C-51 and what it does

The new bill, C-51, is described by the government as an anti-terrorism act. Having studied it, I cannot agree that it is primarily addressing the threat of terrorism.

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 bill, 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)

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.

We already have anti-terror laws. Terrorism, treason, sedition, espionage, the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons and other offences repeated in C-51 are already illegal. The police have already 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 Kafka-esque laws to allow their detention through security certificates. Oversight of the operations of CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was reduced in the 2012 omnibus bill C-38 by eliminating the Inspector General of CSIS. 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 oversight. 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 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 vague and wide-ranging powers. The limits on those powers are themselves chilling.

Part 4 specifically says CSIS cannot directly kill or harm people or “violate the sexual integrity of an individual.”

CSIS will be able to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interests of protecting the security of Canada. In gathering and sharing information, 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.”

In Question Period, I asked the public safety minister, justice minister, and prime minister to clarify if the act will apply to non-lawful, non-violent civil disobedience, such as blockading along a pipeline route. Neither Stephen Blaney, Peter MacKay, nor Stephen Harper would provide that assurance.

From my reading of C-51, it 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 information gathering and sharing across the federal government.

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 where CSIS is empowered to “take measures within or outside Canada to reduce the threat,” 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 breaking and entering to take anything and to install anything.

By the time you read this, Bill C-51 will have become law. It will be a measure of our ability to think clearly — not reacting with fear and panic at the mere claim that a bill is about terrorism – if we are able to call for the repeal of this dreadful act in the course of the upcoming election.