying to make a point about "misinformation" surrounding the bill.

Anderson also brought a 100,000-person petition against C-51 and said he felt Canadians were actually well informed on the topic and should be encouraged to enter debates over it rather than be "disrespected."

Bill C-51 has met a barrage of criticism since it was introduced by the government in January. Among other things, the bill would allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to disrupt suspected terrorist activity and give new authority for 17 federal agencies and departments to share information on Canadians. It would also allow the no-fly list to be expanded and would make it easier for the RCMP to get court orders to restrict the movements of terror suspects.

'Grassroots education'

Many witnesses who have testified at the committee say they have had similar experiences, and some of them have told The Tyee they wonder if the hearings are properly serving their purpose.

Anderson said prior to his appearance at the hearing he spent the better part of two days going through emails and messages from concerned citizens so he could bring their concerns to the committee.

"What I've seen is kind of a really inspiring grassroots education effort on a massive scale. I know I'm a younger person, but I've been doing this for a while and it's kind of amazing," Anderson said. "So to have her [James] step up there and try to put all that down, it just felt really insulting to Canadians.

"It was clear to me what she was saying, so I just kind of called her out," he said.

There have been other signs of tension during the hearings. For example, on March 12, Tory committee member Diane Ablonczy asked the National Council of Canadian Muslims' executive director Ihsaan Gardee about accusations the council is tied to Hamas.

The group has always denied the allegations and is suing the Prime Minister's Office after his former communications director made similar allegations last year.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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