Friday, February 20, 2015
Canada's "Anti-Terrorism" Bill Could Target Activists
The legislation would relax privacy restrictions, lower the legal threshold for police to obtain a warrant, and allow Canadian authorities to hold suspects without charges for as long as one year. The Toronto Star reported the bill would give 17 security agencies "access to any information in any government department on any Canadian."
The introduction of C-51 comes on the heels of news that the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's spy agency, is operating a covert, mass surveillance program that monitors the online activities of millions of Internet users around the world. Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto, likened the CSE program to a "giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives. . . . Every single thing that you do . . . is being archived, collected and analyzed."
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives remain hostile to transparency and accountability. They eliminated CSIS's internal watchdog in 2012 and C-51 offers little in the way of additional oversight. University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese says the Conservatives want to return to an era when the security services were free to engage in illegal, dirty tricks. He wrote that the bill creates a "secret jurisprudence on when CSIS can act beyond the law."
Silencing of dissent appears to be one of the bill's main goals. When Green Party leader Elizabeth May asked the public safety and justice ministers during question period if C-51 could be applied to non-violent civil disobedience, such as blockading along a pipeline route, she did not receive a direct answer.
Paul Champ, a civil liberties lawyer, said there are serious concerns that C-51 "is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies." Indeed, an internal RCMP report from January 2014, obtained by Greenpeace, reported that the so-called "anti-petroleum" movement is a growing "security threat" to Canada.
Harper states the bill would merely "criminalize the promotion of terrorism" and give the government the power to remove "terrorist propaganda" from the internet. Left unanswered is who defines "terrorism" and "terrorist propaganda." The bill is written in such overly broad terms it could be applied to nearly anything the Conservative government wants to deem criminal.
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said C-51 "proposes an unprecedented expansion of powers that will . . . impose a broad chill on legitimate political speech".
After 9/11 it was the Liberals, with the support of the Conservatives, who brought forward "anti-terror" legislation that eroded civil liberties. Now they are trading places, with the Liberals promising to support Harper's latest attack on democracy.
Elizabeth May has criticized the bill, saying it would "allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force," while NDP leader Tom Mulcair has warned that "we cannot protect our freedoms by sacrificing them."
This article was first published in Socialist Worker.