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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Here’s hoping the House of Commons will reject Bill C-51

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Bill C-51 will deepen and widen Canada’s democratic deficit into an abyss. Is it possible to stop it?

postcard design #2 - Preserve the canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Stop Bill C-51From the beginning, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has led the opposition against Bill C-51. Happily she has been joined by the NDP and every other party in voicing serious concerns, although the Liberal Party has fewer concerns than any other, and say they will actually vote for it. (No, I don’t get it, either.)

From the very beginning, the Harper Government made it clear it would fast track Bill C-51.

Bill C-51 was even presented to the Senate before it even cleared the House of Commons, something that is certainly unusual, and possibly even unprecedented. Even there, an MI5 intelligence expert (one of Canada’s “Five Eyes” intelligence ally) condemned Bill C-51 roundly before at the Senate hearings. In the past, Canadians have seen the Senate’s reluctance to provide sober second thought, so we really can’t expect anything more than it’s usual rubber stamp of Harper Government Policy.

The Parliamentary Committee meant to study Bill C-51 was severely limited in the number of submissions the Government would allow. An NDP filibuster made it possible to slightly expand the scope of the presentations, but it still fell very short of the mark. Nevertheless, most of the experts on the array of issues covered by this omnibus bill were not allowed to even speak to the committee.

Rather than silencing opposition, this policy had the opposite affect: the experts made an effort to wade through and dissect this law in a way seldom seen any more. Since the committee couldn’t hear their opposition on this incredibly important issue, the experts have presented their findings to us, the Canadian public.

The Parliament Buildings drawn by Roger Duhamel, from the Canadian Bill of Rights (public domain)

Legal scholars Craig Forcese (University of Ottawa) and Kent Roach (University of Toronto) began by presenting their findings online, as they found them. Former Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Justices and finally the entire Canadian legal community rose up against this dreadful draft legislation. Canadian Privacy Commissioners — past and present — spoke strongly against Bill C-51. Civil Liberty groups, Conrad Black, Rex Murphy, the Communist Party of Canada and even a group of business owners have all come out against Bill C-51 in the strongest terms.

In the beginning, ordinary Canadians were told this law would make us safe from terrorism, when in fact this claim has failed to rise above the rhetoric. Instead of being supported with evidence, the expert evidence demonstrating that stripping Canadians of Charter protections will in fact make us less safe. As a result, ordinary Canadians held rallies and Days of Action across Canada to raise awareness. When Canadians learn the import of Bill C-51, we oppose it. Now that ordinary people have the facts, support for the bill has plummeted and the vast majority of Canadians are in opposition to this bill.

Because Bill C-51 is not a partisan issue, it’s a Canadian issue. This law would be un-Canadian.
Stop Bill C-51

And yet none of this seems to have dampened the Harper Government’s determination to fast-track the Bill. The deepest flaw in our electoral system is that a party with 39% of the vote can gain 100% of the power. When a party has 100% of the power, it can pass any law it likes. (This is why we need Proportional Representation.)

Rather than scrapping the bill outright, the Harper Government’s domination of the parliamentary committee instead flexed it’s dictatorial muscles by defeating every amendment presented by every other Canadian political party with representation in Parliament. The only amendments to the law have been the three 3 cosmetic changes in an unconvincing effort to demonstrate the Government had in fact noticed public opinion opposes the bill.

At the Report Stage, Ms. May delivered an excellent speech on Bill C-51 in Parliament. Everything she said is born out by experts.

And yet The Harper Government continues to spread misinformation about this bill through its response made by the West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country MP. John Weston claimed Bill C-51 made “modest changes” which would “bring our government up to the level of other western democracies” without providing a scrap of substantiation. Then he attempted to discredit Ms. May with an ad hominem attack, then he concluded with a false claim that Bill C-51 would provide “judicial overview.”

This was Ms. May’s response.

Mr. Speaker, let’s be clear, this bill does not contain a single element of judicial oversight.

It does allow a CSIS agent to go to a judge and obtain a warrant–  but does that judge have the overview and the oversight to continue to monitor the way that warrant is used?

And no other modern democracy — NONE — anywhere — would allow a judge in a secret hearing to give a warrant to violate the constitution.

It is unheard of in the democratic world.

It’s unheard of, period

and this parliament should not stand for it.

Elizabeth May, Speech on Bill C-51

Although I am not a lawyer, my reading of the Charter suggests this is all that will remain of our rights and freedoms if Bill C-51 becomes law.

Canadian Charter After They pass Bill C-51

For this reason, I sincerely hope that Bill C-51 is withdrawn by the Harper Government. To this end, I sincerely hope Canadians will continue to call or write or email our MPs (you can print your own post card here) — even Conservative MPs — or sign the petition or petitions of your choice, and encourage others to do so as well. If we keep silent, our Charter will become a ghost of itself, our civil rights a sham.

For this reason I lend my own voice to Ms. May’s plea that her colleagues in the House of Commons will reject this bad law.

I’m only an ordinary citizen, maybe I’ve gotten it wrong.  But the experts have out the evidence out there.  Because the experts know why Bill C-51 must be scrapped.  Please watch the video (it’s only ten minutes) and hear for yourself.


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Image Credits:

My flag photo is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License;

My post card designs are CC0 (in the public domain)

Roger Duhamel‘s rendering of the Canadian Parliament Buildings is Public Domain.  The image is from the Canadian Bill of Rights, which was originally under Crown Copyright, which expires 50 years after publication.

My graphic “the Canadian Charter after they Pass Bill C-51” was used under the fair dealing exemption to Canadian copyright law, and I’ve dedicated my resultant work to the Public Domain.