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      Bill C-51: An Attack on Poor and Working People in Canada

      By Thomas Davies

      The infamous Bill C-51 has had many names. Its full name when first introduced by the Conservative government in 2015 was, “An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.” A real tongue twister of human rights abuses. They then tried to shorten it to the more sound-bite worthy, “Anti-Terrorism Act 2015”. As the protests against it grew across Canada, it soon became known by the more accurate “Police State Act” or “Secret Police Act”.

      Since the Liberals won the Federal Election over 9 months ago, it's been “The Bill Which Shall Not be Named” as they've done everything they can to avoid committing to anything concrete to address the huge concerns raised by practically every single legal, human rights, civil rights and media organization in Canada.

      Whatever you call it, under the fake pretext of “fighting terrorism”, Bill C-51 is a massive attack on our fundamental human and democratic rights. More specifically though, it targets poor and working people in an attempt to scare, divide and dismantle the inevitable fightback against the Canadian government's continuing policies of war, occupation and cutbacks.

      Criminalizing Dissent

      Among Bill C-51's many provisions is the one which expands the definition of terrorism to, “interference with the capability of the Government in relation to... the economic or financial stability of Canada.”

      A fundamental right and powerful tool of worker's is to go on strike. Refusing to go to work until the employer has agreed to certain conditions has won better wages, the 40 hour work week, health and safety requirements, maternity leave, overtime pay and every other basic right employees have. Not because employers decided out of the goodness of their hearts to provide these things, but because workers were forced to withhold their labour to force employers to act more fairly. Under Bill C-51, a strike by bus drivers for better safety conditions could easily fit Bill C-51's definition of “terrorism”, as could countless other strikes to defend our rights at work.

      The right to peaceful protest is also directly targeted. Community members participating in a union picket line around a business which unfairly fires workers fits the description. As does a march and rally demanding justice for missing and murdered indigenous women which temporarily blocks traffic downtown. Likely targets are also indigenous groups who assert that the government commit to its promise to follow through with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This requires “free, prior and informed consent” before anything happens on their territories. With a fragile economy and lots of immediate cash to be made through resource extraction projects on indigenous lands, Bill C-51 could easily be used to squash legitimate land defence.

      Meanwhile, interception of Canadians private communications increased by 26 times last year according to the annual report of the Office of the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment.

      The Liberals have promised to protect “lawful” protest, but that's not fair when practically every major strike in Canada in the last two decades has been declared “illegal” by Federal or Provincial governments. 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."

      Climate of Fear

      Under Bill C-51 there are also new broad, vague and dangerous powers provided for targeting those “advocating or promoting terrorism”. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said this would “chill free speech” as, “...the offence is overbroad because the range of conduct that may be captured under 'terrorism offences' is extensive and there are no reasonable defences when charged.”

      Both the Conservatives and the Liberals have been unwilling or unable to explain what this new offence really means, while legal experts continue to say it could mean anything. Meanwhile, poor and working people in Canada are faced with the knowledge that participation in any number of political activities could find them unjustly targeted by the government and stuck in some unregulated legal nightmare.

      We have been told repeatedly just to trust the government, the police and the secret police not to abuse these undefined new powers, but Bill C-51 allows for so much secrecy we aren't even able to hold them accountable for their use.

      During Fire This Time's participation in many social justice petition campaigns, we are consistently met with people who say they “support what the petition says” but cannot sign it for fear of, “ending up on some government list”. The fear is already real. We need to question what kind of political atmosphere we live under in Canada when people are already afraid to sign petitions or participate publicly in legal political activities, or even speak their minds, for fear of government targeting. Bill C-51 only adds fuel to this fire.

      Imperialist governments around the world know that they are not going to be able to convince poor and working people that more wars and more cutbacks are a good idea. They also know that if they can create an environment where people are afraid to speak up and organize, they will be free to continue their anti-human policies.

      Historical and International Context

      “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.”
      - Fire This Time, Volume 9 Issue 9. “Bill C-51: Why you Should Be Concerned About It and Why You Should Fight Against It”

      During World War I, government fear campaigns and targeting of Ukrainians, Austrians and Germans moved almost immediately to attacks on trade unions and arrests of antiwar organizers. During World War II, racist attacks on Japanese, Italians and Germans again moved quickly to attacks on working class organizations and silencing antiwar voices. Bill C-51 was justified by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper under the supposed threat of Muslim “jihadi terrorists”, and again puts the government in a position to crack down against opposition to its expensive wars, occupations and sanctions against such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Mali and Iran. It also puts the government in a much better position to any workers or trade unions whose defense of their rights does not fit with the government's cutback agenda.

      It is also important to be aware 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 the wars, and islamophobic rhetoric and human rights violating “anti-terrorism” laws passed by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia. It's pretty obvious that they are all reading from the same play book!

      Human Rights, Civil Rights, Democratic Rights, All Under Attack, What Do We Do? Stand up, Fight Back!

      Last August, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs issued a press release which warned 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 moved closer to the camp, both the press release and many news articles 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.

      The Unist'ot'en camp stood strong, and hundreds of organizations and individuals signed on to a well distributed public statement demanding the RCMP respect their rights. Under the glare of the public eye, the RCMP were forced to issue their own press release stating that the police force, "has no intention of 'taking down the camp' set up."

      A year later and the camp is still standing, and is an important example of what me must continue to do under Bill C-51. We must continue to educate, to organize and to mobilize not only against Bill C-51, but to continue all of the vital social justice campaigns which are so necessary across the country. We must gain strength from knowing that the government wouldn't be trying to take away our rights if they weren't worried about what would happen if we fully exercised them. We must continue to stand our ground, to hold public space and refuse to be silent in the face of those who want to silence us. Ultimately this is how poor and working people will defeat Bill C-51, and continue building the better world we all know is so possible and so necessary.

      Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59

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