Two contributors discuss their concerns with Bill C-51, proposed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. The Bill was released to the public on Jan. 30, aiming to increase the jurisdiction of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and giving the federal government the ability to remove “terrorist propaganda” from the Internet.
Bill C-51 infringes on the Charter rights of Canadians
Rachel Tung, ArtSci ’18
“Over the last few years, a great evil has been descending over our world.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made this statement on Jan. 30, as he announced the introduction of Bill C-51 in response to the apparent proliferation of jihadi terrorism. The new legislation is meant to usher in greater security and peace of mind within Canada, in the wake of recent “terror” incidents such as the attack on two soldiers in Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, last October.
Instead, Bill C-51 is doing the opposite, along with other bills that have been introduced as of late.
Jihadi terrorism is an international threat, but there’s a more implicit side to the danger it poses.
In the wake of crises, Canada has historically passed extreme laws that grant government agencies heightened power in the name of national security, including martial law that was introduced in response to the October Crisis of 1970.
These laws discretely chip away at the rights afforded to Canadians under the Charter of Rights.
Take Bill C-51. It lowers the threshold for arrest, criminalizes the promotion of terrorism and allows for CSIS to disrupt “suspected” terrorist activities.
On Oct. 27, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney tabled Bill C-44. Labeled as the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act”, the bill proposed allowing CSIS to share information with international agencies and keep informants anonymous.
Bill C-13, meanwhile, was passed on Oct 20. C-13 affords police greater power in lowering the evidence threshold required for warrants, surveillance and tracking of data.
The gradual introduction of these laws has allowed the government to justify their takeaway of personal rights on a statute-by-statute basis – but the bills have never been evaluated on their collective impact.
Looking at how much C-51, C-44, and C-13 have endangered our rights under the Charter over the past four months, they add up to severe violations of our fundamental freedoms and legal rights. These recently passed bills supersede our freedom of expression, the right to liberty and security of the person and the right to be secure against unreasonable searches.
Harper dismissed concerns about the impact of C-51 on personal liberties as the usual rebuttals from the opposition, and not as valid counterpoints that are necessary to balance and scrutinize the rule of a majority government.
Canadians shouldn’t be complacent with designated oversight agencies like the Security Intelligence Review Committee – an independent government review body – and the RCMP, who are tasked with ensuring the fair application of anti-terror legislations when these oversight agencies aren’t accountable to citizens. These agencies have made no effort to have open communication with those they’re designated to protect.
Jihadi terrorism is unquestionably a threat to our liberal world order. What’s questionable is the passing of a series of bills to fend off outside dangers, without a clear understanding of whether these bills can get at the root of extremism, and whether they constitute a justifiable trade-off of our personal liberties.
Rachel Tung is a first-year student.
Bill C-51 doesn’t address radicalism at its core
Dakota Forster, ArtSci ’16
Bill C-51 is unnecessary, unconstitutional and doesn’t address the actual source of radicalism.
Labelled as the “Anti-Terrorism Act”, C-51 seeks to drastically expand the scope and integration of Canada’s various security agencies without any concrete means of public accountability or oversight.
Such sweeping reforms are attempts to capitalize on the culture of fear that has surrounded security discussions post-9/11. It’s important fear doesn’t cloud our judgment when it comes to enacting legislation, as the true utility of Bill C-51 is quite murky.
The new policy is reminiscent of similar legislation passed in the United Kingdom and Australia, which enable the removal and seizure of materials labeled as “terrorist propaganda” without the requirement of a court warrant.
In an election year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper could be harnessing the fear surrounding events like October’s attack on Ottawa – led by a single shooter – to reaffirm his tough stance on crime and terrorism to appeal to voters.
It’s vital that the public examines the contents of Bill C-51 to understand its possible consequences.
The bill’s references to “terrorist propaganda” are problematic, as it gives unprecedented power to the judiciary to decide what constitutes propaganda and whether it should be seized or removed.
This is a blatant infringement on freedom of speech, and severely constrains any critiques of government centred on religious views.
Bill C-51 would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose information identifying users without the need for a warrant. This is legally dubious, as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled last June that ISPs can’t disclose customer information to law enforcement agencies without a warrant.
Bill C-51 – and the rhetoric Harper has used to promote it – contains language that strikes unnecessary fear.
Harper said in January that Canadians are now “at war”. In a video released last week, he discussed the threat of ISIS over images of the National War Memorial in Ottawa – where Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed – stating that ISIS has instructed their followers to make Canadians feel unsafe in their own homes.
The Globe and Mail said in an editorial on Sunday that this kind of juxtaposition gives the impression the attack on Ottawa was directly related to ISIS, instead of a single radicalized individual.
Another addition to the bill is increasing the limits for preventative detention. A person can now be detained by law enforcement agencies for up to seven days, as opposed to the previous limit of three days.
The possibility of detention is based on the agency’s suspicion that a terrorist attack “may be carried out”, rather than the actual probability or certainty it will occur. This language drastically reduces the criteria necessary to justify detention.
Several legal experts interviewed by Canadian news outlets have asserted that the laws concerning anti-terrorism in the current Criminal Code are more than sufficient to handle the threat of terrorism in Canada.
Hamed El-Said, advisor to the United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force told Maclean’s last week that new regulations will only serve to fill Canada’s already over-crowded prison system, as they fail to address the fundamental issues surrounding extremism.
By seeking to punish rather than rehabilitate, measures like Bill C-51 only provide a band-aid solution to radicalization in Canada, and do nothing to hinder the process itself.
The argument for deterrence has proven to be a hollow one. Instead, El-Said advocates for government programs that seek to engage with Canadian Muslim communities in an effort to reduce radicalization.
We can hope that careful scrutiny will be enough to prevent policies like Bill C-51 from taking root in Canada. With significant opposition towards this bill, the process of judicial review will hopefully be swift and sure.
Dakota Forster is a third-year political studies major.
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