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      Bill C-51
      The Struggle Must Continue Until Victory

      By Thomas Davies

      Bill C-51, popularly known as the “Secret Police Law”, achieved a new level of infamy in July. After managing to anger and alienate almost every sector of society in Canada, with its massive and purposefully vague expansion of state powers of surveillance, detention and secrecy, opposition became international in a very high profile way. A United Nations Human Rights Committee review panel called out the new law for opening the door to human rights abuses and said it should be re-written. This is just another chapter in the back and forth drama the Conservative government had hoped would be a short story, but which has been turned into a long one by significant and continuing opposition. While the Conservative government has attempted to rationalize and justify Bill C-51 using fear, scandal after scandal has shown clearly that it is much more about cracking down on dissent by poor and working people than protecting anyone from any so-called “jihadi terrorists.”

      Opposition Grows – Another Bad Month for C-51

      On July 23, 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee submitted its most recent report on Canada’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a legally binding part of the International Bill of Human Rights. While it found much fault with Canada, on issues such as missing and murdered indigenous women, human rights abuses by Canadian businesses in foreign countries and prison conditions, it took particular issue with Bill C-51. The report states Bill C-51, “confers a broad mandate and powers on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to act domestically and abroad, thus potentially resulting in mass surveillance and targeting activities that are protected under the Covenant without sufficient and clear legal safeguards.”

      This wasn’t the only bad news for Bill C-51 that week. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) launched a Charter Challenge against C-51 at the Ontario Superior Court, on the grounds that many sections are unjustified in a democratic society. In announcing the Charter Challenge, Tom Henheffer, executive director of CJFE said, “Bill C-51 is a grave threat to our rights in Canada. It will lead to censorship and a massive chill on free expression, and enables a potentially widespread abuse of power.” Importantly, the Charter Challenge surpassed its internet crowd-funding goal of $25,000 in less than 3 days, and has now doubled its target to $50,000.

      Completely Unjustified

      One of the primary issues with Bill C-51 is the massive new powers it gives Canada’s spy agency, CSIS. The newest scandal to come to light is that CSIS never really requested these powers! In fact, the Canadian Press obtained a heavily censored copy of a secret February 2014 presentation and a related memo where CSIS told federal deputy ministers that “significant improvements” to the sharing of national-security information were possible within the “existing legislative framework.” So CSIS asked for some renovations, and the Conservative government bulldozed the house instead.

      The RCMP are also the supposed beneficiaries of Bill C-51, but even they are grumbling. The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain documents wherein the RCMP complain that the new CSIS powers, “could inadvertently jeopardize existing relationships” they have fostered. They are also concerned the changes will put increased pressure on them to coordinate with CSIS so that criminal investigations are not “negatively affected” now that CSIS has been given the undefined power of “disruption.” Both agencies will now be butting heads and intervening on the same cases.

      It is clear that Bill C-51’s changes are based on a political agenda rather than practical considerations for protecting people.

      Fear is Their Tool

      The primary justification for Bill C-51 by the Conservative government has always been about its necessity in the “War on Terror.” In introducing Bill C-51, Stephen Harper justified its extreme measures by saying, “Our Government understands that extreme jihadists have declared war on us, on all free people, and on Canada specifically.” Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to prove this so-called war “specifically” on Canada.

      In an attempt to heighten our fear and establish a threat, Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were told this year to produce three terrorism-related statements for minister Rob Nicholson to make to the media each week. Unfortunately for the government, its bureaucrats proved unable and unwilling to fulfil this nonsense request.

      So Stephen Harper has had to manufacture his own exaggerated statements such as this one:

      “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. Because they hate pluralism, they hate tolerance, and they hate the freedom of others, the freedom we enjoy. Through their deeds, these jihadists have declared war on Canada and with their words, they urge others to join their campaign of terror against Canadians. Ladies and gentlemen, it would be a grave mistake to ignore their threats.”

      Three people have died in Canada from domestic terrorist attacks in the last twenty years. Almost that many people die every day at work, mostly from unsafe working conditions. A women is killed on average every six days in Canada by a current or former spouse or boyfriend. Ten people die from suicide in Canada every single day. Yet the Conservative government has cut funding from women’s and mental health programs, and made it easier for employers to get away with unsafe working conditions. If they were so concerned about protecting people, why are are the blowing up the threat of terrorism and ignoring real problems which can actually be addressed?

