The setting I'm used to speaking about Bill C-51 in is every Monday at different skytrain station and busy transit points. I'm there with a lot of people who are at this conference - holding signs, holding sign-up sheets and petitions at our weekly picket actions. I've actually brought all the petition signatures we've got, almost 2000 signatures collected just on the streets across the Lower Mainland. So I'm used to speaking on a megaphone at a skytrain station for 20 to 25 minutes at a time. So this 10 minute time limit is going to be a bit of a struggle for me, but let's see how it goes.
What I wanted to say is that there are at least 311,000 signatures on an online petition to repeal Bill C-51. To my knowledge that it the most signatures that's been on any petition in Canadian history. Granted it's an online petition, which is a new technological advancement, but it's very obvious that this is one of the most popular petitions in the history of Canada. This means Bill C-51 is one of the most unpopular laws in the history of Canada.
We are reaffirmed of this every single Monday - if we had any doubts during the week about whether people still care about Bill C-51, whether they still think it's a good idea to Repeal Bill C-51. That's the benefit of being able to going out every week. The public reminds us that, “Yes we think this is important.” If you look at our online photos, when we're trying to take a group photo at the end of the pickets there's always someone trying to sign out petition as we're trying to take the photo. It really doesn't end.
People care about Bill C-51 because it challenges their fundamental rights and they can identify with that. The other thing is that Bill C-51 is such a broad attack on our human and our democratic rights that unfortunately or fortunately the benefit of it is that it attacks all of us. It attacks everybody, so everybody feels attacked. And that a a very big broad base of people to work for and from to repeal Bill C-51. So our challenge is to mobilize that already established base of people who are against Bill C-51, who already came out to the two huge National Days of Action. We had over 70 actions in one day across Canada against Bill C-51. So we've got to mobilize that. We need more education of course, but there already is a base for us to work from.
The other thing I think we need to understand is the context of Bill C-51. Not just the national context, but the international context. We need to know that it's not just Canada that has these so-called anti-terrorism laws. The United States, France, England, Australia - they all have theses same laws. They even name the same thing, “Anti-Terrorism Bill 2015” They are all countries that are actively engaged in war and occupation abroad, and austerity and cutbacks at home. All countries that are concerned about opposition as the realities of poor and working peoples' lives, of the majority of peoples in these countries lives, becomes worse and worse and worse. They become more and more concerned about what we are going to do in response to those things.
So we need to understand and grow strength from the fact that we are part of a movement across Canada, but also part of a movement across the world of people who are fighting back and defending their human rights and their dignity.
How Do We Move Forward?
So, what do we do? That often is a question that we get from people at the skytrain stations. They say, “I'm against this thing, I've signed your petition, I see you guys, I've heard you guys, so what am I going to do?” The first thing I say is, “You can grab a sign, you can become part of this!” For us here today, many of whom who are people who are already actively engaged against Bill C-51, I say that we need to have a continuous campaign against Bill C-51. I think that's why the Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 has been able to do what we've been doing - because it's a campaign. Every week we have an action - it's connected. But it's not just the picket action, it's the e-mail I send every week to remind people about it, it's the social media campaign, it's the signs, it's the banners, it's the brochures – all of these things come together. The weekly pickets are the backbone, but it's part of an organized effort.
It's definitely an organized effort that brought Bill C-51 to Canada, an organized campaign of fear and intimidation and Islamophobia, that was implemented by the Harper Conservatives and is continued today. There are campaigns against our rights. They are smart enough to use campaigns against us, we should be smart enough to use campaigns against them. When you have limited resources, like generally grassroots organizations do, we need to be as effective as possible. So our actions need to be connected and they need to be coordinated.
We Need to Keep Up the Fight
Our success is through our organizing. I remember doing a tour through the United States right before Barack Obama was elected, speaking about Cuba. A lot of the places we went people were talking about how they weren't doing much organizing any more. They were doing a lot of fundraising for Obama, and they were hoping that this was going to fix things. I went back the next year and there was a lot of disappointed people who felt like they had wasted a lot of time. They thought that Obama was going to be the solution for them, and had put all of their eggs in this one basket. We can't do that, and we don't have time to waste waiting for Justin Trudeau to fix Bill C-51 for us. The power of the initial movement against Bill C-51 was in how broad based it was, how grassroots it was, how it didn't rely on any specific political party. It relied on people responding to things that affected their interests, and all the organizations that were there and part of it. So we aren't going to rely on anybody, we are going to rely on the organizing that we still need to keep on doing.
