No Canadian Police Force asked for the expanded powers in Bill C-51.
Not local police. Not Provincial Police.
Not even CSIS.
In fact, Canadian Law enforcement “already has many powers to target terrorism and terrorist activities in Canada.”
So why did the federal government put forth Bill C-51?
Oversight vs Auditing
In 2012 Eva Plunkett, the Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service retired. The role of the Inspector General was the CSIS Watchdog, and provided the only independent oversight for the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service).
Rather than replacing her with a new Inspector General, the Harper Government took the unusual step of dismantling the position of Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. This was quietly accomplished with the controversial Omnibus Budget Bill C-38.
Division 15 of Part 4 amends the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to
(a) remove the office of the Inspector General;
(b) require the Security Intelligence Review Committee to submit to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness a certificate on the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s annual report; and
(c) increase the information on the Service’s activities to be provided by that Committee to that Minister.”
— Omnibus Budget Bill C-38.
The Harper Government has taken the position that SIRC (the Security Intelligence Review Committee) provides oversight, but in fact, SIRC does not ensure CSIS does not stray over the line into illegal behaviour (such as actions which would infringe on the civil rights Canadians are guaranteed by The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
While SIRC does perform an important function, the reality is that it is a committee of part timers with limited resources that only finds out what CSIS has done after it has done it. If then. While CSIS itself has become a massive bureaucracy, apparently the most lavishly funded of all government agencies; SIRC only has the resources to investigate a small fraction of CSIS actions. Rather than providing sufficient oversight, SIRC doesn’t provide oversight at all, it simply audits and recommends CSIS improvements after the fact.
SIRC is a public forum for people to complain. It’s also a forum to make the public aware of problems,” Plunkett said. “The [Inspector General’s] office was, get in there and identify the problems and point them out to the minister and say, ‘You have to fix this before it becomes an issue for the public.’
“There’s no minister that’s going to be able to know everything about everything. And I can guarantee you that no director (of CSIS) will point out the flaws.”
— Eva Plunkett, retired Inspector General, CBC: CSIS watchdog to be cut in budget
Yes, we know that this government is extremely thin-skinned. But the inspector-general for CSIS isn’t an office that criticizes government. It critiques CSIS behaviour on behalf of the government. Its role is to ensure that the government doesn’t get blindsided by shady behaviour on the part of its intelligence agents.
Or, in the words of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, spoken in 2010, “The inspector-general performs an important review function that supports me in my role as minister and ensures that CSIS is operating within the law and complying with current policies.”
— Colin Kenny, Globe and Mail: “Dismantling the CSIS inspector-general’s office is dumb”
So why would the government eliminate the Office of the Inspector General?So why did the federal government put forth Bill C-51?
Even before the Office of Inspector General was eliminated, despite limited resources for both the IG’s oversight and SIRC’s review, the IG raised serious questions about CSIS activity.
The inspector general’s key function was to produce an annual certificate stating whether CSIS had strayed outside the law, contravened ministerial direction or exercised its powers unreasonably. In her final certificate, Plunkett found CSIS continued to flout policy and made a serious number of reporting errors. She warned that CSIS’s reputation and effectiveness would suffer if the problems weren’t addressed.”
— CBC: CSIS watchdog to be cut in budget
Following the abolition of the Office of Inspector General, it’s website was taken down, so only IG certificates up to 2010 are posted online by way of the Centre for International Policy Studies archive of CSIS Inspector General Certificate Reports. Plunkett’s final certificate does not appear to be online.
Colin Kenny, the former Chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence argued that instead of eliminating the IG, Canada would be much better served by significantly expanding its scope:
If Mr. Toews had wanted to do something useful, he would have expanded the concept of inspector-general of CSIS to other federal intelligence-gatherers, of which there are roughly a dozen, including the RCMP. Most of these intelligence operations are inadequately scrutinized. Setting up an inspector-general-type of agency to oversee all of them would have been a great move. It would have reassured the public that while this government is serious about law and order, it is also serious about maintaining the legality and integrity of the federal institutions involved in law and order. Instead, it is neutering its only oversight structure that works well.”
— Colin Kenny, Globe and Mail: “Dismantling the CSIS inspector-general’s office is dumb”
Since then, there have been serious questions raised about the appalling lack of oversight over Canadian intelligence services.
