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Civil society slams Harper’s new anti-terrorism legislation

While the New Democrats and Liberals have been muted in their critique of Harper’s new “anti-terrorism” legislation, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Green Party, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Edward Snowden and even the Globe and Mail editorial board have begun to speak out.

The Globe and Mail

Their editorial board says that Harper’s security bill will unleash the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) on a lot more than terrorists.

They write, “Why does the bill do so much more than fight terrorism? Bill C-51 creates new powers for CSIS to stop any ‘activity’ that ‘undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada’. A subsequent list of such activities includes ‘terrorism’, ‘interference with critical infrastructure’ and ‘interference with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.’ But wait. If a terrorist blew up critical infrastructure – a pipeline, for instance – wouldn’t that be terrorism?”

They continue on to ask: “So what is this other class of security-underminer the bill refers to? A political party that advocates Quebec independence (there goes our ‘territorial integrity’)? Indian activists who disrupt a train line? Environmental activists denounced as radicals by a cabinet minister? These things are on a par with terrorism now?”

In this respect, Global News has reported, “In an email [last week], Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s spokesperson Clarissa Lamb said the ‘The Supreme Court has interpreted ‘promote’ to mean active support or instigation and is more than simple encouragement. It has interpreted ‘advocate’ to mean actively inducing or encouraging.’ Conceivably, if you’ve ever written a blog post railing against Canada’s actions in Iraq or Afghanistan; brought a Tamil Tigers flag to a protest; argued that Canada should restore humanitarian aid to Gazans through their Hamas government; called Israel an apartheid state; supported militant independence movements in Turkish Kurdistan or Spain’s Basque region; you may have done just that.”

Green Party

The Georgia Straight reports, “[Green Party leader Elizabeth May] asked Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney if the Conservatives’ new antiterrorism bill ‘will apply to nonviolent civil disobedience, such as that against pipelines?’ Blaney didn’t directly answer her question.” May says, “This parliament must not allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force.”

Edward Snowden

Snowden, best known for leaking documents from the US CNational Security Agency, has commented, “I would say we should always be extraordinarily cautious when we see governments trying to set up a new secret police within their own countries. …We need to use extraordinary scrutiny in every society, in every country, in every state to make sure that the laws we live under are the ones we truly want and truly need.”

Canadian Civil Liberties Association

CCLA executive director Sukanya Pillay says, “There are still no answers as to why our existing laws and powers didn’t work — or if they didn’t work.” She has also raised concerns about criminalizing something as undefined as ‘the advocacy of terrorism’ and the chill effect this could have on academics and journalists.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

The BCCLA says C-51 would create “an unprecedented expansion of powers that will harm innocent Canadians and not increase public safety.”

International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

And CBC reports, “Bill C-51 would allow CSIS to take measures within or outside Canada to reduce threats to the security of Canada, but doesn’t spell out exactly what those measures could be. …’We don’t know what the power to disrupt means. At first reading it seems that [CSIS] can do just about anything except bodily damage or assassination or sexual abuse’, said Roch Tassé, a spokesman for the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group​.” The article notes that while C-51 says physical damage cannot be inflicted, it doesn’t rule out implied physical threats or psychological intimidation.

C-51 is now in second reading in the House of Commons.

Further reading
What’s in Harper’s proposed C-51 ‘Security of Canada’ legislation? (February 2015 blog)