March 14th, 2015 was an important day for Canadian democracy. Across the country, thousands of Canadians in over 70 communities took to the streets to protest the Conservative Government’s proposed ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation.
Following the tragic events of October 2014, the Conservatives proposed Bill C-51 under the pretext of public safety. The Government is rejecting calls for more independent oversight and attempting to ram through Parliament this wolf-disguised-as-lamb legislation.
Our country is indeed being threatened by a few individuals who want to create terror. I am just as concerned about our safety as any other Canadian. We all agree that Canadians must be protected. Reforms to the way CSIS operates are necessary. I question whether C-51 would move us any closer to safety from terrorists.
This omnibus piece of legislation will restrict free speech, override certain privacy rights, expand police powers and increase the surveillance powers of spy agencies to monitor citizens’ communications… but with little additional civilian oversight.
The proposed changes to CSIS are the most dangerous component of the bill. In 1984, parliamentarians granted CSIS a very broad mandate but were careful to accord it very limited powers. Bill C-51 takes CSIS far from its original mandate, which is to collect and analyse information and pass it to the police if necessary.
This legislation will expand CSIS’ powers without any increase in oversight. It would allow CSIS to take “measures within or outside Canada” to reduce a threat to the “security of Canada.” Police-like powers should be reserved for the police, a public organization, subject to accountability and oversight.
Marco Mendicino, a former Crown attorney, explained that “Judicial warrants are designed to prevent (not authorize) Charter violations.”
Why does the bill do so much more than fight terrorism? Fighting terrorism appears to be merely the pretext for Bill C-51. Its structure reveals a wider objective of allowing government agencies, such as the CSIS, to act whenever they believe security threats “may” occur. The word ‘may’ is probably the most important and recurring word in Bill C-51.
It is regularly submitted for the existing requirement of ‘will’ to require only a possibility rather than a probability of the terrorism offence occurring. Under the currently language of this bill, non-violent civil disobedience, such as blocking the construction of a pipeline, for example, could be considered a terrorist threat. I call C-51 the “Protect us from the Raging Grannies Bill”.
On February 19th, prominent Canadians, including four former Prime Ministers, seven former solicitors general and ministers of justice, five former Supreme Court justices, three past members of the intelligence review committee, two former privacy commissioners, the Canadian Bar Association, amongst others, expressed their concerns regarding Bill C-51:
“Protecting human rights and protecting public safety are complementary objectives, but experience has shown that serious human rights abuses can occur in the name of maintaining national security. Given the secrecy around national security activities, abuses can go undetected and without remedy. This results not only in devastating personal consequences for the individuals, but a profoundly negative impact on Canada’s reputation as a rights-respecting nation”.
I couldn’t agree more.
The Conservatives and the Liberals have chosen to ignore the concerns of these and many other legal and security experts. They continue to bulldoze ahead with legislation, so they can promote themselves as the parties of public safety and national security.
The Green Party was the first party to stand up against this new ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation. We were joined 2 weeks later by the NDP. I will continue to oppose this bill in the House of Commons.
Let’s not act based on the irrational politics of fear.
As Canadians, our individual freedom is our most precious asset, and we have to work to protect it!