It was not too long ago that we, along with tens of thousands more across Canada, were criticizing the Harper Conservative government for pushing through a massive omnibus “national security” law (Bill C-51) which violated our basic democratic rights. Now almost three years later, here we are again, criticizing the Trudeau Liberals for... pushing through a massive omnibus “national security” law (Bill C-59) which would violate our basic democratic rights. We would much prefer celebrating to criticizing, but from a government which ran on a slogan of, “Real Change Now,” the irony is too much to ignore. Most importantly, Bill C-59 is too much of a violation of our democratic and human rights to ignore.
Originally referred to as the “Secret Police Bill,” Bill C-51 enables the Canadian government to grant itself unprecedented powers to spy on, disrupt, and detain anyone falling under the purposefully vague and undefined accusation of "supporting terrorism". It lowers the standard of proof required to detain someone, and also grants Canada's spy agency, CSIS the power to purposely break laws and disregard human rights. It also allows government agencies to share personal and private information amongst themselves with little justification. These are only some the highlights! The Harper Conservatives justified these drastic measures by saying the government needed new powers to protect people from “radical Jihadi terrorists” - who, despite minimal activity in Canada, were apparently going to be coming any day soon.
Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commisioner of Canada at the time summarized, “The scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient.”
Bill C-51 “Light”
Cue the election of a Liberal majority federal government on a promise that they would prioritize fixing Bill C-51, even though every single Liberal MP voted in favor of the bill at the time. After a first delayed and then rushed, primarily web-based “public consultation” process, a report was written - not by participating members of parliament but - by a public relations firm. The Liberals then introduced their new Bill C-59. While there is some tightening of language and new oversight mechanisms, many of the worst aspects remain and they've even added new spying powers! The Canadian Civil Liberties Association summarized Bill C-59's infringements as follows:
- The newly-renamed Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act still permits far too much information to flow between too many departments, and to further concerning objectives;
- The no-fly list still lacks adequate due process while proposed redress mechanisms remain unfunded;
- The bill fails to reverse the low threshold Bill C-51 set for terrorism peace bonds;
- The preventative detention powers introduced in 2001 are still in place and remain deeply problematic;
- The risk for abuse of CSIS disruption powers is reduced, but the government has yet to demonstrate either their necessity or constitutionality;
- The newly created oversight agencies lack the guarantees necessary to ensure their effectiveness;
- The general risk that our security activities will once again contribute to torture remains;
- CSE “active” cyber security powers (i.e. offensive hacking) are introduced without a rationale for their necessity or measures to adequately prevent abuse;
- The new bill fails to reverse the erosion of due process C-51 extended in security certificate proceedings; and
- The bill legitimizes troubling conduct, including mass surveillance by our foreign intelligence agency and extensive data-mining.
That's no small list!
Attempt to Fast-Track
Bill C-59 is a massive omnibus bill (omnibus is when many bills are grouped together to be voted on as one, meaning a member of parliament must vote for all or none) which is almost 150 pages long. Instead of following standard parliamentary procedure, which might have allowed to the bill to be separated and have different parts voted on individually, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale put forward a motion to move the bill directly into the House Public Safety and National Security Committee, without a second reading debate. This effectively limits debate and forces Bill C-59 to be voted on as one massive entity.
What are the Liberals afraid of? They already dragged their heals for more than two years creating this bill, and now all of a sudden they are in a such a rush they can't debate it fully?
The whole thing reeks of bad intentions. There has still been no real explanation or justification for how these “Anti-Terrorism” laws protect anyone, anywhere from terrorism. These laws are drastic and dangerous, and we need to organize with full force to defeat them. What we wrote when Bill C-51 was first introduced to parliament is still fundamentally true:
“It is important to remember that the human rights exercised today in Canada were not handed down benevolently to us by the Canadian government – they were won through the organization of poor and working people in unions and other mass social movements. Canada didn’t even have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms until 1982, 115 years after the official founding of the country! Rights are hard won, and even more difficult to regain after having lost them. Bill C-51 represents the most wholesale attack on human rights in Canada in decades, and must be exposed and opposed at every opportunity. All peace and freedom loving people should join the growing organizing effort demanding, “Scrap Bill C-51!”
The number has changed, but the fight remains the same.
Repeal Bill C-51!
Scrap Bill C-59!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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