Eroding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The breaches of civil rights around the Toronto G20 were my wake up call. An unreasonable quantity of Canadian tax dollars were employed in a widespread supression of Canadian civil rights, resulting in mass arrests, none of which justified such repression. The case of Byron Sonne, a young man whose Charter Rights were breached from the beginning demonstrates the ease with which law can and will be abused.
Even though Mr. Sonne was acquitted, an intelligence agency witness said Mr. Sonne will always be a “person of interest.”
Not because there was probable cause. Not because there was evidence.
The reason Mr. Sonne will spend the remainder of his life under surveillance is solely because, after almost two years of trying, they were unable to break the encryption on one of Mr. Sonne’s impounded computers. Canada’s intelligence apparatus exhibits a frightening sense of entitlement exhibited after having been allowed to act as if mass surveillance on all Canadians all the time is within its mandate.
In contravention of the Charter.
In 2013 Judge Richard Mosley Canadian found that CSIS deliberately breached its “duty of candour” to the courts by withholding information to get warrants with “a deliberate decision to keep the court in the dark about the scope and extent of the foreign collection efforts that would flow from the court’s issuance of a warrant.” [Toronto Star: Spy Agency Withheld Information from Court to Get Warrants, Judge Says]
In spite of this, the Harper Government fast tracked Bill C-51s sister bill, Bill C-44: An Act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other Acts .
It is imperative that the Canadian public trust that CSIS is not acting in a lawless manner. And while improving how SIRC functions, or adding Parliamentary review, could regain or maintain that trust, a more cost-sensitive approach could involve statutory reporting. Regardless, something must be done to ensure that CSIS’ actions remain fully accountable to the public, especially given the new powers the Service may soon enjoy. Doing anything less would irresponsibly expand the state’s surveillance capabilities and threaten to dilute the public’s trust in its intelligence and security service.”
— Christopher Parsons, CSIS’s New Powers Demand New Accountability Mechanisms
The Edward Snowden revelations have shown our intelligence agencies have exhibited serious legal deficiencies. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was shown to have been breached through mass surveillance of WiFi:
The thought that everything you’re doing is being monitored when there’s no need for it, when there’s no reason to believe you’ve done anything wrong, it completely goes against everything we’ve built our criminal justice system on,” said Borg in a telephone interview with Metro in March. “If you think that we’re just spying on everyone, well maybe it takes away that platform of being able to discuss social issues because you’re scared of what the repercussions might be and I think that’s very worrisome.”
— Charmaine Borg, Opposition Digital Issues Critic Metro: Canadians ‘should be outraged’ by WiFi spy allegations: Borg
Who is Watching The Watchers?
Christopher Parsons discusses the ramifications of these intelligence agency actions in depth in Accountability and Government Surveillance. Before any new laws expanding the powers of the Canadian intelligence apparatus at the expense of Canadian civil rights, Mr. Parsons poses some questions that need to be addressed:
In turning to CSIS, we see that the Service has a highly specific understanding of what laws compel it to disclose information about its practices and collection of Canadians’ personal information. The Service failed to provide a rationale to MP Borg as to why, specifically, questions placed on the Parliamentary Order Paper are insufficient to compel a meaningful response: to whom, specifically, would CSIS provide this information? And under what laws? If the Service is unaccountable to Parliamentarians then who, specifically, does it hold itself genuinely accountable to?”
— Christopher Parsons, Accountability and Government Surveillance.
Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law wrote,
The deliberate attempt to mislead the key oversight body by omitting relevant information should anger more than just Mosley, who clearly felt that he was duped by CSIS. In response, the government should commission an independent review thttps://www.christopher-parsons.com/accountability-and-government-surveillance/o examine current oversight mechanisms, identify shortcomings on both oversight and the law, and recommend potential reforms to salvage a system that is under increasing public scrutiny and criticism.”
— CSIS should be subject of independent investigation: Geist
CBC reported New Snowden docs show U.S. spied during G20 in Toronto, the Globe and Mail reported, Ottawa allowed U.S. to spy on G20 summit in Toronto, Snowden leak reveals.
