Thursday, February 19, 2015

On oversight

Since one of the main issues talked about so far in relation to the Cons' terror bill is the question of oversight, I'll point back to what I said the last time we were told that the way to split the difference between abuses of power and a desire for secrecy was to allow only a small number of elected officials to know - but not act on - what's going on:
Remember that many of the worst abuses by the U.S. government under Bushco were defended later on the basis that Democrats were informed of their existence. And that the fact that the opposition officials were sworn to secrecy and lacked any practical means to stop the abuse didn't stop a bullying government from claiming that their failure to act immediately made for tacit agreement with the policy.

Of course, that wasn't a reasonable position by any stretch of the imagination. But it did create a handy distraction tactic as soon as revelations did leak into the public eye - ensuring that the governing party wouldn't bear sole responsibility for its own actions, while the public would perceive insiders of all parties as having hidden information. 
And the need is even more glaring in the case of C-51. Instead of merely investigating past misconduct as in the case of the Afghan detainee scandal, any oversight mechanism would need to be able to assess and respond to the use of nearly-unfettered powers on an ongoing basis. And a term of tightly-scripted Con majority government should put to rest any hope that MPs from the party currently in power will lift a finger to hold the executive accountable for anything.

Of course, the best option for now is to challenge whether those powers are actually needed in the first place. On that front, the answer looks to be an emphatic "no".

But we should also press to make sure that any powers which might be granted are accompanied by full and public disclosure as soon as the immediate reason for action has abated. Because if the Cons think so little of the public as to believe we should have no knowledge of what's being done in our name, there's no reason for confidence they'll think any more of us when it comes to using and overseeing new secret police powers.

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