By now most know that the conservative government has tabled its anti-terror legislation. The liberals are supporting the new legislation (to the surprise of not just myself but many) and the NDP are against it citing civil liberties concerns. Polls suggest that the legislation is quite popular in Canada getting 82% support. The problem with that support is that many don’t know what’s actually in the bill to make an informed choice. There are three different political perspectives on this bill that need to be explained, because this piece of legislation if passed will have a fundamental impact on our society in Canada. The bill can be viewed in it’s entirety here.
The liberals have stated they would support the bill, but want mandatory oversight, and sunset clauses to the bill. Thus the liberal political position on this bill is that they are aware there are concerns regarding civil liberties with this bill. They want parliamentary oversight (the trust us model) to ensure that Canadian intelligence agencies are not over reaching their boundaries (which they have under current oversight). The liberals want sunset clauses (or temporary suspension of civil liberties on Canadians on a whole) to fight terrorist activities. The liberals will be running on this during the next election, and have stated that they would bring these amendments in to “fix” the bill if elected in the next election, however will support this bill even if these amendments are not put in by the conservative government. Some liberal supporters believe that the liberals have been set up for a political trap in supporting this bill, when liberal MPs in the past few weeks have suggested otherwise noting that their support for the temporary suspension of civil liberties, and parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies is needed to fight terror, citing liberal cabinet experience after the 9/11 attacks.
The NDP will not support the anti-terror bill citing civil liberty concerns in the definitions of this bill, and lack of parliamentary oversight. The problem with those definitions, comes in the legal interpretation section of the bill, and will allow intelligence agencies to essentially arrest, or charge someone under this legislation with very little evidence. I will break down each concern. Section 2 of the anti-terror legislation states (Emphasis added):
2. The following definitions apply in this Act.
“activity that undermines the security of Canada”
“activity that undermines the security of Canada” means any activity, including any of the following activities, if it undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada:
(a) interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada;
This part of the law could be used to arrest, spy on, or charge anyone who blows the whistle on what our intelligence agencies have been doing. Government whitleblowers are a big part of keeping our government/intelligence agencies accountable to the people. Anyone who blows the whistle or leaks diplomatic documents such as secret trade agreements could be charged under this bill. Anyone who puts the economic or financial stability of Canada in question could mean striking rail workers, Air Canada worker, or any union to which the government feels could impact the economic or financial stability of Canada could also be charged.
(f) interference with critical infrastructure;
Law can be used to arrest, spy on or charge anyone who disrupts rail lines, roads in legitimate protests.
The Conservatives have put in the following in the definitions of this bill to “clarify” the above to exclude:
For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression
The problem with all of these provision when it comes to dissent towards government, is that peaceful non-violent advocacy and protests against government policy are meant to disrupt or inconvenience the critical infrastructure, or the economic and financial stability of industry in order to garner support and attention to their cause, and may not always be lawful.
During the 60’s Dr. Martin Luther King marched on Edmund Pettus Bridge in protest of segregation. An act that was unlawful, and had disastrous consequences, with police beating on the protesters. The Edmund Pettus Bridge protest was filmed by media. Americans were so disgusted on what they saw on their TV sets, that they ended up coming out in force on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and joining Kings march for equality and civil rights. That’s just one of many examples of unlawful dissent/protest. In Canada an example is the #idolnomore movement where aboriginal Canadians have been protesting on equal rights under the law, treaty ratification and respect just to name a few that movement stands for.
Most Canadians are familiar with the term “Reasonable Grounds to Believe” when the law is upheld. This is legalese that means there has to be a certain amount of evidence in order for the court to grant a warrant for arrest or search and seizure. The new anti-terror bill changes the “Reasonable Grounds to Believe” to “Reasonable Grounds to Suspect” meaning virtually no evidence is needed to arrest or detain individuals under this bill for a period of time without charge. The BC Civil Liberties Association is extremely concerned on some of these points, and they put out a statement on the bill just after it was tabled in the house:
Bill C-51 would create “an unprecedented expansion of powers that will harm innocent Canadians and not increase public safety.”
In a release, it said it is alarmed by proposals that would expand the amount of time a terror suspect can be jailed without charge and that would allow judges to impose stringent conditions — including house arrest — on people who have not been convicted of any crime.
Last week some of Canada’s former prime ministers, and former civil servants sent an open letter to parliament asking for more parliamentary oversight on the bill. The full list of signatories:
The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada (1993-2003), Minister of Justice (1980-82);
The Right Honourable Joe Clark, Prime Minister of Canada (1979-80), Minister of Justice (1988-89);
The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada (2003-06);
The Right Honourable John Turner, Prime Minister of Canada (1984), Minister of Justice (1968-72);
The Honourable Louise Arbour, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (1999-2004);
The Honourable Michel Bastarache, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (1997-2008);
The Honourable Ian Binnie, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (1998-2011);
The Honourable Claire L’Heureux Dubé, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (1987-2002);
The Honourable John Major, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (1992-2005);
The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice (2003-06);
The Honourable Marc Lalonde, Minister of Justice (1978-79);
The Honourable Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice (1997-2002), Minister of Public Safety (2003-06);
The Honourable Warren Allmand, Solicitor General of Canada (1972-76);
The Honourable Jean-Jacques Blais, Solicitor General of Canada (1978-79);
The Honourable Wayne Easter, Solicitor General of Canada (2002-03);
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Solicitor General of Canada (1998-2002);
The Honourable Frances Lankin, Member, Security Intelligence Review Committee (2009-14);
The Honourable Bob Rae, Member, Security Intelligence Review Committee (1998-2003);
The Honourable Roy Romanow, Member, Security Intelligence Review Committee (2003-08);
Chantal Bernier, Acting Privacy Commissioner of Canada (2013-2014);
Shirley Heafey, Chairperson, Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP (1997-2005);
Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada (2003-2013).
The bill needs far more than parliamentary oversight. Internet law expert Michael Geist stated in a recent post:
Yet the problem with oversight and accountability as the primary focus is that it leaves the substantive law (in the case of CSE Internet surveillance) or proposed law (as in the case of C-51) largely unaddressed. If we fail to examine the shortcomings within the current law or within Bill C-51, no amount of accountability, oversight, or review will restore the loss of privacy and civil liberties.
The anti-terror bill has passed its second reading in the house. Debate on the bill was shut down by the Conservative government only a few hours in and after only a few MP’s were allowed to speak on it. The government knows that the more the bill is debated, the less support it is likely to get from the 82% who currently support the bill and are not properly informed on it. The bill will be in committee hearings where the experts will hopefully have a chance to have their say, but I strongly suspect that the committee hearings will be kept very short as well.
This is propping up to be an important election issue by all three parties. It’s important that all Canadians look beyond the spin, and ask many questions, and demand many answers before we all sign on to this.