“Bill C-51 … is a dangerous piece of legislation in terms of its potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada’s democracy.” - 106 law professors from Canada in an open letter to the government concerning Bill C-51.
Last week, many Canadians celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta whilst the Canadian government officially signed into law Bill C-51, the Conservatives new Anti-Terrorism Act. Now although it was proposed with sincere intentions, the contents of Bill C-51 are more troubling than the news that Donald Trump is running for president – and that’s hard to trump. Anyway, the bill was proposed in reaction to the two recent terror attacks on Canadian soil and the rising threat posed by ISIS. However, the bill has been subject to an incredible amount criticism, with groups like Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association arguing it violates the Canadian constitution and could abuse human rights.
Now whether you support, oppose, or are unsure about the new laws, this piece will outline the crucial facts all Canadians should know about Bill C-51: from how it provisions arrests and abusive interrogation without a right to a lawyer or trial, to how it expands the role of security agencies and suppresses freedom of expression.
10. Broadens the Definition of Security Threats.
Bill C51 expands the definition of threats to national security to include any action that may interfere with the “critical infrastructure,” “territorial integrity,” or “economic and financial stability of Canada.” Under this law, aboriginals protecting their homes from pipeline expansion and environmental activists protesting fracking could be considered criminals. Already, the government has been labelling particular protesters as “eco-terrorists, multi-issue extremists, and violent aboriginal extremists.” This provision contradicts the very values Canada was founded upon, as a free society is one which champions the right of people to protest.
9. Provisions Arrests Without a Warrant, Right to a Lawyer or Trial
This bill makes a few amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code, and in particular, lowers the threshold for preventative detention from “will” commit a crime to “may” commit a crime. This means Canadian law enforcement can arrest and detain someone without any evidence they will commit an act of terrorism. Furthermore, a person can be arrested and detained for up to 7 days without a right to a lawyer or trial. These provisions reverse the rule of law, completely ignoring the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty – for you can only be certain someone is a terrorist after they’ve undergone a trial. Achieving rights to Magna Carta (freedom from unjust imprisonment) and Habeus Corpus (right to a trial) took thousands of years to accomplish, and thus we should think very carefully before surrendering them.
8. Makes CSIS into a Secret Police Force
the Central Security Intelligence Service of Canada (CSIS) was originally established in the 1980s to simply analyze intelligence. With the passing of Bill C51, CSIS has essentially become a secret police force. Specifically, the bill grants CSIS the authority to take any ‘disruption measures’ it deems necessary for the security of Canada – and we’ve already covered how broad the definition of security is. This could prove to be very dangerous, as disruption measures could entail almost anything: convincing a judge to allow for the violation of the Canadian Charter, interfering with travel plans and banking transactions, breaking into a home to seize necessary information or even questioning the family members of an individual suspected of radicalization. Now some of that may sound necessary, but the point raised by many critics is that this should be the job of the RCMP anyway.
7. Empowers Spy Agencies to Hack Your Electronic Devices
Under provisions in Bill C-51, the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC), a branch of CSIS and Canada’s most secretive spy agency, now has the authority to engage in whatever digital disruption tactics necessary to thwart security threats. According to CJFE, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, digital disruption could include the installation of spyware or malware on your computer, the taking down of websites or other online content, and perhaps even the editing of content in order to damage the reputation of political dissidents.
6. Expands Data Collection and Sharing
Under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act in Bill C-51, all government agencies and security services are granted the authority to share whatever information they posses on Canadians – even if those Canadians have never committed a crime. To make matters worse, it’s already been leaked by Edward Snowden that CSEC, under project levitation, has been collecting as many as 15 million records of uploads and downloads every day from Canadians.
5. Erodes Privacy
What’s the point in putting passwords on our laptops and phones if they don’t matter? By granting government agencies the right to collect and share our private information we give up our right to privacy. Bill C-51 essentially allows the government to collect any information it desires: banking details, messages, web history, health records, finances, and the list goes on and on. It’s been argued this level of intrusion into our personal lives is unconstitutional, as the Canadian Charter guarantees protection against “unreasonable” search and seizures. Historically, search and seizures have only been deemed reasonable if a judge has granted consent in the form of a warrant.
4. There’s No Oversight or Accountability
In 2012, the office of inspector general over CSIS was shut down, leaving Canada as one of the only Western democracies in the world without a high level body of elected officials to ensure proper oversight and accountability. Without a mechanism in place to ensure our law enforcement and government agencies are held accountable, Bill C-51 becomes subject to abuse and the notion of transparency becomes risible.
3. Provisions Abusive Interrogation
Another crucial factor to consider about preventative detention is that it leaves the door open for abusive interrogation. To be fair, Bill C-51 does prohibit CSIS and interrogators from causing “bodily harm” or “sexual violations.” However, Michael Kempa, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, raises a point about psychological harm, stating agents could still bully suspects by threatening physical violence. Ultimately, the paramount point is that individuals detained without a warrant or trial shouldn’t be subject to abusive interrogation in the first place.
2. Suppresses Freedom of Expression
Bill C-51 makes “promoting the commission of terrorism in general” a criminal offence, and those found guilty could be subject to up to 5 years in prison. Now this provision could appear reasonable, but opponents argue that the definition of “terrorism in general” is unclear. However, what is troubling about this provision is that it applies to conversations in private. Critics have argued this provision could be used to censor legitimate political debate, and that even an email or Facebook message to a friend encouraging donations to a war-torn region could be considered a criminal offence. Lastly, it’s also been argued that this provision is simply unnecessary, as Canada already has laws against promoting hate and inciting violence.
1. It’s Overwhelmingly Unpopular
106 law professors, 28 businesses (including Firefox), 12 privacy commissioners and over 100 civil society groups and experts have openly stated they oppose Bill C-51. Furthermore, a recent poll reported by the Huffington Post revealed 75 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 oppose the bill.