The federal government’s new Bill C-51 which, it says, is aimed at keeping the nation safe from terrorist activities by giving more power to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has raised a lot of concern across the country. This bill has come in, rightly we believe, for heavy criticism from many quarters.
After the lethal actions of two individuals who took the lives of two Canadian soldiers right here on Canadian soil and a more recent threat aimed at the West Edmonton Mall, the general public would expect the federal government to underline what mechanisms are in place to ensure protection from similar threats. Yet, there is growing concern that this anti-terror bill threatens the privacy of ordinary Canadians, would put a chill on free speech and would criminalize the right to public protest.
The government is asking Canadians to give up their freedom for greater security surveillance and many Canadians are loudly rejecting it. Here in Toronto, as in other parts of the country, people have taken to the streets in the thousands to reject the bill.
Concerns regarding aspects of the bill have even been voiced by Conservative senators who believe that there is not enough oversight of CSIS included in the bill to balance the additional powers being given to disrupt terror plots instead of only gathering information and interrogating persons who fall under suspicion of terrorist activities.
Bill C-51 will allow private information to be shared across various government agencies, information that is even outside the bounds of terrorist-related activities. Tax returns and maybe even employment insurance applications may fall under such scrutiny.
Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, has criticized this aspect of the bill, calling the scale of information sharing and loss of privacy “unprecedented” and “excessive”.
Through the Communications Security Establishment, the Stephen Harper government is already collecting meta-data to look at the Internet downloading and emailing patterns of unknown numbers of Canadians. And current laws regarding terrorism already allow the RCMP to charge an individual engaging in terrorist activities. With the new bill, the RCMP would now, for example, be able to carry out arrests without a warrant.
What we are faced with instead of concern about terrorists is concern that with Bill C-51 the Harper government is becoming the source of fear, as their efforts at security threaten certain freedoms within the Canadian Charter of Rights.
Even before this anti-terror bill is passed, government agencies are being directed to report protest activities, and to consider such activities as threats to national security. Groups protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline project, for example, are being characterized as environmental terrorists. Other groups that protest against any favoured interests of this government may similarly come under suspicion.
It has widely been suggested that the anti-terror bill came into being in reaction to the Parliament Hill assault in October by Michael Zehaf Bibeau, and it might appear so, given the timing of the announcement of the bill. Yet, the bill had been in the works for some time before that tragedy. Other related bills are now being anticipated. Considering this government’s crime and punishment agenda, we suspect that this new bill will create more terrorists than actually exist.
We know what this government wants to do. However, do we want to give it such unrestrained power over us, power that could be misused by a future government?