Last week a new law was passed in England which allows its police and intelligence agencies the ability to spy on people to a degree that the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on Privacy has called “worse than scary”. This includes the creation of a government database which collects and stores everyone within the country's internet, phone application, and phone call history. Spies are also increasingly empowered to use devices which allow them to remotely activate your phone's microphone and GPS, or secretly turn your phone on when it appears to be off. Glad you don't live in England? Think again. The Canadian government is trying to head in exactly the same direction, and the infamous “Police State Law” Bill C-51 is being used to pave the way.
Introduced by the Harper Conservative government and voted for by the Trudeau Liberals, Bill C-51 greatly expanded police, secret police, and government agency's powers to spy on, detain and limit the democratic and human right of people. Human rights organizations pointed out that there was no explanation for how this would achieve the government's stated goal of protecting the public from an unproven terrorist threat. Legal experts pointed out that the Bill's language was so vague that practically anyone could be targeted. Academics, artists and everyone in between protested the Bill's overall effect: the creation of a climate of fear and a “chill” on freedom of speech.
The Liberals had promised to prioritize dealing with “problematic” elements of Bill C-51 if elected, especially the question of government “oversight” over security operations. A public consultations was also promised. Both have turned out to be major gimmicks.
The Liberals did table legislation to create a national security oversight committee. However, the committee would limited by the Prime Minister's Office in the information it could access as well as how, when or even if it could present its findings. Even the government's own Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault said, “This override essentially turns the committee’s broad mandate into a mirage.”
It took a year for the promised “public consultation” to take shape. Even then, it turned out to be an unadvertised internet poll and rushed visits to five cities. The general public was given an insulting two hours total in each city to present their concerns. To add insult to injury, the government issued a “Green Paper” document on national security to accompany the consultations. It not only justifies Bill C-51's human rights abuses, but tries to sell us on the same type of measures which are being taken in England.
The process of requiring telecommunication companies to install equipment to collect all this personal and private information is so far down the road that the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association is already saying publicly it is willing to move forward with the new measures, it just wants to government to pay for them. Recently leaked documents also show how the RCMP is trying to create a “new public narrative” on this increased online surveillance after public outcry derailed previous attempts.
Everyone is a Target
If you think that Bill C-51 and expanded surveillance powers have nothing to do with your rights because you are not a “terrorist” – think again. Federal Court judge Simon Noel recently found that for the past 10 years, CSIS illegally accessed the personal information — known as metadata — of an untold number of people who weren’t the subject of a national security probe. It also kept this a secret.
It was also recently discovered that the RCMP profiled 313 people from across Canada who attended protests “opposing natural resource development, particularly pipeline and shale gas expansion.” The RCMP then targeted 89 individuals who were found to “meet the criteria for criminality”. They then created “protestor profiles” for each of them which were “made available to front-line officers divisional analysts and law enforcement partners”. This was known as Project Sitka.
None of the individuals identified in Project SITKA had actually committed a crime when they became the subject of scrutiny by the RCMP. The RCMP also concluded that “there is no known evidence that these individuals pose a direct threat to critical infrastructure.” Yet they targeted them anyways.
The government, police and secret police are constantly trying to push the legal envelope, or disregard it completely, to politically target the opposition organizations and voices of poor and working people. This has nothing to do with “public safety”.
90 Months of Fighting - Vancouver Maintains the Struggle
Every Monday for the past 90 weeks the Vancouver Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 has organized a different action against Bill C-51. This year this has meant alternating weeks of picket and petition drives with banner drops. When it became too dark for the banners to be seen during the winter, the Working Group made illuminated signs and continued to important working of opposing Bill C-51. Closing in on 100 weeks and almost 2 years of organizing, and public response is still strongly against Bill C-51. Many continue to sign petitions, almost 5000 in total, and drivers are still honking as they pass the banner.
In the process the Working Group has become an important example of what is possible with dedication and consistency, and reminder that the fight against Bill C-51 is far from over.
Education, Preparation and Unity
Can We Win? Yes. The vastness of the laws and government institutions which are pushing against our rights can seem overwhelming, but it's important to remember that poor and working people have overcome this type of injustice before. Apartheid in South Africa was a system of laws supported by a brutal police and secret police force. It was defeated because people were united and continued organizing. Segregation in the United States was also a system of laws enforced harshly by the government and police. These laws too were defeated through the mass organization of poor and working people. The fight against Bill C-51 is part of this same historical movement. The more we understand our history and our rights, the better position we are in to stand up and defend them. When we stand up and stand together to defend and extend our rights, that's when we put ourselves in a position to win. We need to apply these lessons to our ongoing fight to “Repeal Bill C-51!”
Repeal Bill C-51!
Independent Public Inquiry Now!
Our Security Lies in Defending the Rights of All!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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