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      Bill C-51:
      Why you Should Be Concerned About It and Why You Should Fight Against It...

      By Thomas Davies

      Bill C-51 continues to cast a long shadow over political life in Canada. The Conservative government's vaguely worded new "Anti-Terrorism" law has blown the door wide open to the possibility of widespread democratic and human rights abuses, and is already fuelling speculation that it will soon be used to enable arrests of those critical of government actions. Both the history of this country and the current actions of other imperialist governments make something very clear. As the Canadian government continues to drive forward with policies of war, occupation and cutbacks - it is also laying the foundation to clamp down on dissent and attack the rights of poor and working people to resist. Bill C-51 is the not-so-thin edge of this wedge, and we must use every opportunity to continue to build unity and momentum in the fight to repeal this unjust law. It has been done before, and now is the time to do it again!

      Bill C-51, Coming Soon to a Protest Near You

      A recent August 27 news release on the Union of BC Indian Chiefs website warns that, "The Indigenous Unist'ot'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en Nation in northwestern BC are on high alert about a likely impending large scale RCMP mass arrest operation on their territory. The RCMP have made a number of visits to the Unist'ot'en as well as other First Nations leadership regarding the Unist'ot'en community's active exercise of their Aboriginal Title and Rights to protect their lands from oil and gas development." As pipeline clearing work moves closer and closer to the camp, both the press release and many news articles have speculated that Bill C-51 could be used to legalize the dismantling of the camp which the Unist'ot'en have maintained since 2009, and which is blocking seven pipelines that do not have Unist'ot'en consent to use their land. Under Bill C-51, actions interfering with "the economic or financial stability of Canada" fall under the vague definition of "terrorism." The Unist'ot'en camp could easily be interpreted as such.

      The RCMP have issued their own press release stating that the police force, "has no intention of 'taking down the camp' set up." Whether this is true is another issue, but what is obvious is that Bill C-51 has already become a major concern to those engaged in peaceful protest, or simply asserting their simple and inherent right to decide what resource extraction projects occur on their lands.

      More Power, More Secrecy, More Rights Violations

      Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), recently emerged from testifying at a hearing of the Security Intelligence Review Committee under a gag order. He is prohibited from saying anything about either his testimony, or anything else related to the hearing. The BCCLA had lodged a complaint against CSIS agents unlawfully gathering information on community groups opposed to the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline. As a leading lawyer in the case, Mr. Patterson was no longer even able to provide full counsel to others participating in the tribunal!

      While unable to refer directly to his testimony in court, Mr. Paterson made clear that Bill C-51 is connected to the BCCLA's, and many other major human rights and legal organizations', growing concerns about the power and conduct of CSIS, which under Bill C-51 are now granted the undefined powers of "disruption." "The only thing they're not allowed to do is violate someone's sexual integrity, to kill someone or to subvert justice. Short of that, they're being given the power to break the law and violate the constitution," he emphasized.

      Under Bill C-51, CSIS and the RCMP are given more power, and more power to act in total secrecy.

      Despite the Chill

      While progressive organizations are definitely aware of the new risks associated with social justice organizing under Bill C-51, they continue to organize either directly against the bill or the many other ills of the Canadian government. In Vancouver, the Working Group to Stop Bill C-51 organized its 26 th successful consecutive weekly picket action against Bill C-51 on Monday, August 31. While we sometimes encounter people who are fearful of government repercussions from signing a petition, it is much more often that we continue to meet people who are angry that the government is trying to demolish their civil rights and feel compelled to put their name on a petition regardless of the growing implied threat against dissenting voices.

      The movement against Bill C-51 continues across Canada as well. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Canadian Civil Liberties Union are continuing their Charter Challenge of Bill C-51, and have raised 137% of their fundraising goal from grassroots donations. A 4 th National Day of Action Against Bill C-51 has also been called for September 12.

      On August 28, the Federal New Democratic Party announced "51 Days to Repeal Bill C-51" promising that if elected they would repeal Bill C-51. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party continue to try and avoid the issue entirely. In an obviously deliberate move, the Department of Justice has decided not to release any information related to its mandatory examination of Bill C-51 to see whether the new law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms...until after the Federal Election. It claims that meeting its required legal deadline, which is before the election, would somehow "interfere" with the Department's operations.

      History of Rights Violations in Canada

      It is important to constantly reiterate that this scenario is nothing new for the Canadian government. Its participation in wars abroad has always been accompanied by attacks on democratic and human rights at home. A useful article on the subject is titled, "War Measures Act Eroded Civil Liberties", written by Mark Humphries, the Dunkley Chair in War and the Canadian Experience at Wilfrid Laurier University.

      Humphries reveals that almost immediately upon entering World War I, the Canadian government imposed the War Measures Act:

      "Censorship was imposed on the press and telegraph system while the free transportation of people and goods ceased. The act allowed Canadians to be searched, arrested and detained and their property seized without warrants, trials or compensation. It also gave the prime minister near dictatorial powers, allowing him to govern by a type of decree called an order in council, which was not subject to normal parliamentary oversight."

      He continues:

      "Over the next four years, roughly 80,000 were arrested, paroled, and forced to register with the government on suspicion of enemy activity, many denounced by their neighbours for trivial acts such as making unpatriotic statements or keeping a shotgun on their farms against the regulations.

