“A right is not what someone gives you; it's what no one can take from you.”
Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General and a founding member of International Action Center
Almost two years after the Liberals were elected on a promise of “Real Change Now”, most people have completely given up on the “Now” part and are still wondering where the “Real Change” is. Nowhere is that more clear that in their promise to prioritize addressing our human rights concerns, especially about Bill C-51 - the controversial “anti-terrorism” law passed in 2015. Now a new report by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security is recommending some changes, but does it really deal with our concerns?
Rewind to January 2015. At a campaign style news conference, Stephen Harper introduces a proposed new anti-terrorism law to protect people in Canada from what he calls, “the jihadis who would take away our freedoms.” Known as Bill C-51, it would give massive new powers to police, secret police and government agencies to detain, “disrupt”, share information, break laws, violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, expand no-fly lists – all in the name of “national security” and all with increased secrecy. Large protests break out across Canada. The Conservatives rush the Bill though parliament with some weak amendments. Protests continue. The Liberals vote in favour of Bill C-51 but promise to prioritize dealing with “problematic elements” if elected. The Liberals are elected. CSIS, the RCMP and other agencies admit to using their new Bill C-51 powers but are not required to tell us how - so they do not. The Liberals speak about Bill C-51 as little as possible, then one year later organize a “public consultation” on “Public Safety and National Security” which lacks independence, transparency and accountability. The Liberals continue to say as little about Bill C-51 as possible. Finally over two years later we get to the report.
Anywhere Would Be Up
None of the recommendations of the Committee involve increasing the powers of different police or government agencies. This isn't surprising given the level of power they were given under Bill C-51 and the amount of universal condemnation they faced because of this. The committee recommends:
- New security oversight infrastructure
- Stricter control on the use of preventative detention and CSIS' new powers of “disruption”
- Clearer language regarding the terms “terrorism offences in general” , “terrorist propaganda” and “activity that undermines the security of Canada”
- Removal of CSIS's power to apply to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- That the government not pursue a proposed new broad telecommunications surveillance program
All of these look like steps in the right direction, but there are a few fundamental problems:
1. Just like the Conservative government before them, the Committee does not explain how the remaining measures from Bill C-51 would have prevented any of the very few previous terrorist attacks in Canada, or would protect us from future attempts. We are again faced with unsubstantiated claims of a terrorist threat which is at a “medium” level, but we are never given any explanation as to how that “medium” level was decided upon.
2. Even if the government adopted all 41 recommendations, we would still be left with less rights than before Bill C-51 was passed. The Committee actually recommends keeping the vast majority of the the new provisions under Bill C-51, just tweaking them. We are still faced with:
- New, undefined powers of “disruption” for CSIS which includes breaking laws.
- “Preventative detentions” with lower standards of justification and increased times that someone can be jailed without evidence
-Private information sharing between 17 different government agencies
- Expanded No Fly-Lists
We are still faced with constant opportunities for police and government agencies to push the boundaries of human rights violations. There is still a lot of grey area even in the new language they can use to try and justify their actions. We have also seen that even before Bill C-51 the many scandals of CSIS, RCMP and local police forces knowingly violating our privacy and human rights. They will continue to feel more empowered to do so as long as Bill C-51 remains a law.
3. The Committee was appointed, with an obvious majority of its members belonging to the ruling Liberal Party. It's recommendations are not binding. The actual public consultation process included only a few hours in a few larger cities, and then a hard to find online survey. The government had also promised to release the results of this survey. We have seen nothing.
4. An overall climate of fear and a chill on freedom of speech still continues. Many people are afraid to speak their minds or criticize government policies, and as Bill C-51's fundamental pillars of surveillance and punishment continue, that chill will only get worse.
It's Simple, Repeal it!
It never had to be this complicated. The Liberals didn't need to hide from the issues for two years or create a phoney public consultation that travelled across the country. The committee did not have to come up with 41 recommendations on how to try and fix a fundamentally broken law. All they needed to do was Repeal Bill C-51 from day one. Then if they wanted to have an honest discussion about the balance between human rights and freedoms with the general, they could have initiated one in good faith.
What is most clear is that the basic flaw in both the Liberal and Conservative government's ideas about human rights is that they see them as obstacles to security. We believe strongly that history, and common sense show that enhancing human rights is not only necessary, but also beneficial to the security and safety of all people. When people are respected, included and able to live in peace they have no reason to attack anyone. This myth of people “detesting our freedoms” is inflated propaganda.
History and common sense also show that no significant gains have been made for human rights without people standing up and working together. We need to continue to do the same thing against Bill C-51. Our demand for a full Repeal of Bill C-51 still remains. They have given us no real reason to give it up. We also continue to demand for an Independent Public Inquiry into Bill C-51. If they are so confident that their increased security measures are justifiable, why would they be afraid of the public taking a look to decide for themselves?
So let's continue to educate, organize and mobilize against Bill C-51. They may try and tell us that two steps forward is progress after pushing us 10 steps back, but we know better. There is no such thing as “partial” human rights, and no government has the right to try and take them away.
REPEAL BILL C-51!
OUR SECURITY LIES IN DEFENDING THE RIGHTS OF ALL!
CALL FOR AN INDEPENDENT PUBLIC INQUIRY
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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