There’s rarely been a bill before Parliament that was more popular. The public Conservatives’ new anti-terror legislation is filling a public demand for tough new measures aimed at a terrorism threat that Canadians believe is serious, and close to home, according to a new poll.

More than four in five Canadians – 82 per cent – back the new legislation to expand the powers of intelligence agencies and police, according to the survey of 1,509 Canadians conducted by the Angus Reid Institute. Far from seeing it as too sweeping, they tend to want more: 36 per cent say it does not go far enough.

The politicians clearly already know the public’s mood. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair announced Wednesday that his party will oppose the anti-terrorism bill – but spent much of his news conference touting the New Democrats’ willingness to fight the bill, even if it’s not a popular thing to do.

And he accused Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who expressed concerns about the bill but will vote for it, of being cowed. “Mr. Harper and the Conservatives have intimidated the Liberals into supporting this deeply flawed legislation,” he said. “We in the NDP are going to fight it.”

But the Angus Reid poll indicates just what a political juggernaut the security bill is – widely popular in every province, every age group, and across party lines.

“It’s across the board,” said Shachi Kurl, senior vice-president with the Angus Reid Institute. “Whenever you’ve got four out of five Canadians agreeing on anything, that’s significant.”

There is one note of caution for the Conservative government as it presses ahead: a large majority, 69 per cent, believe there should be additional oversight so police agencies “do not go overboard with these new powers.”

That’s a concern echoed by intelligence and national-security experts, but the Conservatives insist it is not necessary, and that existing safeguards, plus requirements for judges to issue warrants for some of the new powers, are enough.

Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, meanwhile, say more oversight is needed, but that’s not enough reason to vote against the bill. And when Mr. Mulcair accused the Liberals of lacking convictions in the face of political pressure, Mr. Trudeau replied in much the same fashion as Mr. Harper: accusing the NDP of caring nothing for security.

“The fact is the NDP has not once in its history supported strengthening of anti-terror measures in this country, including when a Liberal government brought in significant positive measures in the months following September 11th,” Mr. Trudeau said.

That is a pointed shot at a sensitive spot in the current political environment. After the two attacks in Canada in October, as well as others in France and Australia, Canadians are showing heightened awareness, Ms. Kurl said: “There isn’t a lot of tolerance for risk to security.”

The poll indicates a sizable majority, 64 per cent of respondents, believe there is a “serious threat” of terrorism in Canada. The Internet survey was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 1,509 Canadians drawn from an Angus Reid panel, and carries a margin of error of 2.5 per cent. Details of the poll can be found at the Angus Reid Institute website.

Most said they had heard at least something about the new anti-terrorism legislation – and less than one in five (19 per cent) worried that it goes too far, compromising freedoms and privacy. Nearly half (45 per cent) said the bill strikes the right balance, while 36 per cent said it does not go far enough.

And some of the individual measures in the new legislation have the kind of near-unanimous approval governments almost never see – for anything.

The proposal to make it illegal to promote terrorism, for example, is favoured by 90 per cent. Experts in national-security law insist it is already illegal to urge people to commit terrorist acts, but with those kinds of poll numbers, it’s easy to see why the Conservatives don’t care about redundancy.

Several other measures garnered widespread approval: blocking websites that promote terrorism (88 per cent in favour), making it easier to add a suspect’s name to a no-fly list (85 per cent), allowing suspects to be detained without charge for seven days instead of three (79 per cent), and giving government departments the right to share info with law enforcement agencies (81 per cent.)

It’s reason enough to explain why Mr. Trudeau raised concerns about this bill, but supports it anyway. And for Mr. Mulcair, it means that subjecting this major, game-changing bill to parliamentary scrutiny is likely to be a politically thankless task.

The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Feb. 19 2015, 3:00 AM EST
Last updated Thursday, Feb. 19 2015, 3:00 AM EST

NOTE: This article could be used as a topical introduction to a lesson plan examining the issues involved, which was posted February 4, 2015.