Bill C-51: A Construction of Fear by Conservatives

Bill C-51: A Construction of Fear by Conservatives
Written for “Risk Communication” course in 2015
(Conservative Party were in power at time)

Individuals navigate their lives through a world saturated by constant streams of news, often provided with narrow perspectives. Recently, Canadians have been surrounded with information of possible terrorist threats put forth by their government through official statements, political ads, and petitions sent to them online and through mail. As a result of the lack of information provided with these larger concepts, Canadians become fearful of the possible risk of an attack on their own nation. It is clear that the Conservative Party is constructing this state of fear within the nation in order to condition Canadians to align themselves with agreeing with the passing of Bill C-51. As such, this paper will discuss three strategies the Conservatives are employing to gain the trust of Canadians. The first aspect deals with the persuasive language used in speeches and advertisements, as well as the interchangeable use of the words “ISIS” and “Islam,” making the link that there is a risk regarding this religion. Next, it is difficult for civilians to find unbiased information regarding Bill C-51, and often any information provided by the government is incomplete leaving much to individual interpretation. Finally, Conservatives tie the use of language and lack of information with powerful imagery in their advertisements which is problematic for it creates certain connotations sparking specific intended outlooks. In order for this paper to provide a fair account of the legislation of Bill C-51, the viewpoints of the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP will be consulted to ensure the three main parties are represented. Nevertheless, it is ultimately clear that the Conservatives are utilizing persuasive language, incomplete information, and imagery to sway Canadians with the implementation of Bill C-51.

Foremost, it is important to acknowledge that this paper does not condone the actions of terrorist groups, but rather it is how the current Government of Canada is handling the situation. Mark Konty, Blythe Duell and Jeff Joireman explain how governments use times of war to pass legislation that serve more interests than public safety alone. In most cases, “the threat is overstated” so that civilians feel that there is an immediate and impending risk on their nation (Konty 95). Using this fear, governments are able to gain the trust of the civilians in passing certain legislation. This has been observed both before and after 9/11, as outlined by Noam Chomsky who writes that the creation of fear will pass the legislation but in turn only supports a business-dominated consensus, not public safety (Chomsky 7). It is clear that with Bill C-51, Conservatives are hoping to achieve more than the “public safety” it states it is addressing. Bill C-51 will introduce preventive detention which could indicate aggressive interrogation, “a new information-sharing regime” which changes how information is internally shared between governmental bodies, speech rights will also be affected – such as the use of “terrorism” in one’s personal conversation could place them under inspection – as well as the ability to censor the internet (Forcese 2015). In sum, Bill C-51 offers more power to law enforcement which could alter the landscape of protests in Canada.

The construction of fear is most notable through persuasive language employed by the Conservatives. Persuasive language scares individuals because it does not provide a complete picture when words such as “ISIS,” “Islam” and “niqab” are casually said in speeches. It is clear that the words are overused and are generally said interchangeably which is the main problem. This is first seen on the Conservatives website in a post written by Steven Blaney. The blogpost titled “Protecting Canadians from Terrorist Threats” is superimposed on an image of what appears to be terrorists holding AK47s into the air. Blaney’s article features many carefully chosen words creating the illusion that Canadians are under immediate suspected attack. For example, Blaney opens up his post with the phrase “the world is a dangerous place, and Canada is not immune to the global threat of terrorism” (Blaney 2015). This sets a certain tone for the remainder of the article, convincing the reader that Canada is under immediate danger and that everyone should be aware of this “potential risk.” It is what George Gerbner explains as the “mean world syndrome” (Dyson 2011). If talk of potential terrorist attacks are repeated endlessly, civilians will be convinced it is a great concern. Blaney continues to write: “Jihadist extremists are targeting Canada because of what we stand for. We are known around the world as a beacon of peace, democracy, and individual freedom. That stands in stark contrast to the totalitarian regime they seek to impose across the globe. We will never sacrifice those rights and freedoms that define us in our quest to improve public safety” (Blaney 2015). It is not accidental Blaney uses “targeting,” “beacon,” “stark contrast,” or “impose” in his write up. These words carry the connotation that terrorist groups are a risk to Canada because they do not agree with how Canada is run; it is something they wish to destroy. Blaney offers the solution of agreeing with the implementation of Bill C-51 and how this will only strengthen Canada’s chances against a terrorist attack. Continue reading