Bill C-51: Strong support for proposed anti-terror legislation, but additional oversight wanted too

Nearly half of Canadians say draft law “strikes right balance”, fully one-third say it doesn’t go far enough

February 19, 2015 – Canadians are firmly supportive of Bill C-51, the federal government’s proposed anti-terror legislation that contains a range of measures that would, among other things, provide law enforcement agencies with expanded powers.

Four-in-five (82%) adult Canadians surveyed online by the Angus Reid Institute say they support the draft law, with fully one-quarter (25%) saying they “strongly” support C-51.

Key Findings:

  • Support for some individual elements of the legislation is stronger than for the draft law as a whole
  • One-in-three (36%) respondents say the bill “does not go far enough”
  • Most Canadians (69%) want additional oversight to ensure law enforcement’s powers aren’t abused
  • The majority (63%) also say they trust those agencies to access and use Canadians’ personal information only for anti-terrorism purposes and nothing else

Angus Reid Institute

Support for C-51: loud echoes of past attacks?

In the aftermath of deadly terror attacks last October on Parliament Hill, in Quebec – and in Paris more recently – Canadians are expressing broad support for the federal government’s proposed new anti-terror legislation.

Overall, two-thirds (64%) say they believe there is a serious threat of terrorism here in Canada, while one-third (36%) say the threat has been overblown by politicians and the media. This sentiment is essentially unchanged from a November 2014 Angus Reid Institute survey that posed the same question.

Most Canadians (80%) profess to having at least heard about the legislation, and four-in-five respondents either strongly support (25%) or support (57%) Bill C-51. Opposition to the draft law stands at 17 per cent in total, with just five per cent saying they are “strongly” against the legislation.

Angus Reid Institute

It is of note that no significant differences in opinion occur based on region, age, gender or other demographic categories, or based on how closely Canadians have been following the story: the results show consistent broad overall support for the bill among Canadians from all walks of life (see detailed tables at the end of this release).

When the bill is deconstructed into individual elements, support either holds steady or hardens further:

  • 91% favour making it illegal to “promote terrorism”, with sentences of up to five years
  • 89% favour blocking websites that promote terrorism
  • 87% support making it easier for law enforcement agencies to add a terror suspect’s name to airline no-fly lists
  • 80% favour extending the length of time a terrorism suspect can be detained without charge to seven days from three days
  • 81% support giving government departments the authority to share private information – such as passport applications or commercial data – with law enforcement agencies

Underlining the extent of public support for the specific elements in the bill: a full majority of Canadians voiced strong support for the first three listed above, and a large plurality over four-in-ten did so for the other two measures.

Oversight of law enforcement; Overstepping Rights?

Despite strong support across regional and demographic groups for Bill C-51, Canadians are almost equally emphatic about their desire for additional police and law enforcement oversight to accompany expanded powers. Seven-in-ten (69%) are of this opinion, while three-in-ten (31%) say existing oversight of law enforcement in this country is adequate, and nothing further is needed.

It is a striking result, especially given opinion on whether the legislation “goes too far” in the context of Canadians’ freedom and privacy. On this question, most respondents – but not the majority – actually say the proposed law “strikes the right balance overall” (45%). One-fifth (19%) say C-51 “goes way too far”, while slightly more than one-third (36%) say the legislation “doesn’t go far enough”.


Contrast this with sentiment about Bill C-44 – another piece of anti-terrorism legislation introduced with a so-called “sunset clause” in the days after the attack on Parliament Hill. While it must be underscored that the contents of C-44 were not identical to C-51, the former also broadly dealt with expanded powers for law enforcement agencies, specifically the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The Angus Reid Institute canvassed Canadians on C-44 at the time of its introduction in the House of Commons. At that time, half (51%) felt the legislation hit the mark, while nearly three-in-ten (27%) felt it went too far and “stepped on civil liberties”; one-fifth (22%) felt it was too anemic. This current poll has the latter two views essentially reversed with Canadians twice as likely to say this new legislation doesn’t go far enough as opposed to goes too far; the largest group in both cases expressed overall satisfaction that the appropriate balance has been achieved.

Trust in government to use personal data:

As noted earlier, components of Bill C-51 would give government departments the authority to share private information – such as passport applications or commercial data – with law enforcement agencies. On this, most Canadians say they trust government and its agencies to use such data only for the purposes the legislation intends them to. The results can be seen in the chart below:

Angus Reid Institute

Here again, these results are a notable contrast in Canadian opinion to a similar line of questioning in an October 2013 poll regarding, among other things, anti-terrorism and government surveillance in the wake of former CIA employee Edward Snowden’s defection to Russia.

At the time, Canadians were asked what the most likely use of information gathered via their own government’s mass surveillance would be. Only one-fifth (18%) responded that the data would be used for “strictly national security/anti-terrorism efforts” while nearly half (46%) said the information would be used for “any purposes the government chooses”.

Click here for full report including tables and methodology

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey

Image Credit: Chris Beckett/Flickr

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