Just weeks after one poll showed a convincing majority supported the Canadian government's sweeping new anti-terrorism law, a new survey suggests that support is dropping, and fast.
The Forum Research poll, provided exclusively to VICE, says support for the legislation now stands at 45 percent, with nearly the same amount opposed to the bill.
And as scrutiny increases, that support can be expected to drop even further. Of those who are familiar with the proposals in the bill—nearly 70 percent of those asked—support drops even further, with half saying they disapprove of the bill, and only 31 percent supporting it.
Opposition proves to be pan-Canadian. British Columbia, the prairies, and Atlantic Canada prove most opposed to the legislation, with only slim pluralities in Alberta and Quebec endorsing the bill.
The numbers will be a splash of cold water for the Conservatives, who had counted on the bill, C-51, being a winner, allowing them to drive a wedge between themselves as the opposition parties.
The poll shows that strategy likely isn't working. Of those familiar with the bill, decisive majorities of Liberal and NDP supporters do not have a favourable opinion of the bill—66 and 77 percent, respectively. Even 12 percent of Conservatives oppose the broad legislative changes, which would vastly expand information sharing, increase police powers to preventively detain terror suspects, and allow Canada's spies to "disrupt" apparent threats to Canada or her economy.
These numbers are bad news for the Liberals, who are supporting the legislation, and good news for the NDP, who've vowed to fight the bill.
When Angus-Reid ran a poll in February, it found that 82 percent of their respondents supported the legislation. That firm, however, conducts its polls by way of a voluntary online panel, whereas Forum conducts interactive surveys over the phone.
If support really has softened that drastically, the Conservatives are in for a rough few weeks. The public safety committee, which is tasked with studying the bill, still has seven meetings left dedicated to the bill. Unless the Tories re-jig the schedule, studies on the bill will continue until at least mid-May.
Things have already gotten off to a rocky start.
Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, law professors who've become go-to experts on the legislation, pummelled the bill before committee last week. Then, Conservative committee member Diane Ablonczy went after a witness from the National Council for Canadian Muslims for supposedly being linked to terrorist entities. Then, the Tories had to play defence after it came to light that the Privacy Commissioner—who has offered blistering criticism of the wide-ranging legislation—was kept off the witness list.
But not all of the bill is a loser for the Tories, the poll shows.
The suggestion that the legislation could be used to surveil opponents of resource development and government policy didn't poll well—61 percent of all respondents opposed that—while half of those asked were opposed to the idea that the bill carried no additional oversight for Canada's intelligence services.
Those polled were split down the middle on the fact that the legislation would allow Canada's spies, CSIS, to "disrupt" apparent threats without a warrant.
Two-thirds of those asked, however, supported giving police more powers to track, surveil and detain those actually suspected of planning an imminent terror attack.
After being asked all this, the survey offered three options: fight to kill the bill, unless it is significantly altered; support the bill, but try to increase oversight of intelligence agencies; or leave the bill as-is—the NDP, Liberal and Conservative positions, respectively. 38 percent of the respondents wanted to fight the bill, 34 percent supported the bill with reservations, and just 19 percent endorsed the legislation as-is.
Topping off the bad news for the Conservatives is the number of Canadians who think that new anti-terror powers—any new anti-terror powers—are needed: just 56 percent. That number is down 15 points from just four months prior, when Canada was still reeling from the pair of terror attacks in October.
There may be some precedent for the drop in support for C-51, however.
Immediately following the September 2001 attacks, a decisive majority of Americans supported sacrificing civil liberties in the name of security. That number plummeted within a year, and never returned to the highs it saw following the destruction of the Twin Towers.
If public opinion truly is experiencing a spectacular reversal, and the Conservatives opt to walk-back some of the controversial parts of this legislation, it wouldn't be the first time that the government pulled up at the last second.
In 2012, the Tories quietly took Bill C-30 behind the woodshed and loaded the rifle, as public discontent over the unprecedented powers found inside the bill reached a fever pitch. In 2014, the government gutted and re-wrote their Fair Elections Act after protests sprang up, contesting sections of the bill that would have made it harder for students, First Nations, and the elderly to vote. More recently, the Conservative government made changes to its prostitution bill after concerns were raised that it was overly broad.
Apart from those rare scenarios, the Conservatives have been loathe to edit or delete their legislation, even in the face of protest.
They refused to change their cyberbullying bill, even after the Supreme Court ruled that sections of the law that authorize law enforcement's ability to obtain Canadians' data without a warrant—sections that the cyberbullying legislation hoped to expand—were being used unconstitutionally.
The Forum Research poll carries a margin of error of +/- 3 percent, 19 times out of 20. Numbers provided by Forum Research Inc. This poll was conducted March 13 and 14 among a randomly selected sample of 1390 Canadian voters.
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