      By war's end, more than 8,000 had been interned in remote prison work camps where more than one hundred actually died."

      "Both ethnic and labour newspapers were shut-down and suspect book publishers closed. Aboriginal reserve lands were seized and turned into military training areas. Strikes were first restricted and then banned. The government even tried to deport British-born labour leaders in 1919 as enemy aliens, a category that had now grown to include all those who might harbour 'alien' values, whatever those were.

      Tragically, the act also gave the government the power to deploy soldiers to quell civil disobedience, and on Easter Monday 1918, Canadian soldiers opened fire with machine guns on anti-conscription protesters in Quebec City, killing at least five people and wounding more than 150. All this was done in the name of freedom and honour."

      During World War II, the Canadian government immediately declared the War Measures Act, and also created the Defense of Canada Regulations (DOCR). Chris Frazer, Associate Professor of History at St. Francis Xavier University wrote about how the DOCR were applied:

      "The DOCR were intended to suppress obstacles to mobilizing Canadians in support of the war. They were applied to individuals and organizations who supported fascist Germany and Italy, as well as to so-called enemy aliens: citizens and immigrants of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. The regulations were also used to suppress those who opposed the war without actually sympathizing with the enemy, or who might otherwise subvert the war effort. This included communists and left-wing ethnic organizations, Technocracy Incorporated, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and individuals, including union leaders, sailors, and well-known public figures like the mayor of Montreal, Camillien Houde, who opposed conscription."

      Racist imprisonments and internments were widespread once again. As we reported in Fire This Time Volume 9, Issue 6, during WWII, "Between 30,000 to 35,000 'enemy nationals' and Canadian citizens were interned, including people of German and Japanese background. 20,000 Japanese Canadians were removed from the West Coast of Canada in 1942 alone."

      The War Measures Act was once again called by the Canadian government in 1970 in response to growing independence movement in Quebec. When members of the Front de Liberation de Quebec (FLQ) kidnapped a British diplomat named James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, the government responded by imposing the War Measures Act and lining the streets with over 6000 soldiers. Once again the War Measures Act was used to target political opposition and instill fear.

      As "Canada's Human Rights History" by the Department of Sociology of the University of Alberta points out, "Their [military and police] actions were guided by a clear bias against nationalists and the political left in general, including many activists...The use of the emergency powers resulted in extensive human rights abuses. Media censorship was rampant, especially for student newspapers."

      Racism and Criminalization

      We see time and time again how imperialist governments use racism and criminalization to further their agendas. During World War I everyone was told to be afraid of Ukrainians, Austrians and Germans - and this helped justify the war abroad and the crackdown at home. During World War II it was the Japanese, Italians and Germans who were targeted in the same way.

      Now the Conservative government is constantly trying to ratchet up tensions against Muslim communities. Again, this racism helps justify their violent and expensive wars, occupations and threats against primarily Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Libya, Syria and Iran. The Canadian government's campaign of Islamophobia also creates divisions between poor and working people, and makes it much more difficult for us to stand together to defend our common interests.

      It is also important to note how exactly the same strategies and policies are being used by the other imperialist countries involved in these wars and occupations. Take a look at what the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia are doing both domestically and internationally and it's obvious that they are all reading from the same play book!

      We must also be conscious of the fact that the wartime attacks usually open with racism, but always move quickly to target political opponents - especially those representing working class interests such as trade unions and trade union organizers. This is no accident, as the working class and their allies represent the most serious threat to imperialist governments and their war agendas. When workers refuse to fight in wars, refuse to produce war products, refuse to ship war products, refuse to participate in anything related to war - the imperialist war machine comes to a standstill. The Canadian government has known this during every one of its war campaigns, and has therefore always made a deliberate attempt to attack working class organizations.

      While these attacks have been able to weaken unions and their memberships - they have definitely been unable to completely crush unions or the spirit of workers demanding their right to dignified working conditions and fair payment for their work. The increasingly heavy handed approach of federal and provincial governments against strikes is a good indication of how important it is to them to control and contain these actions.

      Has there been any major strike in Canada in the last decade which has not been declared illegal? Across Canada, teachers, nurses, hospital workers, postal workers, railroad workers, pilots, flight attendants, and more have all had their strikes declared illegal through back-to-work legislation which threatens people with huge fines and jail time. According to the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights, "In the last three decades, the federal government alone passed 19 pieces of back-to-work legislation while provincial governments across the country have enacted 71 pieces of back-to-work legislation." They also report that 216 pieces of restrictive labour laws have been passed by federal and provincial governments in the last thirty years.


      There is a justifiably often quoted verse regarding our common interests by Martin Niemoller, a Protestant pastor and outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler. Mr. Niemoller also survived seven years in Nazi concentration camps.

      First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out --
      Because I was not a Communist.
      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
      Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
      Because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for me --
      and there was no one left to speak for me.

      While we are not living in Nazi Germany, we are confronted with same political, moral and strategic questions regarding our common interests against a government which has done nothing but try to weaken, divide, discredit, impoverish and silence poor and working people at home and abroad. Bill C-51 is an attack on all of us, but also an opportunity for poor and working people to come together to build strong organizations which represent our common interests. We need to use every opportunity to reject division, strengthen our unity, and "Repeal Bill C-51!"

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