Could the Senate actually stop Bill C-51?

Canadian FlagBill C-51 passed through the House of Commons after a mere two days of debate (if you can call it that.)

Currently the law that will effectively remove our civil rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is before the Senate, where it seems to be getting better presented than it was in the House of Commons Parliamentary committee.

It appears that Liberal Senators are planning to vote against it, so there may yet be hope for Canadian Civil Rights.  You can follow the progress of the bill (as you can any Canadian legislation) at LegisInfo.

Leadnow has a nifty online tool to make it easy to write to your senator to let them know where you stand on Bill C-51.

The Senate has served as a rubber stamp for the house of Commons for so long that it’s hard to even imagine that it might provide sober second thought.   But maybe it will.

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Our Kids Deserve to Have Civil Rights

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New Brunswick native John Peters Humphrey was the principal drafter of the United Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted unanimously by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, this document established the importance of Human Rights through out the world.

On March 16, 1950, Conservative Saskatchewan MP John Diefenbaker proposed a National Bill of Rights for Canada. This law protects freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the freedoms of speech and association. The Conservative Government adopted Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s final version of The Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960.
The Canadian Bill of Rights

Children holding a No C-51 sign
Imagine growing up in a world without civil rights.

In 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms the first part of the Constitution Act passed in 1982. The Charter incorporated many elements of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to equality, life, liberty and the security of the person, as well as the right to counsel. In spite of incorporation of the Charter into the Canadian Constitution, The Bill of Rights is still in force and continues to protect the right of enjoyment of property, something that did not become part of the Charter.

Why We Need Civil Rights

The state is big and powerful with the deepest of pockets; you and I are small and weak and our pockets are shallow in comparison.  Most of us never even think about civil rights, unless we’re tweeting on MLK Day.  Some think only criminals need civil rights, but nothing could be further from the truth.

People don’t need privacy and human rights because we’re criminals, we need privacy and human rights because we are innocent.  We need to be legally innocent until proven guilty because the immensely powerful government has all the resources while we puny citizens have few.  This is why democratic nations place the burden of proof on the state before granting it the power to deprive us of our liberty.

Without civil rights, most people still won’t come under the direct scrutiny of the state;  none of us will know if we are next, so we will all live in fear.  We will all need to watch what we say anywhere we go.  At work.  At home.  On social media.  In our living rooms. And even our bed rooms.  Today’s technology makes it possible for all of us to be monitored by the government 24/7.  They can monitor us through our cell phones (unless we remove the battery), and our television sets, tablets and computers (unless they are firewalled) and our email (unless it is encrypted).

The most incredible thing is that Vic Toews famously lumped people who want privacy with child pornographers.  I always thought that ridiculous… giving the government the power to watch us all anywhere gives the government the power to watch and record our children in their bedrooms.  What guarantee is there that there are no child pornographers in CSIS?  You’ll never know, even if your kids appear on some porn site somewhere.

CSIS has no oversight

They tell us that it does, but the reality is that all there is is SIRC — the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

There is is a review board that looks at what CSIS has done after it has done it.  But it’s an underfunded part time review board, that only looks at a tiny fraction of what CSIS has done.  Even if SIRC was properly funded and expanded enough that it could examine every operation CSIS took, it still wouldn’t be oversight, it would be after thought.

Oversight is supervision.  It’s there before and during to make it possible to stop bad things before they happen.

All a review board can do is determine that bad things have already happened, tsk, tsk.

Former Security Information Review Committee (SIRC) chair Ron Atkey warned MPs that the provision to allow CSIS agents to apply for federal court authorization for measures that could potentially contravene a charter right is a “major flaw” in the proposed legislation.

“That provision, in my view, is clearly unconstitutional, and will be struck down by the courts,” he told the committee.

Ron Atkey, former MP who served as the first Chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, says Bill C-51 is unconstitutional and should be amended.

CSIS used to have oversight in the form of the office of the Inspector General, but that was dismantled as part of the Bill C-38 Ominbudget (The “Black Mark Budget”).

Inspector General of CSIS

Created by the CSIS Act, the Office of the Inspector General of CSIS is independent of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and, for administrative purposes, is part of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC). The Inspector General, who is appointed by the Governor in Council, is responsible to the Deputy Minister of PSEPC.

The Inspector General serves as the Minister’s internal auditor for CSIS, and supplements the Deputy Minister’s advice with an independent means to monitor CSIS compliance with its operational policies, review CSIS operational activities, and conduct reviews of specific CSIS activities as directed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC).

Click here to visit the Inspector General of CSIS official website.

Canadian Intelligence Resource Centre

The Inspector General was eliminated before Edward Snowden revealed the reality of government surveillance of citizens to the world.  We now know our own government intelligence services have been spying on us.  And worse, when such surveillance was known to infringe our Charter Rights, they got around that pesky detail by getting the Five Eyes allies to spy on us for them. Surveillance of blameless Canadian citizens has happened and is most likely ongoing (hence Bill C-51 to make it all legal after the fact.)

Even when there was oversight, there were egregious breaches of Canadian civil liberties.  Under Bill C-51 Maher Arar would likely still be locked up.  Or dead.  Byron Sonne’s Charter rights were breached when there was oversight.  Miscarriages of justice happen, even with the best of intentions and oversight.    This is why we need the rule of law.

All of which tells me that if such abuses can occur when we are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, what will it be like when we are not?

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Bill C-51 will deprive all Canadians of privacy and free speech protections, it will put all Canadians at risk of unreasonable search and seizure, it will make all Canadians guilty unless proven innocent.   When all it takes is an accusation, any of us can lose our liberty, and there is no defence.   Any of us might find ourselves facing Madame Guillotine.

Although I’m one of the radicals who thinks free speech and free association and freedom of choice and freedom to protest peacefully are necessary for a free country, all the experts agree there will be problems even without deliberate bad actions from the Government.

Without oversight, accountability or restraint, citizens will be abused in error.  Blameless citizens.

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Not terrorists.

Not criminals.

Not rabble rousers.

Not even protesters.

The ones who keep their noses down.  The ones who are doing everything right.  People who even the government would agree are ideal citizens, those who don’t make waves and follow all the rules.  Even these people are at risk if they are unprotected by civil rights. All it takes is a typo on an arrest warrant.  The terrorist next door could get away clean while the perfect citizen is whisked away in a secret arrest and locked away indefinitely.  When people can be imprisoned without charge, when trials are secret, when evidence is secret — even from the accused — how is it possible for even a perfect citizen to defend their liberty from a typo?  The Security Certificate regime is like a pilot project that demonstrates what might happen to any of us under Bill C-51.

The essential reason that no one should trust the government is that the government is made of people, and people are not perfect.  The James Moore sexting scandal that broke this weekend is simply another in a long line of goverment scandals that has occurred throughout history.  It is precisely because people are not perfect that Canadians can’t afford to give any goverment a blank check.  This is why we need our Charter of Rights and Freedoms intact.

Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker gave Canada our Canadian Bill of Rights.

Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau gave Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Why are the Conservative and Liberal Parties willing to sacrifice them today?

Bill C-51 isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a Canadian Issue.  It must not pass.

SAVE THE CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

Call or write or tweet your MP, Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Harper to tell them #StopBillC51

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