Halifax Town Hall National Security Framework - November 6, 2016

This town hall public consultation took place on November 6, 2016 from 14:00 to 16:00 at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A total of 9 participants were present; two of whom were Members of Parliament. The town hall was hosted by Sean Casey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Member of Parliament for Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The session was facilitated by Manon Abud from Hill and Knowlton Strategies.

The session began with opening remarks from Parliamentary Secretary Sean Casey who discussed the goal of the consultation process and his role in gathering feedback on what Canadians would like to see included in the reshaping of Canada’s national security framework. He communicated the Government of Canada’s objectives of ensuring that the national security framework was effective moving forward, while safeguarding the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

Following the opening remarks from the Parliamentary Secretary, to stimulate discussion, Manon Abud provided a quick introduction to three general overview topics presented in the background documentation: Accountability, Preventing Radicalization to Violence, and Protecting Security and Rights.

Throughout the discussion, participants shared their views on the different topics surrounding national security. Most participants expressed concerns with the provisions governing the collection, holding and sharing of personal information. Participants stressed that Canadians are concerned with how, why, and for what purpose their personal information is collected. They argued that the issue was at its core one of trust:  they felt that in order for Canadians to trust the government, there needs to be a demonstrated commitment to transparency and accountability. For example, one participant suggested that the government should be required to publish an annual report outlining Canadian national security activities, with specific information on the type, volume and frequency of activities undertaken (e.g., type and volume of data collected, number of disruption activities). 

Much of the discussion focused on the topic of Bill C-22, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. While participants expressed support for this proposal, they argued that it could and should be strengthened. In particular, they suggested the need to ensure some measure of continuity within the Committee’s membership and proposed, to this end, that it should include members from the Senate. Moreover, they agreed that a Committee alone would not have the depth of skills, knowledge and resources required for robust oversight across government and advocated for the creation of a permanent oversight body comprised of non-partisan security experts.

On the issue of preventing radicalization, there was agreement amongst participants on the importance of proactively countering destructive narratives with positive messages and interventions targeting the public in general, and affected communities in particular. Participants were concerned that a culture of fear is being perpetuated by mainstream media and that this, combined with the ineffective integration of newcomers and the isolation of vulnerable populations and individuals (e.g., due to language, poverty), creates conditions that are favourable to radicalization.  One participant explained that “people are living in silos” and called for initiatives that would help foster a greater sense of community (e.g., community programming, drop in centres, social events).

At the conclusion of the discussion, Parliamentary Secretary Sean Casey thanked the attendees for their participation and insightful comments. He summarized a few key takeaways from the discussion: first, the need for more robust, expert and non-partisan oversight of national security activities; second, the need for ongoing public dialogue and transparent reporting to foster greater trust in Canada’s national security framework and activities; and third, that prevention efforts must not focus solely on enforcement, but also upstream.  The facilitator concluded the session by inviting participants to fill out the optional Feedback Form and to leave their notes if they wished.

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