I remember the events of October 22. While I was in lock-down on Parliament Hill, I remember who hid in a closet and who ran toward gun fire. The guy in the closet is now planning to concentrate the powers of the state in his own hands while converting the Canadian spy agency into a secret police with virtually unlimited powers. And, at the same time, he has decided to demote the security team that performed its role heroically, the House of Commons Security, led by former Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers, and put the RCMP in charge of Parliament Hill. Of the two moves, clearly creating a secret police is the most dangerous, but upending the Constitutional principle that the government reports to Parliament is no small matter (and, as a Member of Parliament, I would prefer security to be in the hands of the people who paid attention that day and not the RCMP who somehow missed an armed man running past their multiple idling vehicles.)
Here is what Stephen Harper wants Canadians to think:
We are at war. We face a massive terrorist threat. We must be very, very afraid and we must not question any law brought in allegedly to fight terrorism. Anyone who raises finicky, lily-livered concerns about civil liberties is a fellow-traveller of ISIS.
Here’s the truth:
We are not at war. We are at peace. (Would Harper’s most trusted lieutenant and Minister of Foreign Affairs quit if we were really at war?)
Acts of terrorism are a threat. They are criminal acts of horrific cruelty and sadism. Luring of disenfranchised, disenchanted, alienated Canadians into their barbaric crusade must be addressed, but the new law, C-51, is not primarily an anti-terrorism law. And legal experts are already pointing out it “undermines more promising avenues of addressing terrorism.” (Bill C-51 backgrounder, Professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese)
In terms of Canada’s future, the climate crisis is a much larger threat.
We must not be afraid. We must be smart. It’s really hard to think when paralyzed by fear. Any thinking person will stand up and oppose C-51 with every ounce of their strength.
Harper claims to believe Canada is a freedom-loving country. If he’s right, he miscalculated in hoping we could be scared out of our wits.
We already have anti-terror laws. Terrorism, treason, sedition, espionage, proliferating of nuclear and biological weapons and other offences repeated in C-51 are already illegal. The police already have expanded powers in relation to terrorism. RCMP have powers to disrupt terrorist plots. That’s how they broke the Toronto 18, the VIA rail plot and ISIS sympathizers in Ottawa before they could move their plots into action. Full marks to the RCMP for these proactive successes. Those suspected of terrorism already have a second set of Kafa-esque laws to allow their detention through security certificates. Oversight of the operations of CSIS was reduced in the 2012 omnibus bill C-38. Put simply, Canada has already significantly intruded on Charter rights to give the RCMP, CSIS and Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) broader powers and less over-sight. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that CSEC has been gathering millions of internet communications every day from Canadians – even though CSEC’s mandate was supposed to apply only to foreign activities. Under project “Levitation,” CSEC collects as many as 15 million records of uploads and downloads every day.
No one from the security establishment has made a case for requiring expanded powers.
C-51, the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, creates new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS. CSIS was created to keep the RCMP policing functions separate from intelligence work after the fiasco of burning down the barn in an FLQ sting operation. This bill gives CSIS the power to do anything. (Okay, not anything. It specifically says CSIS cannot directly kill or harm people or “violate the sexual integrity of an individual,” but otherwise, CSIS will have a vague set of sweeping powers).
CSIS will be able to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interests of protecting the security of Canada. The definition of “undermining the security of Canada” is more a list of suggestions than a definition, using the word “including” before listing nine types of threats. Using “including” as the heading for its list leaves open the possibility that CSIS may think something else should have been on that list.
Most listed activities are already illegal, such as treason, espionage, causing serious harm, etc. To this is added “interference with critical infrastructure,” raising legitimate concerns that the bill is targeted at First Nations and environmental groups opposing pipelines. There is a caveat in the Act: “For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.”
I have now twice asked the public safety and justice ministers in Question Period to clarify if the act will apply to non-lawful, non-violent civil disobedience, such as blockading along a pipeline route. Neither Stephen Blaney nor Peter MacKay would provide that assurance.
This act could apply to Rosa Parks sitting in the “Whites Only” section of the bus. It could apply to anyone who talked with her about it ahead of time. It could apply to journalists who wrote she should be commended for breaking the law.
The vaguest of those things that undermine the security of Canada reads as follows: “Interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations or the economic or financial stability of Canada.”
That list of vague activities has the same status as terrorism in launching CSIS operatives into a murky world with powers to “take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat.”
So, Saudi Arabia pumping out enough oil to cause the dropping price? Global currency speculators? Judges’ decisions the PM doesn’t like? Calling this section vague is an understatement. And CSIS only needs to go before a judge for a warrant in cases where it decided for itself that its actions will violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Then it goes to a judge for a secret warrant process. The warrant can allow break and enter to take anything and to install anything.
Here’s what I could do with this section as Prime Minister. Climate change is surely a threat to public safety and the economic stability of Canada. So let’s launch CSIS at messing with the heads of all those in the fossil fuel business. Install malware. Implicate them in bogus child porno charges. Break and enter and see if they have been hiding the patents for photovoltaic, electric vehicles, better batteries. A secret police at the PM’s beck and call. Of course, if I ever were Prime Minister, one of the first things I would do is to repeal this act.
It’s not enough to call for better citizen oversight as one opposition party urges. And it is certainly an act of egregious cowardice for the other opposition party to support this bill.
It is trite to say that when we surrender our freedoms, the terrorists win. Even to level that charge at this bill is to fall into the Harper trap of making this bill about terrorism. It’s not. It’s about creating a secret police. It’s the death of freedom.
Originally published in The Tyee.