The Intercept reported on the tactics and tools developed within the Five Eyes Framework that can be (are ?) used by our intelligence services in “disruption”:
The apparent involvement of CSE in using the deception tactics suggests it is operating in the same area as a secretive British unit known as JTRIG, a division of the country’s eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. Last year, The Intercept published documents from Snowden showing that the JTRIG unit uses a range of effects operations to manipulate information online, such as by rigging the outcome of online polls, sending out fake messages on Facebook across entire countries, and posting negative information about targets online to damage their reputations.”
— The Intercept: Documents Reveal Canada’s Secret Hacking Tactics
Do Canadians want government agencies to employ such powers against citizens? Particularly without meaningful oversight?
Absent proper oversight or scrutiny, Canadians would ordinarily have been unaware of much our intelligence agencies can do and have done. Which is why we owe a great debt to Edward Snowden.
The worrisome bit is that the intelligence breaches that have become public are very probably only the tip of the iceberg.
There is more than enough credible information floating around the internet to indicate the Charter has been breached over and over again by CSIS/CSEC/RCMP/FiveEyes. Even before they pass Bill C-51 I am apalled at what the Harper Government has allowed to happen on its watch.
When we talk about this in the context of Canada and why it’s relevant to your particular conversations today, we’ve got the C-51 bill being bandied about. I’m not going to weigh in on whether this is a good bill or a bad bill, because that’s a conversation for Canadians to have. But something that we can see when we look at all of the conversations happening around the world today is that Canadian intelligence has one of the weakest oversight frameworks out of any western intelligence agency in the world. And when they’re trying to expand their powers, it’s pretty amazing that we have the Canadian government trying to block the testimony of former prime ministers who’ve had access to classified information, who understand the value of these programs, and who are warning the public broadly and saying this is something we really need to talk about, this is something we really need to debate, this is something we really need to be careful about.”
— Edward Snowden, The Tyee: Edward Snowden’s Warning to Canada
While Mr. Snowden doesn’t presume to decide whether the proposed Bill C-51 is good or bad law for Canada, as a Canadian I feel qualified to say that Bill C-51 is indeed a bad law. As one of the Canadians obliged to live in a regime of legally approved mass surveillance even more extensive than what George Orwell envisioned in Nineteen Eight-Four, I do presume to say Bill C-51 is wrong.
I am not a legal scholar, I’m just an ordinary Canadian.
We are fortunate to live in the Internet age and have access to so much important information. Information that can be found in all the links I have shared here. Information like the analysis offered by legal scholars Craig Forcese and Kent Roach.
As a writer, the threats to free speech that comes with mass surveillance chills me to the bone.
As a citizen, the suppression of dissent Bill C-51 allows will emulate secret police activities practised by repressive regimes throughout history.
As a parent, the idea of leaving future generations a Canada so much worse than the one in which I was born is simply unacceptable.
What Canada really needs is law that implements reasonable oversight of CSIS, CSEC, and the RCMP. A law that ensures Canadians continue to enjoy the protection of the Canadian Charter. Oversight to protect Canadians from the kind of Charter breaches and prosecutorial overreach Mr. Sonne was subjected to. The fundamental flaws in C-51 need more than the cosmetic amendments the Harper Government says it will be putting forward.
Bill C-51 needs to be scrapped.
The preservation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is imperative.
Rick Mercer elaborated on Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s suggestion that Canadians are in more danger of being harmed by bathroom accidents than by terrorists. Leadnow advised Canadians to #RejectFear and tell the Harper Government to stop Bill C-51 because in Canada, we’re way more likely to be killed by a moose than by a terror plot.
Privacy is essential to civil rights. That’s why it is protected bt the Charter. And the reason personal privacy is such an important human right is because privacy is necessary for our protection. The greatest danger posed to citizens is posed by government, because government has access to the resources of the entire country. And without civil rights, we have no defence against government.
So why did the federal government put forth Bill C-51?
From the information that has come out, I suspect many of the worst excesses in Bill C-51 that we qare warned against are already the norm in our intelligence agencies. Such practices are inevitable because there really isn’t anyone watching the watchers. Bill C-51 seeks to make these excesses legal, which will strip us all of any legal recourse or self defence. And that just isn’t right.
Not in a democracy.
Not in a free country.
Not in Canada.
Photos by Laurel L. Russwurm
“Privacy is Not A Crime” is a remix of a protest sign seen at the Kitchener-Waterloo Day of Action Against bill C-51