Clear Focus: Repeal Bill C-51
The reason I bring this right now is that we need to be clear in our message as well. I think it's going to be a challenging time right now. There's talk about this public consultation, there's talk about amendments. A lot of loose talk of commitments and non commitments. Our demand still needs to continue to be Repealing Bill C-51. I don't want to get us drawn into a long and never-ending discussion about exactly what kind of amendments are needed, or how exactly this public consultation is going to take place. Public consultation? Fine. But while Bill C-51 remains in effect, while the biggest attack on our free speech and or human rights remains in effect? How are we are supposed to have a public consultation while that's going on? That doesn't make sense to me.
They could repeal Bill C-51 if they wanted to. They could have repealed Bill C-51 three months ago when they took office if they wanted to. They need to repeal Bill C-51. Then fine, they can have a discussion about rights and security and how you balance those things. But don't try and tell me that a discussion that happens in the shadow of Bill C-51 is a real discussion. And Ralph Goodale [Minister of Public Safety who recently travelled to London and Paris for advise on national security issues], don't fly a plane to England or to France to talk about what you should do to balance security and rights. People in Canada have been telling you for the last year exactly what they want, and exactly how they want to repeal Bill C-51. So stay here, we've been telling you for a year. You don't need to go much farther for that. There has already been a lot of public consultation, unfortunately not organized by the government of Canada. The people of Canada organized the public consultation.
My final point is that need to focus on unity. What I said about Bill C-51, about the positive aspect of it being that it was such a broad attack on so many different sectors of society, is that we need to be united and we need to organize that way to defeat Bill C-51. Because the resources supporting Bill C-51 have been pretty large. Our main resource is people. The majority of people who live in Canada, the majority of people around the world, who are either being attacked in wars by these large governments, or who deal with the consequences at home with cuts to social programs because they are spending more money on bombs and missiles. We are a majority and we should act like are a majority. When we act like a majority we will repeal Bill C-51.
So we need to take advantage of the already established opposition. It's not often that Conrad Black, the National Post, or the Globe and Mail newspapers write things that are against things that I am also against. They were all against Bill C-51. We will take advantage of that. 60 business leaders in Canada want to write and open letter against Bill C-51? Great. Margaret Atwood and artists write an open letter against Bill C-51? Even better. So many different sectors of society have come out against Bill C-51. Another example is the Canadian Bar Association, which represents lawyers across Canada.
The opposition to Bill C-51 is so broad, so we have non-traditional allies, but the base of it is poor and working people. The base is regular people, just like you and me, who just want to live their lives with their human rights. We need to understand that no government has the right to take away any of our human rights. Why would we even consider that? How does the government of Canada say, “Okay, we've got this new Bill where we are giving the secret police the ability to per-authorize violations of human rights, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” They are saying, “We are going to violate this Charter, we just want to pre-authorize it in a secret tribunal.” How does that exist? It exits under Bill C-51 today, it existed when the Conservatives implemented it, and it exists today as the Liberal government continues it.
So Bill C-51 relates to all of us. It relates to all progressive organizations – it effects indigenous self-determination, it effects labour unions, it effects educators, it effects civil liberties organizations, it effects a broad spectrum. All of the progressive work we want to do is jeopardized under Bill C-51. So all of the progressive work that we need to do also needs to include working against Bill C-51. Bill C-51 has been and can continue to be the 'big uniter' of people in Canada.
Towards Repealing Bill C-51
That last things I wanted to say is that this is an international campaign. We need to feel the strength of that and we need to understand the context. International in the fact that we are up against some major forces - all these big governments are doing some really terrible things. Also international in the fact that we know that people are united and people are attacked by the same forces and can together work against those same forces. They are trying to chill freedom of speech, they are trying to silence our dissent. We will not let them. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end that day that we become silent about things that matter.” So we will refuse to be silent about Bill C-51. We will continue to organize the weekly protests, and we invite all of you to join us. We have a real opportunity to defeat Bill C-51. When we defeat Bill C-51 it's going to be a victory for all of the work we are doing which is part of the larger international struggle for our rights and our dignity. It's going to be a victory for all of those fights and for everyone around the world fighting the same things. Thank you very much.
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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