As Trudeau backs Harper's anti-terror bill, a fight breaks out over focus on Muslims

By David Akin, Postmedia Network

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA - Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Wednesday his MPs will vote in favour of the Harper government's new anti-terrorism bill even if the government rejects their suggestions to improve the legislation.

That's big political news in this election year because it gives Liberals some political cover from the accusations that were likely to come from Conservative attack dogs keen to bark that Liberals were soft on terrorism.

Still, I heard from some Liberals who figured those attacks dogs would been better silenced if Trudeau voted in favour of killing terrorists in Iraq (he voted against) and against what's jokingly described as the "secret policeman's bill."

But what's done is done and now Trudeau will see if he can win on politics and policy by recommending changes to the anti-terrorism bill that would make "Canadians safe in a way that is consistent with Canadian values." He wants parliamentarians to have a formal oversight role of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) which is getting a new mandate to "disrupt" terrorist activities.

Thomas Mulcair and the NDP also like some aspects of the bill and also want more oversight.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the other hand, told the House of Commons that the civilian body responsible for CSIS oversight -- the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) -- is doing just fine.

"(SIRC) provides robust oversight," Harper said. "The oversight is there. The oversight is strong."

The Conservatives have the majority in the House of Commons and in the Senate so, at the end of the day, this dispute over oversight may be a moot point.

But there is growing -- and potentially explosive debate -- about the way political leaders relate to the group of Canadians that this bill is so clearly all about: Muslim Canadians.

The current batch of terrorists that this bill is designed to counter are not Jewish or Christian or Sikh (though Sikh terrorism is still a hot file on the Pacific coast). The current batch have, as their common denominator, a belief in a warped radical view of Islamist jihadism.

Trudeau acknowledged that fact Wednesday, saying, "I want to affirm again to our friends and fellow citizens in the Muslim community that Canadians know that recent acts of terror committed in the name of Islam are an aberration of your faith. Continued mutual co-operation and respect will prevent the influence of distorted ideological propaganda posing as religion."

Harper, too, acknowledged the same fact but in a different way when he introduced the bill last Friday. He said the bill targets those who promote terrorism or recruit terrorists and "it doesn't matter what the age of a person is or whether they're in their basement or whether they're in a mosque."

A mosque, of course, is a Muslim place of worship but, in Thomas Mulcair's view, simply stating such a plain fact is equivalent to fanning the flames of racist anti-Muslim bigotry.

"It was irresponsible of the prime minister to throw the mosques into his comments. It was a form of Islamophobia and it was wrong," Mulcair said Monday, demanding Harper apologize.

Trudeau decided to stay out of that one.

"I'm not going to make political attacks out of this," he said when asked Wednesday if he agreed with Mulcair. "We need to be above partisan politics on this and I think we can all agree that we have to work together to keep Canadians safe in a way that is respectful of our most cherished values and freedoms."

True. But both Trudeau and Harper are absolutely correct to remind all that current and proposed counter-terrorism measures focus, for now, on Muslim Canadians, not in punishment for their choice of religion, but in the hope that these measures better protect Muslim Canadians and make their mosques a place where they can worship and pray in peace and safety.


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