You have to be making some particularly extreme civil liberties violations when even the Conservative Party thinks you're going too far. That's just what's happening with the Liberal government's proposed National Security parliamentary oversight committee. Promoted as a way to make sure the police, secret police and government agencies don't abuse the massive new powers and secrecy they were handed under the so-called “Anti-Terrorism” law Bill C-51, the committee is a dead duck that nobody besides the Liberals can stomach.
Extraordinarily, the committee will be appointed by the Prime Minister, and all of the information it sends and receives must be approved by his office first. The Liberals have even rejected amendments that would have given it routine powers to subpoena witnesses and information, stay on top of ongoing police investigations, and to make it more difficult for ministers to refuse to turn over information.
All of this left even Conservative public safety critic Tony Celement to grumble, "If you're going to go through the trouble of creating the committee, you should allow it to do its job properly."
A Pattern Emerges
Why is this so significant? Because a key Liberal election promise was to resolve the “problematic elements” of Bill C-51 – which gave the police, secret police and government agencies incredible new powers of surveillance, “disruption” and detention. It also uses language related to “support” for terrorism which is so vague legal experts say it could be used to target basically anybody.
The Liberals have been in power for a year and half, and have changed nothing of Bill C-51. The most concrete thing they've done is create this toothless committee.
As the BC Civil Liberties Association recently reiterated, “No committee and no oversight bodies (however constituted) can make amends for, or provide meaningful accountability in the face of, dangerous and recklessly overbroad powers granted to agencies working within national security.
The measures enacted as part of Bill C-51, which were never justified, present an even more serious danger to the rights and security of Canadians in light of the now-anticipated reshaping of US national security policy.”
The icing on the cake was the Liberals refusal to make even basic changes to give the committee a semblance of being able to do its job, and then cutting debate. For a government that ran on an election slogan of “Real Change Now” - it definitely looks like we are getting more of the same Harper-era style government, and in some cases arguably worse.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale recently said he is “hopeful” he will submit legislation regarding changes to Bill C-51 during the spring but, "I just don't know yet — whether we'll be able to get it all done at once. Or whether it will take maybe two or three pieces of legislation to get it done."
So everything is following the familiar pattern of big positive sounding announcements that are actually meaningless when you take a closer look at language like “hopeful” and “I just don't know yet...”
In contrast, they have wasted no time introducing legislation allowing US border guards on Canadian soil increased power to detain and search people. In an incredible doublespeak, Trudeau defended this by saying, "Canadian laws are in place, so there is extra protection when Canadians go through American customs in Canada.”
This is at a time when Girls Guides Canada, the Toronto School District, and many others have new policies against trips across the US border citing major safety concerns. Since the election of Donald Trump, even legally crossing into the US has become increasingly risky and more and more people are reporting being detained, interrogated, harassed and turned away without reason. In February alone, agents searched more than 5,000 mobile devices, more than in the entire year of 2015, according to Department of Homeland Security data obtained by NBC News.
So in a time when US border agents are becoming increasingly aggressive and creating safety concerns, the Canadian government is trying to give them more legal power to do so!
They've Got it All Wrong
CSIS, Canada's spy agency, which was one of the primary beneficiaries of new undefined powers of “disruption” under Bill C-51, has just released its first public report in two years. It's clear within that they are continuing to use the same Islamophobic rhetoric that the Conservative and now the Liberals are using to justify Bill C-51.
The report stresses that the Canadians are under “constant threat” from Islamic terrorists associated with Daesh and al Qaeda, but offers no real supporting evidence. As Mathew Barrens wrote in a recent article titled, “CSIS's Alternative Face Universe”:
“Of the nine attacks listed, six occurred overseas, where Canadians were not directly targeted but tragically died as a result of happenstance. Two attacks in 2014 were already addressed in the previous public report. With nothing to report for all of 2015, that left one remaining 2016 incident in which three soldiers suffered minor stab wounds at a North York military recruiting centre, a crime committed by a man found unfit for trial “due to the ongoing psychotic symptoms of a major mental illness.”
Remarkably, the most deadly terrorist attack to occur in Canada in the last decade – January’s Quebec City mosque massacre, carried out by a shooter with white nationalist leanings – goes unmentioned...”
This Islamophobic hype is part of a conscious campaign to justify the wholesale denial of basic civil liberties and human rights, and it must be stopped.
A strong case could be made that the last nail in the Harper Conservative government's coffin was its introduction of Bill C-51. Huge protests swept across Canada, and continued even after the Conservatives made amendments to try and calm public anger. They passed the law, but lost the subsequent election. As the Guardian newspaper noted at the time, “No legislation in memory has united such a diverse array of prominent opponents as the proposed legislation...The campaign to stop Bill C-51 grew to include virtually every civil-rights group, law professor, retired judge, author, editorialist and public intellectual in Canada.”
Every single Liberal MP, including Justin Trudeau, voted in favour of Bill C-51, but they did so promising the big changes which have not materialized. Across Canada, major organizations like the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression continue to push for a Repeal of Bill C-51. The Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 in Vancouver has also reached 107 actions in it's ongoing weekly action campaign – and is promising to continue until the law is fully repealed. It's important to keep pushing this campaign, reminding people that this is another broken promise by Justin Trudeau's Liberals, and also of the power the initial campaign against Bill C-51. The potential for a massive movement to repeal Bill C-51 still exists, and defending our human and democratic rights is certainly worth the effort.
REPEAL BILL C-51!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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