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    The ABC's of Bill C-51

    By Thomas Davies

    Since the introduction of Bill C-51 in Canadian Parliament in January, there has been a real growth of opposition to it across different communities and the country. This has been shown in the polls, in every major Canadian newspaper, and very importantly, in the number of people who continue to make their voices heard by joining public demonstrations. This has been seen in two successful National Days of Action, as well as the day to day organizing being done in many different areas.

    In Vancouver, the Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 has organized 9 consecutive weeks of public demonstrations in busy transit hubs across the city to an increasingly enthusiastic public response. Thumbs up, high-fives and offers and sandwiches have become commonplace as we speak out against Bill C-51, distribute information, and engage people in a discussion on its consequences.

    I have participated in all 9 of these actions, and experienced the growing opposition first hand. People are eager for more information and tools to help explain Bill C-51 to family, friends and co-workers . The Harper Conservative Government introduced this draconian legislation without even a millisecond of public consultation. Their strategy in the last few months has been to dodge explanations and exaggerate time and time again the “jihadi terrorist threat” Canada is facing. Answers to serious questions about violations of fundamental human rights to free speech, assembly, and privacy are all met with the same non-answer, “Just trust us!”

    As law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach said in their March 29 editorial to the Globe and Mail Newspaper, “The government has not made its case for C-51.”

    We continue to ask, “If this Bill is so great, why hasn't the government explained their own bill?” If the government of Canada is unwilling to explain their Bill, we will do it for them. However, we will draw some different conclusions! We have noticed at our many actions opposing Bill C-51 that there are four questions almost everyone asks. To help explain Bill C-51, we are providing answers to the following questions.

    These questions are:

    1. What is Bill C-51?
    2. What about the terrorists?
    3. Why would the government do something like this?
    4. How can I help to stop it?

    1. What is Bill C-51?

    Our first response to this question is usually this, “The government is basically writing itself a blank cheque to spy on, disrupt, detain, even torture people, and to break almost any law they want. They're even giving themselves the power to do this in secret, all in the name of 'fighting terrorism'. They have made the language of the Bill so broad and so vague that they would be able to target pretty much anybody they wanted to, especially people who disagree with their policies.” Naturally, this statement needs to be supported by specifics.

    Some of the most concerning aspects of Bill C-51, among many, are:

    1. It allow government agencies to arrest someone if they think a terrorist act “may” be committed instead of the current standard of “will” be committed. This might seem like a small grammatical change, but the practical difference is huge. You actually need proof when arresting someone because they “will” do something. How do you define “may”? Could it be said that someone “may” commit a terrorist act because they rent a lot of Hollywood movies with those kinds of storylines? Or if they focus their studies on terrorism as part of academic research? To this, the government of Canada simply smiles and says, “ Just trust us, we won't abuse it.”

    2. The bill would also give CSIS, Canada's spy agency which is currently limited only to investigative powers, the ability to “disrupt suspected terror activity,” including websites and social media sites. The power applies inside and outside of Canada. What is the definition of “disrupt”, and what are its limitations? Could this be used to take down information critical of the Canadian government’s policies? “Just trust us!”

    3. There are already 14 broadly worded terrorism related offences in the Canadian Criminal Code, but Bill C-51 would now allows the government to take it even further and target those accused of speech promoting and advocating “terrorism in general”. What exactly does this ambiguous new term mean? “Just trust us!”

    4. The word “terrorism” is made even more vague and open to abuse in Bill C-51. Bill C-51 adds that this includes interference with various aspects of public life or “the economic or financial stability of Canada”. As we asked in the last issue of FTT, “Does that make it illegal to publicly support a strike by workers at the Port of Vancouver for better safety regulations?” Can you guess the answer? “Just trust us!”

    5. Bill C-51 stipulates that CSIS can any break laws and violate any individual rights, but:

    “In taking measures to reduce a threat to the security of Canada, the Service shall not:

    (a) cause, intentionally or by criminal negligence, death or bodily harm to an individual;
    (b) wilfully attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice; or
    (c) violate the sexual integrity of an individual.

    Lawyers Clayton C. Ruby and Nader R. Hasan point out in a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives article that, “These limited exclusions leave CSIS with incredibly expansive powers, including water boarding, inflicting pain (torture) or causing psychological harm to an individual.” To enact these kind of actions, all the government has to do is find one judge who agrees they can break Canadian law, “to reduce a threat to the security of Canada,” in a “reasonable” and “proportionate” way. Ruby and Nader point out, “It amounts to asking judges to look into a crystal ball to determine if Canada will be safer in the future if a CSIS officer takes some measure.”

    Why make laws if all the government has to do is find one agreeable judge to be able to break them? Why leave our rights up to crystal balls and speculation? “Just trust us!”

