Bill C-51 – The Antiterrorism Act 2015

Repeal Bill C-51 banner

 

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.

Promised changes to anti-terrorism law C-51 still months away: Liberals want to consult with Canadians over the summer to see what changes they want to C-51

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

RCMP Musical Ride

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

Before Bill C-51 became law, there were protests across Canada, including three in Waterloo Region, on a very cold March day, on a much nicer day in April, and another in May.

NDP MP Randall Garrison Moves To Repeal Anti-Terror Bill C-51

CCLA AND CJFE MOUNT CHARTER CHALLENGE AGAINST BILL C-51

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.     Privacy Is Not A Crime

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.

Online Consultation on National Security

We also have the option of making an Email submission: ps.nsconsultation-consultationsn.sp@canada.ca

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

Repeal Bill C-51

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.

Bill C-51 has been Canadian law for...
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Bill C-51 Needs to be Scrapped, Not Amended

Privacy Is Not A Crime - Protest Sign Remix No Canadian Police Force asked for the expanded powers in Bill C-51.

Not local police.  Not Provincial Police.

Not RCMP.

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.

Black Mark Budget Demonstration, Waterloo, Ontario

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

Legality

 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”

The word "Court" intertwined in the fascia above the side entrance to Toronto's Old City Hall from the day

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.

Legal Candour

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

WiFi Surveillance

"WIFI Internet Access Here" sign at The Working CentreThe 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 aspywarepparent 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

Ed Snowden and Laurel RusswurmWhile 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 is a DISRUPTION WARRANT ? In a secret hearing a judge will grant CSIS blanket permission to violate the Charter Rights of targetted Canadians.   The “Disruption” can mean (but is not limited to) • undercover infiltration of a group • psychological manipulation of group members • planting evidence • destroying evidence • falsification of information online to • deliberately destroy the reputations of targeted Canadian citizens.   The Government will need no evidence of criminal activity, merely the argument a Canadian Citizen MAY pose a danger. The judge won’t even know what form the “disruption” will take. Canadians will not know they have been targeted so they will have no defense or appeal. .   Bill C-51 will allow CSIS agents to engage in these activities with less oversight than than any other “Five Eyes” nation.   Can you trust a government that does such things?   Bill C-51 will make a mockery of our “free country.”

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.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credit
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

The Rise of the Canadian Surveillance State

I’ve been trying to put my thoughts about the Ottawa shootings down, and then I happened upon Russell Brand’s energetic assessment, not only of the situation, but how it is being spun.  Yes, it is terrible that a soldier died.  And that another soldier died in a completely unrelated incident earlier. But there is no question in my mind that the murders of these two men is being “spun.”

Canadian Civil Rights

The personal privacy of Canadians is supposed to be protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Maybe it was true once, but it doesn’t seem very true now.  And yet we value our Charter highly.

“The consultation also asked which of Canada’s accomplishments of the last 150 years “make you most proud to be a Canadian?”

Medicare topped that list, followed by peacekeeping, then the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms at No. 3.”

— Harper government poll for Canada’s 150th birthday cites Liberal, NDP icons

Failures

Security professional Byron Sonne was arrested before the G20 Summit, an event on which the Canadian government lavished a great deal of money on security.   Byron was concerned about the implications of the introduction of an influx of a host of new CCTV cameras in downtown Toronto,  so he took a look at the security being provided by his tax dollars (and yours).   Apparently citizens were supposed to keep their eyes closed.  Police violated Byron’s Charter rights; he was arrested and punitively denied bail for almost a year.  When he was finally released into his parents’ custody for almost another year, the draconian bail conditions obliged his parents to waive their own Charter privacy rights.

Byron lost his home, his business and his wife; and yet he was finally exonerated because, as hard as the authorities looked, there was no credible evidence.  At one of the court proceedings I attended, a law enforcement expert witness explained that their inability to break the encryption on one of Byron’s computers meant that even if acquitted, Byron would always be considered a person of interest.

The back entrance, steps away from where the Occupy Toronto protesters were brutalized by the police

 

Apparently these days, Canadians are guilty until proven innocent.

And the G20 Summit? Well, that event was marked by a great deal of violence… but not violence perpetrated by peaceful protesters, this was violence perpetrated by the “security forces” against citizens, as citizen journalists posted masses of video of such incidents to YouTube.  There were so many unlawful arrests and Charter violations that a great many voices called for a proper inquiry… which never actually happened.   The government didn’t want to be bothered investigating abuses it was responsible for. Funny that.

(I kind of think Byron was held for so long because they needed a “bad guy” in jail to justify the ridiculous amount of tax dollars spent, and hopefully distract from the civil rights abuses…)

Julian Ichim carries a red flag at one of the Kitchener "Casseroles" protests in support of Quebec students.
Julian Ichim in solidarity with the Quebec student protest, at “Kitchener Casseroles”

Canadian tax dollars paid for a whole year of an undercover officer’s infiltration of poverty activist Julian Ichims life.

