It’s rather concerning when a piece of legislation with the potential to redefine the state of security in Canada is presented in such an unscrupulous manner. Bill C-51 will grant significant new powers to both the RCMP and CSIS to combat terrorism, a no doubt important national concern, especially given the recent calls for an attack on the West Edmonton Mall by Somalian terror group Al Shabab. However, given the dichotomy of security and freedom, an initiative that had the potential to greatly tip the scales in favour of the former should clearly be considered with patience and rationality, right?
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government is pushing to have the expert testimony concerning the bill limited to just three meetings. The NDP are hoping to have at least four former prime ministers share their views on the bill in addition to former members of Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which is responsible for CSIS oversight. As reported by the CBC, Harper finds this to be “ridiculous”. When the potential for politically-focused espionage was brought up by NDP leader Thomas Mulclair, Harper referred to the criticism as “conspiracy theories”.
“I would urge the committee to study the bill as quickly as possible in order to ensure the adoption of these measures to ensure the security and safety of Canadians,” said Harper.
This is a bill with such general legalese and wording that it could give the federal government the right to take action against protests that are without municipal permits, as well as “wildcat” strikes (those undertaken without official approval by the union itself). This bill could possibly label protest against pipeline projects to be interference “with infrastructure”. It even goes so far as to name “activities… that are detrimental to the interests of Canada” as a “threat to the security of Canada”.
As noted in University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese’s “Bill C-51 (Antiterrorism Act 2015): Short Primer on Key Aspects”, this is an entirely too broad concept that allows a great deal of flexibility in definition, as it is the government that decides what Canada’s interests are. The concept was actually criticized by the SIRC in 1989. If the bill could, in theory, present dangerous consequences for Canadian citizens, why not take the time to carefully consider it?
Despite rare instances like the aforementioned threats against the West Edmonton Mall, or the attacks back in October, terrorism only just qualifies as a concern on Canadian soil. While citizens have every right to be scared, it’s no reason to sacrifice freedom due to a questionable threat to homeland security.
It should be noted that while the bill grants great powers to the RCMP and CSIS, it mandates no further oversight to keep the power in check. In a joint statement published February 19, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Joe Clark, John Turner and others with Canadian security experience called for stronger supervision in light of bill C-51. “Protecting human rights and protecting public safety are complementary objectives, but experience has shown that serious human rights abuses can occur in the name of maintaining national security,” reads the statement that appeared in both French and English newspapers.
It’s clear that the bill should not be rushed through, meeting only the bare minimum of the requirements to make it law. When the anti-terror laws were introduced the last time Canadians became concerned with terrorism, in 2001, they spent 19 days being reviewed at the public safety committee. Could this bill be so direly necessary that a mere three days are sufficient to review it?