      The Real Reason for Bill C-51 – An Attack on Dissent

      As the right-wing National Post newspaper pointed out, “Ultimately, however, the legislation [Bill C-51] raises more questions than it answers — the most basic being, ‘Why?’” The Conservative government failed to establish a threat, and therefor obviously failed to establish how Bill C-51 would actually combat the “jihadi terrorists” who, according to them, are poised at any moment to leap out of the shadows and take over Canada.

      Many groups and organizations have been very right in pointing out that Bill C-51 is an unnecessary attack on democratic rights and freedom of speech, but we must answer the National Post’s question of “Why?” if we really wish to defeat Bill C-51.

      For this it is important to look at what is going on around the world, where we can see that Canada is not the only country to enact similar laws.

      - The United States has the Patriot Act which it rushed into existence following the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre. It allowed for greatly expanded powers for surveillance, detention, and secrecy and became the prototype for many other countries. It authorized indefinite detentions of immigrants, gave permission to enforcement officers to search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s consent or knowledge and also allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a court order.

      - Britain recently passed a controversial new law called the ‘Anti-Terrorism Bill 2015” (the same name as Bill C-51!) which demands educational institutions monitor and limit speech on campuses. University vice-chancellors can now be charged with “contempt of court backed by criminal sanctions” if they do not enforce the new guidelines which many have said are intended to limit freedom of speech. This is just the newest change, as the British government had already created several laws similar to the Patriot Act and Bill C-51 in previous years.

      - The French government passed a new law this year which allows French intelligence agents to plant cameras and recording devices in private homes and cars as well as to intercept phone conversations without judicial oversight.

      - In 2014, the Australian government passed legislation which allowed the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) broad access to computer networks, and also imposes a possible ten-year prison sentence on journalists and whistleblowers who reveal “special” security operations. Previous legislation already allowed “preventative detention” to be imposed on individuals without evidence.

      What do the United States, Canada, France, Britain and Australia have in common? They are all imperialist countries which have been actively involved in invading and occupying countries, especially in the Middle East, and especially since September 11, 2001. The list of countries either invaded, occupied, bombed, threatened or sanctioned by these countries and their allies has grown longer every year: Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Mali, Syria, Iran, Yemen... the list goes on.

      These are all countries which have naturally had to divert resources from vital programs such as healthcare and education to pay for these increasing military exploits, and are therefor concerned about the fightback from the millions upon millions who suffer domestically because of their war priorities. They all also remember that the single largest coordinated mobilizations in human history were in opposition to the impending war on Iraq in 2003.

      These are all countries who have used the “War on Terrorism” to justify their attacks abroad, just as they are now using them to increasingly shove through legislation limiting democratic and human rights at home.

      As well, all of these countries are still attempting to recover from the 2008 financial and market crisis, and their solution has been to squeeze the lives and living standards of poor and working people instead of the massive corporations who created the problem in the first place. This has created, and will continue to create, a lot of anger and frustration against both the governments and the capitalist corporations.

      So Canada is not alone, and Bill C-51 is not unique in its attacks on poor and working people, and especially it’s attack on our ability to organize against the anti- human policies imperialist governments are imposing both at home and abroad. They are trying to roll back all of the gains we have made in the last 100 years, and limit our ability as a whole to fightback and defend our interests.

      The Fight is Not Over!

      The good news is that these governments would not be trying to take away our rights if they weren’t afraid of the possibilities if we used them. The other good news is that poor and working people have fought, and won, similar battles many times throughout history. How else do you think we secured the rights we value today? They were all won by poor and working people, just like us, who decided to organize together and improve the living conditions of everyone. We simply need to follow in their footsteps, and make some of our own as well!

      Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called for a Federal Election for October 19, 2015. This will be the longest election campaign period in over 100 years in Canada. Anger towards Bill C-51 has not diminished since it was passed into law, and groups around the country continue to organize against it. The campaign period is one of the few times where politicians are forced to leave the safe confines of Parliament Hill in Ottawa and try to discuss political issues with people across Canada. This makes it an important opportunity to continue making the defeat of Bill C-51 a central issue across Canada – and continue to strengthen the grassroots campaign which has sustained the opposition since the beginning.

      Regardless of who is elected, the most necessary aspect of political life in Canada is an active, engaged, determined and united working class and its allies. The opposition to Bill C-51 has shown time and time again that it can play an important role in expanding this. We need to continue building on this momentum, to defeat Bill C-51, and get back to creating a society where the rights of poor and working people are not only respected but reinforced as well!

      Repeal Bill C-51 Now!

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