Even after they were unable to prove any wrong doing against him, (Julian is, after all, an activist, not a criminal), absent evidence the undercover agent tried to convict Mr. Ichim with character assassination and innuendo.  No matter what you think about Mr. Ichim and his methods, there is no question he is sincere.  And yet, law enforcement agencies continue to harass and try to intimidate the young man.

In well over a decade of activism, working in the trenches to fight poverty and injustice in constructive ways, it seems the only “violent” act Mr. Ichim has ever performed was the act of throwing milk at politician Stockwell Day in his student days.   And yet law enforcement considers him a threat.

You should really listen to this CBC radio interview (including the bits that come after Mr. Ichim) to gain some insight into The ethics of police infiltration

Omar Khadr‘s rights are still being denied. As a child put in harm’s way by a parent, maybe he was a child soldier, or maybe he was an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time; but either way he was a victim who should have been treated better.  This 15 year old child certainly should not have been abandoned by the Canadian authorities after being dug out of the rubble nearly dead; nor should he have been delivered to the infamous Bagram then tortured and left to languish at Guantanamo Bay for years where he was convicted in what can only be described as a travesty of “justice.”  Even back in Canada this young man is still being victimized.  What happened to his Charter rights?

The Canadian Government, our government, has been chipping away at our civil rights since 9-11.  Since we are now apparently all guilty until proven innocent, our “security services” are investigating all of us all of the time… okay, our Charter Rights aren’t being chipped away, they are being steam rollered and dismantled.

Julian Ichim in the Kitchener Casseroles parade

The awesome powers of the state are being deployed, not against terrorists, but against activists trying to make Canada a better place, which often means disagreeing with government policy.  But peaceful protest and dissent are considered to be crucial elements of democracy, which is why these activities are enshrined in the Charter.

“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. Here are some protections that the Charter guarantees:

  • freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly
  • the right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government
  • the freedom to move around and live within Canada, and to leave Canada
  • legal rights such as the right to life, liberty and security
  • equality rights
  • language rights”

— Our Country, Our Parliament (government publication)

How many of our Charter Rights have been violated in my examples?  I am not a civil rights lawyer, I’m a suburban mom who writes novels– how do I know about these things?   The Internet has made “citizen journalism” possible, so we are no longer limited to knowing what the mainstream “news media” decides we should know.   And the mainstream media has been so quiet about these issues that I’m inclined to agree with Glenn Greenwald’s assertion that our “news media” mostly functions as the propaganda arm of our government.

The examples I have cited do not exist in a vacuum; they are the result of government policy.

What it boils down to is that the government tells us they need to take away our rights, to limit them in the name of security.  To fight terrorism.  There is credible evidence to suggest law enforcement has been engaging in mass surveillance.

And yet this has done nothing to stop terrorism.

Civil Rights exist to protect citizens.  Removing or suppressing them doesn’t make us safe, it makes us unsafe.

It used to be that agents of law enforcement agents were not given permission to wiretap citizens, or to search people’s homes, or seize their goods without a warrant.  A judge had to be convinced of a reasonable probability — “probable cause” — that there was credible evidence to suggest the subject of the warrant was engaged in criminal activity.  There had to be good reason to invade anyone’s privacy.

Certainly, there would be some judges more inclined to sympathize with law enforcement agents than others, but even they wouldn’t sign warrants that could be ruled unconstitutional by higher courts.  This system wasn’t perfect, but it struck a reasonable balance between the needs of the state to be secure and the needs of the citizens to not be harassed.   Because such laws were in place to protect citizens, when an abuse did happen, the citizen had legal grounds for redress against state harassment (or worse).

Lawful Access quashes our civil rights

Since 9-11 the Canadian Government has been trying to pass “Lawful Access” legislation.  This would allow the government to spy on Canadian citizens all the time for no reason, with no judicial oversight.

This would be a huge blow to our Charter Rights that protect citizens from abuse by the power of the state.

Initially Canadians were protected from such legislation by a string of minority governments, which is about as close to democracy as we can get under our unfair electoral system.  In a minority, no party can unilaterally impose laws; laws can be passed without achieving enough consensus.   Back then I think the alarm was raised by lawyers who understood what was being proposed.  The unease spread through the tech communities, because people who understood how computers and the Internet worked could better understand how this technology could be made to work against personal freedom.  By the time Vic Toews tried to sell the idea that government spying was a good thing, enough ordinary citizens had twigged to the problem to mount the #tellviceverything Twitter campaign. There was too much bad publicity; the Minister, and indeed the government looked ridiculous.  So they backed down.

But they didn’t stop trying, because the legal authority to spy on all the citizens all the time is very powerful indeed. The most recent attempt has been Bill C-13, in which lawful access (aka unfettered spying on citizens) was dressed up as an anti-bullying measure inspired by the Amanda Todd tragedy.

Elizabeth May spoke eloquently against C13, as did Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, who said:

“We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety.  We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, ‘sextortion’ and revenge pornography.”

— Carol Todd, Amanda Todd’s mother raises concerns about cyberbullying bill

And, of course, Bill C-13 does in no way limit its invasion of privacy to children, or cyber bullies.  In the light of the Snowden revelations, the pressure on the Harper Government to get this law passed (to make all the illegal spying on citizens that CSIS and CSEC seem to engage in, alone and/or in conjunction with Five Eyes partner agencies) must have been enormous.

