It appears the Liberal Party has encouraged a high profile member of the Stop C-51 campaign to, in the words of the campaigner, “declare victory and go home.”
Jamie Biggar, campaigns director for the online advocacy group LeadNow, which has spearheaded the campaign in cooperation with OpenMedia and a broad coalition of other groups, has agreed to go public with his statements about interactions with an official from the Liberal party headquarters in Ottawa.
“[H]e was trying to persuade me that it [was] in my best interest to do what he perceived to be in his best interest,” said Biggar, by “try[ing] to turn the conversation back onto the economy,” an area where the Conservatives are perceived as weak right now.
Biggar informed this author early Monday morning that they were getting “a stream of emails” from the Liberal headquarters in (what he perceived as an) attempt to get them to drop or relax their challenge to Bill C-51—the so-called ‘anti-terror’ legislation which experts and lawyers’ groups have denounced as an attack on Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
According to Biggar, the attempt on the part of the Liberal official—whom Biggar won’t name—hasn’t worked because, in the words of the LeadNow staffer (and as he told the official), “this [struggle against C-51] is too important for that”—and they intend to carry on fighting the bill as a whole to ensure it doesn’t pass.
The government was intransigent about making changes to C-51 until very recently, and has even implied that some of its critics could be terrorists.
MPs in the government have also asserted that critics were “conspiracy” theorists who had been subject to “misinformation” and were “quoting rumours” and “mistruths.”
However, in recent days they have back-pedaled and admitted there were changes that could “clarify” the bill for those who were worried about its potential impact on peaceful protest, free speech and dissent.
The Liberals have floated their own amendments to C-51 but also said they would vote for it, throwing their support behind it even before its text was made available by the government.
The bill has now passed at the committee stage with limited amendments that bear seemingly little relation to the committee’s hearings on the bill, as reported by the CBC. Rather, the amendments seem to have been made in response to public pressure about C-51.
The bill will now go to third reading sometime in the third week of April, after which it will go to the Senate, assuming the majority of Conservative MPs in the House of Commons votes in favour.
Despite their support for the bill, the Liberals have been careful not to appear too close to the government’s side in the debate about it. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has said that it contains “worrying features” and that it wasn’t a bill his party would have introduced.
However, Biggar’s report to us is likely to influence perception of the Liberals somewhat, as it reveals the party’s willingness to appease the government with limited changes to measures that will still drastically expand the reach of the Canadian security state, both in Canada and abroad.
A Toronto Star editorial on Monday suggested that there was more “common ground” than not between the position of Liberals and that of the Official Opposition New Democrats, who have said they reject the bill outright. This report appears to contradict that view of the Liberals.
The email from Biggar came after rumours that Conservatives were floating amendments as a “trial balloon” that only “tinker around the edges” of the so-called anti-terror bill, in the words of people fighting C-51. It also came as the House of Commons was about to vote on an extended mission of combat in Iraq and a new mission in Syria.
The motion passed 142-129, with the Liberals and NDP both opposing the plan.
In recent days, organizers at LeadNow have suggested to this author that their group is going to step up their criticism of the Liberal party, and even to go so far as “publicly fighting” with them about C-51.
After other members of the campaign, including this author, alerted people to a strategic voting initiative from the group that omitted mention of the Liberals’ support for C-51, LeadNow was challenged to explain its actions in relation to the campaign against the bill.
According to the email itself, the message could have been been seen by as many as 400,000 supporters. Biggar claims that the mention was supposed to be included, and that it’s omission was the result of a mistake on LeadNow’s part.
LeadNow had also been quietly trying to persuade the Liberals that they would lose votes in the next election from those people if they supported the bill, but found the Liberals largely unresponsive to their appeals.
Biggar, who has been working with others on the campaign against C-51, wrote an email to this author early Monday morning, describing a phone campaign that would directly target MPs with objections to the bill’s passage in any form:
“The Liberal HQ is going to be very, very unhappy with the phone call move. I’m getting a stream of emails from them about how we should declare victory and go home – which is not at all what we’re going to do,” Biggar said.
“I’m also going to tell them tomorrow that bigger censure, directly about the election, is coming.”
As a result of its focus on C-51, LeadNow, which works to build bridges between supporters of all three opposition parties at election time, has decided to temporarily suspend a strategic voting campaign they have spent more than a year preparing and several years honing.
In an email to this author, Biggar stated that LeadNow would be “so far” doing 3 things to fight C-51:
1. Dropping [their] other work to focus so exclusively on C-51
2. Now, suspending a push for the election campaign until after the bill goes through third reading
3. Publicly fighting with the Liberals
As of late Tuesday, the group’s campaign against the bill appeared to be taking center stage once again, with Biggar vowing to more vocally criticize the third party at a moment when they are neck and neck with Conservatives in the polls.
At a rally on Parliament Hill, Saturday, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Alex Neve criticized the government’s proposed changes to C-51 as inadequate. Neve said:
“I can tell you that on every single page of Bill C-51, there’s something that violates, undermines, attacks or affronts human rights. We don’t solve that by a little tweak here, by removing a word [there]… Bill C-51 has to go. That’s the bottom line.”
Note: this post was published in an earlier form on the Stop C-51 Facebook page. Jamie Biggar responded to that earlier version in the comments of the post, which can be read here:
UPDATE, April 4: Jamie Biggar has responded in the comments below with the same comment he posted under the earlier Facebook post. He points out that Liberals never told him to stop campaigning against C-51. For the record, here are all of the instances—each in separate emails sent over the course of 48 hours—where Jamie reported what the Liberal official wanted him to do, either change course or declare victory:
Mar. 30: “I’m getting a stream of emails from them [Liberal HQ] about how we should declare victory and go home”
Mar. 31: “The person I was talking about said that he thought we should declare victory and move on“
Mar. 31: “[he said] you should call this a victory, it’s meaningful changes”
Mar. 31: “He believes that focusing on terror plays into the Conservatives hands as it helps them turn the channel from the economy, where they are now weak, to an issue where they believe they can win”
Mar. 31: “he was trying to persuade me that it’s in my best interest to do what he perceived to be in his best interest.”
Mar. 31: “Trying to persuade me to do something in their interest, not pressure.”
I’ll have to leave it to the reader as to what constitutes pressure in this context, but I think when a senior Liberal who wields power—and stands to wield considerably more power if their party is elected to government because of your organization’s commitment to strategic voting—smiles and offers you his opinion, that meets a certain definition of pressure.
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
2 the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something
It isn’t more complicated than that.