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This week’s C-51 hearings may have been flawed, but we made sure your message was heard loud and clear

As the public hearings on the unpopular Bill C-51 culminate in Halifax tonight, let’s look back at how the consultations unfolded throughout the week, and where we go next.

It’s been a busy week on the privacy front, as we’ve been working hard to make sure your voices get heard on Bill C-51, the reckless, dangerous, and ineffective spying legislation passed by the previous Conservative government. This week we delivered your voices in both parliamentary and government consultations - but we had move fast to ensure we could do so.

Here’s why: less than two weeks ago, right before the Thanksgiving long weekend, we received a press release from SECU - Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security - informing us that they would host a series of public hearings on Bill C-51, starting on October 17 in Vancouver. That’s right, the public (including groups like ours) was given little over a week’s notice for crucial consultations that will shape Parliament’s approach to this highly controversial legislation.

Despite the short notice, the team here swung into action and came up with a plan to get the message out to our supporters right across Canada, to spread the word to encourage as many people as possible to show up.

Come Monday, we gathered our talking points — based principally on what you, our supporters, have told us are your biggest concerns — and headed to the hearing in Vancouver where our Executive Director, Laura Tribe, testified on behalf of 300,000 Canadians who have restlessly voiced their opposition to this dangerous deal in the past year. Check out the video right here!

We arrived at the hotel where the hearings were taking place, to find a room with fewer than 100 seats for the public, which, thanks to the short notice and lack of publicity, were not even filled by the time the hearing started. Despite that, testimonies were delivered by a wide array of citizens: from a raging granny, to people worried about the impact of Bill C-51 on our basic freedoms, and not least our good friends at the BCCLA.

Just as the hearing started, our hearts were warmed by the sound of protesters speaking up outside — their voices were heard loud and clear inside the hearing. And it was great to see a number of these protestors come into the hearing to also deliver their views directly to the MPs present. Once the hearing came to an end some of the members of the Committee came up to us and thanked us for attending. Not surprisingly, they mentioned they had a busy week ahead, as the hearings were crunched back to back, with one each day this week.

The time for each speaker was limited to 3 minutes, after which they would turn off the microphone and proceed to the next testimony if there weren’t any questions. Most of the people who testified seemed prepared, often bringing hand-written notes with them to the mic, and made a concise point within the allowed time, which comes to show that people really do care deeply about Bill C-51 and privacy issues.

In a nutshell: the hearing happened, as promised, and the doors were open to the public. It is also fair to say that the MPs, in general, seemed approachable and open to what people had to say. But attendance was limited, which can be heavily attributed to the fact that there was very little notice given to the public — in fact, many of the people testifying said they found out about the hearing just that very day. The lack of publicity is just not good enough given the powerful Public Relations tool available to parliamentary committees.

The committee members also made it very clear that they were not the government and that they were there to listen to our concerns more than anything. Which is perhaps why when I stood up to tell the MPs that I hear everyday from people worried about their privacy, and to ask them the straightforward question, “Why hasn’t the government repealed Bill C-51?”, they answered with a bland and disappointing, “We can’t answer that. Thank you”.

In other instances, the members of the Committee even tried to justify some of the big problems with Bill C-51 (or with the government’s skewed Green Paper), much to the public’s disappointment.

On the whole, many of the problematic aspects we observed first-hand in Vancouver on Monday — such as the lack of publicity leading to not-great attendance — seem to have been repeated as the committee moved east across the country. Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson, for example, was highly critical of the execution of the hearings in Toronto and pointed out a lack of engagement on behalf of the Parliamentary Committee.

That said, as much as these problems are worrying (and worthy of criticism), it’s really important that we redouble our efforts to make sure decision-makers hear from Canadians loudly and clearly that Bill C-51 needs to be repealed, and that we need strong privacy rule to keep us safe.

On Wednesday we did just that — as our Executive Director Laura Tribe took part in a Civic Society Roundtable, organized by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Laura set out in no uncertain terms how opposed Canadians are to Bill C-51, and why we need action from the government to address the terrible privacy deficit left by their predecessors.

So, yes, it’s been a busy week… but trust us, we’re just getting started! Given the problems we’ve encountered so far, it’s now more important than ever that we flood the government’s consultation with thousands and thousands of signatures and comments to show them that we will not stop until we win the change Canadians deserve.

So, I invite you to use our powerful SaveOurSecurity tool to tell the government not only what’s wrong, but how to make it right this time. We also provide helpful talking points to help you craft your response, along with links to useful resources for those who want to dig deeper.

It is crucial that as many people as possible speak up now — we can’t afford to give the government any excuse to turn a blind eye to the thousands of people telling them to “Repeal C-51, now!”. So, if you’ve yet to do so, take action right now and help spread the word to everyone you know on Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s keep speaking up Canada!


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