The reaction to Bill C-51 has been widespread and the opposition is growing. While its short title is the “Anti-Terrorism Act,” it is both more and less than that.
It is less than “anti-terrorism” because it is likely to make us less safe. The act gives new powers to CSIS to act in Canada and overseas to “reduce threats,” with virtually no limits. CSIS is specifically not allowed to cause death or bodily harm or “violate the sexual integrity” of anyone. The range of potential activities — from break and enter, search and seizure, infiltration, monkey-wrenching, include powers to offer witnesses immunity from prosecution or from ever having to testify. There is no requirement that CSIS tell the RCMP what it is up to, and it is the RCMP that has been successfully countering plots and arresting suspects. Just imagine when the RCMP finds key witnesses have a “get out of jail free” card from CSIS. That and other sections run a high degree of probability of gumming up the works. Security experts, especially those with experience in the Air India inquiry, remind us that it is critical that security agencies not develop silos. C-51 takes a system that is currently working quite well and threatens to turn it into a three ring circus, without benefit of a ring-master.
It is also less than Canadians would expect, as there is nothing in C-51 to work against radicalization. No outreach efforts, nothing for the prison system or the schools as the UK government established in its new law passed in December 2014.
It is more than anti-terrorism, as the range of activities covered by a new and sweeping definition of “threats to the security of Canada” in the information sharing section of the bill covers far more than terrorism. It could plausibly cover just about anything, and certainly would cover those opposing pipelines and tankers.
It is actually five bills rolled into one. Each part contains provisions I can only describe as dangerous. For example, part 5, amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Act, appear to allow the use of evidence obtained by torture. Part 3, ostensibly about getting terrorist propaganda off the internet, uses a set of new concepts that would criminalize private conversations – and not just about terrorism. The propaganda section does not require knowing you are spreading propaganda, and “terrorist propaganda” itself has a definition so broad as to include a visual representation (a Che Guevera poster?) promoting a new concept called “terrorism in general.” Experts are now referring to this as “thought chill.”
As the first MP to oppose C-51, I now have a lot of company: four former prime ministers, six former Supreme Court justices, over 100 legal experts, Conrad Black, Rex Murphy, Tom Mulcair and the NDP, the editorial positions of the Globe and Mail, National Post and Toronto Star. The Assembly of First Nations has called for it to be withdrawn. I hope you agree as well.
Originally published in Saanich News.