Bill C-51, now known as the Anti-terrorism Act, allows Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, to disrupt real and perceived terrorist threats. It allows intelligence agencies to share Canadians’ personal information more widely. Authorities can detain someone for up to seven days if it’s believed a terrorist event may occur.
And the exercise of these new powers can take place without meaningful parliamentary oversight.
CSIS was supposed to prevent the RCMP security service from engaging in unlawful activity.
In 1984, CSIS was created as a response to the McDonald Commission, which recommended a separation between national security policing and intelligence functions. National security intelligence would be limited to information gathering, and CSIS’ performance of its duties and functions would be subject to the review of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). Unlawful disruption tactics, including barn burnings, property destruction, break-ins, thefts, and abusive investigation techniques by the RCMP were strongly condemned. In the aftermath of the McDonald Commission Report, the government created CSIS as a legally more constrained, domestic, civilian intelligence collection service. Indeed, later in that decade, an important reform removed the controversial area of “subversion” from the RCMP’s mandate.
– Voices-Voix update on Bill C-51: Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015
The idea was to separate the intelligence gathering and security operations into two discrete branches of the service. Giving CSIS the power to act on the intelligence it gathers, to make the sort of disruptions it was created to prevent the RCMP from undertaking makes no sense at all. From all reports, Canadian security ~ and Canadians ~ have suffered serious consequences because the two branches of the service don’t communicate with each other. Instead of rectifying such serious problems that have come to light through the Air India Inquiry (2010) and the Arar Inquiry (2006), C-51 compounds them by granting the security service unprecedented “lawful access” to the personal information of all Canadian citizens. What it does *not* do is compell CSIS to share information about imminent attacks. This does not make Canadians safer.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has produced a wonderful primer:
UNDERSTANDING BILL C-51: THE ANTI-TERRORISM ACT, 2016
Although I am no lawyer, my understanding is that C-51 legalized a host of activities that were formerly illegal under Canadian law because they jeopardize or contravene the civil rights Canadians are supposed to be guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As near as I can tell, nothing at all is being done to end CSE’s bulk data collection — effectively spying on the digital activities of all Canadians 24/7.
Currently the only supervision of the activities of the security services are after-the-fact reviews, which means any and all improper Charter breaches will only come to light long after they have occurred, which is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.
Perhaps the most chilling part of all of this is the incredible lack of oversight to the services that have been given these incredible powers over our lives. At least in the early part of the 21st Century the CSIS Inspector General provided actual supervision, to ensure Canadian spies don’t break the law.
Unfortunately that was one of the many non-budgetary items bundled into the Harper Government’s Omnibus “Black Mark Budget” in 2012; a few quiet strokes of a pen abolished the IG’s office, leaving only the SIRC review process, a part time agency that looks at only a tiny percentage of what CSIS actually does.
I wrote about this all in March of last year, before C-51 became law, in Liberal Leader Gets Bill C-51 Wrong. Unfortunately it looks as though our Liberal Government has no intention of dismantling this dreadful law. It seems the best we can hope for is some sort of parliamentary oversight.
Unfortunately that is more likely to end up being a rubber stamp than anything else.
What Canadians Can Do
Today is the last day for Canadians to make submissions to the Federal Government’s National Security Consultation. Although there was a component of This is an online consultation, and they’ve provided plenty of reading material, which naturally supports the idea this legislation is a good thing. It’s not. At least not if you think the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is important.
The government has broken the consultation down into categories spread out over multiple web pages, asking for our input on any or all of the 10 topic areas for the consultation. Each page also asks us to identify ourselves, although, unlike the electoral reform consultation, it is not explicitly necessary.
- Threat Reduction
- Domestic National Security Information Sharing
- The Passenger Protect Program
- Criminal Code Terrorism Measures
- Procedures for Listing Terrorist Entities
- Terrorist Financing
- Investigative Capabilities in a Digital World
- Intelligence and Evidence
- General Feedback
We also have the option of making an Email submission: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll say it again: Today ~ December 15th, 2016 ~ is the LAST DAY to participate in the consultation. Please do. Even if all you do is go to any or all of the Consultation web pages and comment “Repeal C-51” you will help. Anonymous comments won’t be taken as seriously as comments connected with our real names, so I strongly recommend filling in the contact info. The reality is that, so long as C-51 is in place, there is no way for Canadians to enjoy online anonymity. (Even encrypted activity is being recorded and stored against the day the security services can break the encryption.)
Even if you read this after the consultation deadline, you can still call your MP to account for this. Canadians used to have civil rights. We used to have privacy. Law enforcement agents were required to produce some evidence of probable cause that would convince a judge to issue a warrant before our Charter protections of our privacy could be legally breached. Privacy is the citizen’s only protection from potential over-reach of the powerful state. This is why the UHDR and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms seek to protect our privacy. Sacrificing citizen privacy does not make us safer, it puts us at risk.
C-51 ushered in a powers and laws that threaten Canadian privacy, freedom of speech and other Charter protections without actually substantively dealing with problems of prosecution of terrorism, and without any meaningful oversight of Canada’s booming national security industry.
After you make your submission, you can Sign the Petition:
We are at a disheartening moment in federal politics. Despite all the powerful and thoughtful critiques of the government’s anti-terrorism bill, it has now become law.”
– Ed Broadbent
If you buy only one book this year, don’t buy my novel, get yourself a copy of False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-terrorism, by By Craig Forcese and Kent Roach. Better yet, get copies for all your family and friends. Because this must change if we don’t want our lives, and our kids and our grandkids lives to be lived in an Orwellian dystopia. This is the stuff of fiction, this is reality.