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Prorogation’s silver lining – What died on the order paper

I think we can all agree that on measure, Harper’s prorogation of Parliament was vicious, cynical and anti-democratic. But maybe those who resolve to think more positively this year can find some comfort in what lousy laws fell off the order paper (and the private member’s bill that did not). In the first category are bills C-23 (the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement), C-46 and C-47 (lawful access aka RCMP Internet snooping), and C-60 (Shiprider). Surviving prorogation is Liberal MP John McKay’s Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, or “the best chance we have as Canadians to assure that Canadian extractive companies follow human rights and environmental best practices when they operate overseas,” according to MiningWatch Canada.

C-23: The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

The Harper government has been unable to pass this FTA despite heroic efforts by Liberal Trade Critic Scott Brison to uncritically support it, and the disreputable Uribe government, in the House of Commons, in public, and behind the scenes among more skeptical Liberal colleagues. Before prorogation, Bill C-23 was stuck in second reading debate on NDP and Bloc motions that would remove the FTA from the House of Commons “because the government concluded this agreement while the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) was considering the matter, thereby demonstrating its disrespect for democratic institutions.” Their work was complemented by a unified and still growing civil society opposition to free trade with Colombia. Ironically, Harper’s “disrespect for democratic institutions,” which is shared by the Uribe government, has sent C-23 back to first reading and we have a real opportunity to keep it out of the House until a proper Human Rights Impact Assessment can be carried out, as suggested by the CIIT in June 2008. The Honourable member from Kings-Hants must realize it’s the only democratic thing to do.

C-46 and C-47: Lawful Access Legislation

Taken together, these two security bills will obligate Internet service providers (ISPs) to build intercept capabilities onto their networks and make it much easier for police to require ISPs to disclose or preserve communications from a specific user, even without a warrant. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan is playing the child pornography card to guarantee all-party support for the new measures but privacy groups, and the privacy commissioner, warn they may be excessive and even unnecessary.

“Though isolated anecdotes abound, and extreme incidents are generally referred to, no systematic case has yet been made that demonstrates a need to circumvent the current legal regime for judicial authorization to obtain personal information,” wrote Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart in a letter to MPs last October. “Before all else, law enforcement and national security authorities need to explain how the current provisions on judicial warrants do not meet their needs.”

Stoddart also referred to the “downward movement from reasonable grounds to believe to reasonable grounds to suspect” in police production orders for personal online information, or “to no threshold of evidence at all” for subscriber data access. “In the case of Bill C-47, there is not even a requirement for the commission of a crime to justify access to personal information without a warrant. The onus lies with proponents of the legislation to demonstrate the need for lowered thresholds to obtain personal information.”

Various forms of this legislation have come and gone through Parliament, often sent back to square one during prorogation for elections or otherwise. It will be fiercely opposed when it is re-introduced after March.

C-60: Keeping Canadians Safe (Protecting Borders Act)

I’ve said all I can say about this security law that will deputize U.S. Homeland Security officers operating in shared waterways (and in pursuit on adjacent land) during designated border operations. As with bills C-46 and C-47, there appears to be no legitimate need to grant U.S. police extraordinary powers to detain, question or arrest on Canadian territory. The effort seems purely aimed at appeasing U.S. concerns about Canadian security practices and is another step towards a perimeter approach to ‘securing’ North America as a whole. The Shiprider project, as it’s called, is already in effect on the Great Lakes and shared waters off the coast of B.C., although with C-60 off the order paper there is no legislative backing for the arrangement. U.S. police forces will be patrolling Canadian waterways on RCMP ships during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Considering that the Shiprider arrangement grants these officers full policing powers “in every part of Canada” during designated operations, is there a possibility of deployment as far north as Whistler? Perhaps in this case, prorogation is a net loss because it denies Parliament the chance to debate the Shiprider project, which has been in development since 2005 — an outcome of the anti-democratic Security and Prosperity Partnership dialogue between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Bill C-300: Corporate Accountability for Mining and Resource Companies

There have been recently several high-profile cases of violence against anti-mining activists in Mexico and El Salvador related to Canadian mining operations in those countries. For instance, on November 27, Abarca Roblero, an activist against mining in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, was murdered after suffering threats, prison and violence due to his opposition to the mining activities of Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration. A month later, Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos, a 32-year-old farmer and active member of the Environmental Committee of Cabanas (CAC), a citizen group in opposition to Canadian mining company Pacific Rim’s proposed El Dorado gold mine, was shot and killed on her way home from doing laundry in a nearby river. The company is currently suing the government of El Salvador under the Central American Free Trade Agreement’s investor rights chapter due to delays in approving the El Dorado mine.

According to MiningWatch Canada, C-300:

Would regulate the relationship between Canadian government agencies (Export Development Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Canadian Pension Plan) and Canadian extractive companies operating in developing countries.

– Would create eligibility criteria (“guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards”) for political and financial support that is provided to Canadian extractive companies by Export Development Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Canadian Pension Plan.

– Would require that “guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards” include the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards, related guidance notes, and Environmental Health and Safety General Guidelines; the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights; “human rights provisions that ensure corporations operate in a manner that is consistent with international human rights standards; and any other standard consistent with international human rights standards.”

– Would create a complaints mechanism where complaints are filed with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. If accepted, the complaint would lead to an investigation of a company’s compliance with the guidelines and a public report on findings within eight months of receipt of the complaint. A company may become ineligible for government support for as long as it is out of compliance with the guidelines.

Rather than dying on the order paper like the other bills mentioned here, according to the office of Liberal MP John McKay, who introduced the private members bill:

Bill C-300 will survive the prorogation of Parliament and retain the same bill number in the new session. It luckily escapes the fate of a number of other pieces of crucial legislation which died when Mr. Harper prorogued parliament. One impact prorogation will have on C-300 is that the Bill will return to the beginning of its current stage, in this case the committee stage. This means that members will have an additional 60 sitting days to consider the bill. Committee members do have the option though to use the testimony and evidence from the previous session rather repeating the process of hearing witnesses.

You can write to your MP supporting C-300 by using MiningWatch’s action alert.

So there you go — a little bit (a very little bit) of sunshine under the rain of Harper’s despotic reign. Here’s to a brand new year and a brand new start on some bad ‘old laws.