    6. Bill C-51 would also allow the government to ask for information in immigration proceedings to be sealed at any point in the process. How would we know if someone was targeted unfairly because of political viewpoints or other reasons? “Just trust us!”

    There are many other troubling aspects of the Bill, such as the manner our personal information can now be shared among government many agencies, the expansion of “no-fly” lists, and the massive expansion of private security powers with zero expansion of oversight. The last 3 issues of the Fire This Time newspaper also have many articles detailing different aspects of the Bill, such as the way our personal information among many government agencies shared. Many other articles and research papers highlighting different concerns have also contributed the growing movement against Bill C-51 as well.

    2. What about the terrorists?

    Prime Minster Stephen Harper has really played up the “jihadi terrorist threat.” According to him, Canadians "are targeted by these terrorists for no other reason than that we are Canadians. They want to harm us because they hate our society and the values it represents." Canada's Public Safety Minister, Stephen Blaney even invoked the World War 2 concentration camps of Germany in an attempt to justify Bill C-51's attacks on free speech by saying that the, “Holocaust did not begin in the gas chamber, it began with words.”

    So is there really an army of “jihadi terorrists” poised to take over Canada and began a systematic campaign of genocide? Three people have been killed by terrorist attacks in Canada in the last year. That's less than half a percent of the homicides in Canada in 2013. Every day 4 people die from impaired driving related accidents in Canada. Almost 4000 people die from suicide every year in this country. Yet we are supposed to believe we need to suspend our fundamental rights and freedoms because of the “jihadi terrorists threat?” There are many simple and practical measures the government could take to save thousands of lives in areas where people are actually dying in large numbers. We don't support terrorism. Nor do we think it should be ignored.

    Finally, it's worth asking: What “values” is the Canadian government promoting when it occupies Afghanistan, when it helps overthrow a democratically elected government in Haiti, or when it bombs Libya, Iraq or Syria? Would someone fall under Bill C-51's vague language of supporting “terrorism in general” for asking why some people, whose families have been killed, houses destroyed, and livelihoods ruined by the Canadian government, might be angry? Is it really democracy and freedom they are against?

    3. Why would the government do something like this?

    something we also faced during our weekly pickets was the astonishing number of people who do not want to believe that they live in a country whose government is violating human rights at home and abroad. We understand that. It is not pleasant to think about how our tax dollars are used for wars and occupations, or that those who are supposed to represent us are instead repressing us.

    We aren't making this up. More than 100 legal experts and academics wrote an open letter opposing Bill C-51, and the Canadian Bar Association, among so many other human rights, religious, and community organizations have come out against Bill C-51.

    It's no secret that Canadian foreign policy is oriented increasingly towards foreign military missions. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and now Ukraine are all part of the Canadian war effort. This means more and more money is taken from education, healthcare and social services while poor and working people are left shouldering the burden.

    Statistics Canada information shown that the top 10 per cent of Canadians have seen their median net worth grow by 42 per cent since 2005 to $2.1 million in 2012. In the same time, the bottom 10 per cent of Canadians saw their median net worth shrink by 150 per cent.

    There are many reasons for people to be angry and upset. We have seen flashes of large movements in Canada in recent history – whether it be against the occupation of Iraq, Occupy Wall Street, Idle No More and demonstrations against environmental degradation. All of these have shown glimpses of the public unrest which has been simmering in Canada.

    The Canadian government is worried this will boil over, and is taking preventative measures to criminalize and diffuse dissent. They have no intention of changing their policies and priorities, and are fully aware of the negative impacts this will have on people, and the potential for unrest. That's why they are taking advantage of the“fight against terrorism” to limit our rights, just as the United States, England, France and Australia have all done.

    4. How can I help to stop it?

    The good news is that if you're asking this question, you are already well on your way to helping to contribute to the growing opposition to Bill C-51! The Conservative government has tried to calm people down with four amendments to Bill C-51, but none of them address the overall concerns of rights and privacy. They count on an uneducated and inactive population to allow them to pass legislation witch really has no support. The best things you can do is get educated and get active. There are so many ways you can express your concerns and state your opposition to this Bill. The Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 is continuing its weekly picket actions, and is inviting everyone opposed to Bill C-51 to meet on Saturday May 16, 1pm at Metrotown Skytrain Station. From there we will go in teams in an attempt to hold at least 10 simultaneous picket actions across Vancouver and the surroundings areas. This is the kind of consistent, mass action which will be required to defeat Bill C-51 and defend our basic democratic and human rights.
    Stop Criminilizing Dissent!
    Stop Islamophobia!
    Stop Bill C-51!

    For more information on the Working Group to Stop Bill C-51,
    contact stoppolicestatebillc51@gmail.com, use Twitter: @StopBillC51 ,
    or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-Bill-C-51/1577144725836015

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