Something no one ever seems to consider is that, even in the unlikely event that our government would not abuse such powers, how do we know that faceless government agents with lawful access to the recordings they make of so many aspects of our intimate personal lives— how do we know that agents with the right to spy on us and our children are not themselves voyeurs, pornographers and pedophiles?

The University of Ottawa’s Michael Geist discussed inadequacies in Bill C13 before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, concluding that:

“This kind of privacy harm can victimize anyone. We know that information from at least 750,000 Canadian user accounts are voluntarily disclosed every year.  It is why we need to ensure that the law has appropriate safeguards against misuse of our personal information and why C-13 should be amended. I’ll stop there and welcome your questions.”

— Michael Geist, The Trouble With Bill C-13: My Appearance before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

But now, under cover of the alleged “terrorist acts” of the last few days, Mr. Harper’s government seems to have quietly passed this most controversial of laws, which shreds much of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Canadians depend on.  According to the government website it may still need one more Senate vote before getting the Assent that will make it the law of the land.

Will this make Canadians more safe?

Without consulting with Canadians, our government squandered vast sums of money to build and equip the most expensive Canadian building in history to spy on us all the time.  In spite of this, our security forces were caught flat footed by the Ottawa shooting.

In the old days, when Canadian civil rights ensured law enforcement agents had to provide reasonable grounds before a court would issue a warrant to violate anyone’s rights– they did a better job of providing national security. Instead of catching terrorists, the Harper Government is busy watching the birdwatchers who dare speak against current environmental policy.  This doesn’t make Canada safe.

Nor will misidentifying disturbed individuals who “go postal” as “terrorists” keep Canadians safe.   Addressing the root causes– making the appropriate medical help available to disturbed individuals, for instance, would do much much more to keep Canadians safe.

SWAT teams shouldn’t break into the homes of law abiding families enjoying Sunday dinner.  It was acceptable and legal in Nazi Germany, but should it really be legal in Canada?

Spying on citizens was legal and accepted in Russia when the Tsar’s security forces did it.  Oddly enough, it didn’t keep the Tsar and his family safe.

Later, it was still legal in the Soviet Union when the KGB did it.  Material collected by such surveillance could lead to an ominous knock on the door in the middle of the night.  People who dared express concern or disagreement with State policy were often dragged from their beds and whisked away to the Gulag for “preventative detention.”  Not because they had done anything illegal, but because somebody decided that they might.  Citizens were guilty until proven innocent, rather like medieval laws that put accused witches on trial by being tied to a chair and dropped in the lake– if she floated, she was a witch (who could then be burned at the stake) but if she sank and drowned she was proven innocent.    Do we really want laws like this?  In Canada?

And, of course, as Glen Greenwald has pointed out:

“It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Canada’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.”

— Glenn Greenwald, CANADA, AT WAR FOR 13 YEARS, SHOCKED THAT ‘A TERRORIST’ ATTACKED ITS SOLDIERS

And now that the Lawful Access bill has been passed by the House of Commons, the Conservative dominated Senate is the only thing standing in its way.  Will it legitimize the government’s ability to spy on us all, all the time? .

And you know how the story goes, if you give a mouse a cookie…   Apparently it works the same way for governments.  Lawful Access is the foundation, but even that is not enough.

Mr. Harper envisions curtailing our rights even more.  He is considering laws of ‘preventative detention‘ in wake of Ottawa attack.

Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons that laws and police powers would “need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest.” He pledged to bring forward legislation in an expedited fashion.”

Huffington Post: Tories Reject Call For All-Party National Security Oversight Committee

My maternal grandparents escaped from Russia before the Iron Curtain slammed down.  I’d always been grateful for their foresight in relocating to a better place.  Movies like Gorky Park, or The Lives of Others have made me appreciate how important this was.  And now it seems it was all for nought.

Isn’t the purpose of terrorism is to spread terror?  Although there seems to be international disagreement on what terrorism actually is, the United nations seems to agree with me:

“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism annex to UN General Assembly resolution 49/60,”Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism”, December 9, 1994

Of course, when governments engage in criminal acts, all they need to do is change the laws to make it legal.

The news media is whipping up fear because it supports the status quo.  And it certainly seems as though our “watchdog press” has risen from the dead to become the propaganda arm of our government.

If the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize a population, oddly enough, our government and news media seem to be doing this far more successfully than anyone committing criminal acts.

But they are doing it because it is to their advantage to do it.

Not to keep us safe.


The text of Elizabeth May’s C-13 comments in Parliament can be found here.

MUST READS:
The Intercept: CANADA, AT WAR FOR 13 YEARS, SHOCKED THAT ‘A TERRORIST’ ATTACKED ITS SOLDIERS

Free The Press Canada: Government Passes Anti-Constitutional Surveillance Law During Ottawa Shooting

The Huffington Post: Glenn Greenwald Predicts Security Crackdown, More Canadian Secrecy

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