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

Bill C-51 vs Canadian Civil Rights #StopC51 #PrivacyMatters

Bill C-51

Who is speaking out against Bill C-51?

Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and John Turner wrote A close eye on security makes Canadians safer  an open letter opposing Bill C-51 also signed by:

Privacy Commissioners Jennifer Stoddart, Chantal Bernier,

Shirley Heafey, Chair of the Public Complaints against the RCMP Commission

Security Intelligence Review Committee‘s Roy Romanow, Bob Rae and Frances Lankin,

Solicitor Generals Lawrence MacAulay, Wayne Easter, Jean-Jacques Blais, Warren Allmand,

Ministers of Justice Anne McLellan, Marc Lalonde, Irwin Cotler,

Supreme Court of Canada Justices John Major, Claire L’Heureux Dubé, Ian Binnie, Michel Bastarache and Louise Arbour

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published Bill C-51: A Legal Primer that warns that overly broad and unnecessary anti-terrorism reforms could criminalize free speech.

The Tyee shares Six Things Protesters Need to Know about Bill C-51 and

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association tells us that Canadian rights groups decry limited Parliamentary Committee hearings for Bill C-51, proposed major national security reforms

Rights groups across Canada reacted with alarm and deep concern to the news that the government has brought forward a motion limiting study of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, by the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to only four sessions of two hours each. With the first session devoted to government witnesses, including the Minister of Public Safety, this would leave only six hours for all other potential experts.

Amnesty International Canada, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, La Ligue des Droits et Libertés and the National Council of Canadian Muslims all called on the government to withdraw the motion and agree to a schedule of extensive hearings that will ensure that all relevant expertise and perspectives across the country are available to the Committee during the course of its study of Bill C-51.

“Canadians are being told they should embrace Bill C-51 without question because it will make us safer. Overlooked is that this Bill contains deeply worrying challenges to human rights protection, including the unprecedented proposition of empowering Federal Court judges to authorize violations of the Charter of Rights. To cut short the opportunity for these enormously consequential changes to be thoroughly examined is itself a grave human rights concern.”

— Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada (English Branch)

“The Committee needs not only to examine what is in the Bill, but what is not in the Bill. It has become clear that a majority of Canadians, including four former Prime Ministers, are deeply concerned that there is no proposal in Bill C-51 to strengthen oversight and review of national security agencies. That critical issue cannot be considered in any meaningful way under this truncated schedule.”

— Carmen Cheung, Senior Counsel, BC Civil Liberties Association

“This is the most significant overhaul of Canadian laws dealing with national security since 2001. At that time there were 19 sessions in Committee allowing 80 expert witnesses to be heard. It has come forward without any accompanying review of existing laws, policies and resources and an analysis of where they fall short. To allow such little time for scrutiny of its provisions runs counter to the expectation Canadians have that their elected representatives will consider legislation carefully before it is adopted.”

— Sukanya Pillay, General Counsel and Executive Director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

“Already, lawyers across Canada have raised serious concerns about Bill C-51’s compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with the rule of law. Cutting back on the time for the Committee to study those concerns and hopefully rectify those deeply problematic aspects of the Bill leaves open instead the prospect of years of time-consuming and expensive court challenges after the fact.”

— Ziyaad Mia, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

“Our coalition is made up of 41 organizations across the country. They come from many different sectors and have, over the course of many years, developed varied expertise in a range of issues with respect to national security and civil liberties. They are ready to share that input with MPs and have a legitimate expectation that they should be able to do so. Many will have no opportunity to do so with so little time on offer.”

— Roch Tassé, National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

“Bill C-51 is complex and very technical legislation that proposes two entirely new statutes and extensive amendments to three others. Each of those should receive thorough consideration. Four two-hour sessions of Committee study will not even begin to offer MPs an opportunity to grapple with and understand its implications.”

— Nicole Filion, Coordonnatrice de la Ligue des droits et libertés

“Bill C-51 should be of concern to all Canadians as it has the potential to impact on all of our rights given its stunningly far-reaching definitions of what constitutes a threat to Canada’s security. As we have learned from past and recent experiences, without robust oversight, review and redress mechanisms security agencies have abused the powers ceded to them. Given the disproportionate impact of anti-terrorism legislation in recent years on Canadian Muslims, these new proposals are of particular interest in our community. Such limited time for study by the Committee offers scant opportunity for those views to be meaningfully shared with Parliamentarians.”

— Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director, National Council of Canadian Muslims

Errol Mendes, Professor of Constitutional and International Law at the University of Ottawa says “Bill C-51 threatens to sacrifice liberty for security

You are welcome to read the entire draft of the Bill C-51 legislation on the government’s website, but I find it more comprehensible after reading discussion by legal experts.  The definitive analysis is at http://www.antiterrorlaw.ca/ created by Law Professors Craig Forcese and  .

Cardinal Richilieu on Privacy

Privacy is Not Dead

It seems our government wants to keep us in the dark, investigating innocent Canadians collecting and sharing access to every intimate detail of our lives without our knowledge. Bill C-51 will allow our intimate information to be shared among these agencies as they see fit, without our permission or even notification that we are under investigation.

It isn’t just

Just how exactly do you catch terrorists by allowing the free flow of the intimate personal information of innocent law abiding Canadians among such a disparate array of government organizations?   

One Last Thing

After sitting on the video for nearly six months, the RCMP has finally released the Zehaf Bibeau video

But the video has been edited.  The first 13 seconds and the last 5 seconds have been cut out.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told MPs “I am satisfied that there are reasonable and sound operational reasons for these edits and you will no doubt want to understand these reasons too.  Unfortunately, for the very same reasons we have edited the video, I cannot explain to you at this point why we have done so.”

Pardon me? Hasn’t the RCMP had time enough to study the video and glean whatever evidentiary gems or whatever “operational” information was contained in those 18 seconds?  If there is something unimaginable in the missing 18 seconds, something so volatile it can not be shared with the public because it pertains to national security, perhaps there might be a reason to not share this video with ordinary Canadians in its entirety.

But it is beyond absurd that Canadian Members of Parliament are being prevented from seeing it.  Forget for a moment that these are people who were kept locked down for a very long time after Mr. Zehaf Bibeau had been killed.   Members of Parliament are the people’s representatives that voters send to Ottawa to make laws, not children who need to be protected from scary things.  And right now, this very incident is being used as a justification for Bill C-51.  But the MPs responsible for deciding whether this legislation is fit to pass are being prevented from knowing the facts of the case?

What Can YOU Do?

Talk to your MP ~ tell them how you feel about Bill C-51.

You can call or write; postal mail is still free to Canadians when writing to MPs.  You can find your MP’s contact information by name, or if you are unsure who your MP is you can find your representative by Postal Code (and these links are a permanent feature of the Whoa!Canada sidebar)

The problem is that majority governments are prone to ignoring individual constituents. At most we each have only one vote, and the unfairness of out First Past The Post system means some of our votes count more than others, while others don’t count at all.   Because of this, some MPs don’t hear their constituents unless they join together.

Sign Leadnow’s Petition:

REJECT FEAR. STOP STEPHEN HARPER’S “SECRET POLICE” BILL
Tell them that attacks on civil liberties including the sweeping expansion of spy powers, criminalization of speech, and preventative arrest for those who have committed no crime are not acceptable.

The more I learn about Bill C-51, the worse it sounds.  This law doesn’t just need to be revamped, it needs to be scrapped.  If Canada is a democracy, the government should have the decency to ask us whether or not we want to live in a secret police state.  I know that I don’t want to.

Leadnow boils it down into bite-sized chunks.  Bill C-51 is

  1. Reckless: It turns CSIS into a ‘secret police’ force with little oversight or accountability.
  2. Dangerous: It opens the door for violations of our Charter Rights, including censorship of free expression online.
  3. Ineffective: It will lead to dragnet surveillance and information sharing on innocent Canadians that even Stephen Harper has admitted is ineffective.

The government is trying to push this law through parliament in record time.

This bill disproportionately targets indigenous communities, environmental activists, dissidents, and Muslims, many of whom are already subjected to questionable and overreaching powers by security officials.

This bill will make it easier and ostensibly lawful for government to continue infringing upon the rights of peaceful people. We are calling on the government to stop the bill, and start over.

know

Join your local DAY OF ACTION to stop Bill C-51

People will gather together in communities across Canada for an emergency day of action to stop the government’s “secret police” law. We can’t afford to wait for nice spring weather because the Harper Government intends to pass Bill C-51 by March 31st.

You can find out where your local rally is on Facebook or Twitter, and LeadNow has set up a http://we.leadnow.ca/stopc51 webpage to co-ordinate the whole thing. If there isn’t one scheduled in your neighborhood, you can start your own by setting up a Facebook Event, inviting your friends or by announcing it on Twitter.

Here’s where you’ll find the Guelph Day of Action to Stop the Secret Police Bill C-51 and in Waterloo Region we have the  Waterloo Walk against Bill C-51 which will join up with the Kitchener-Waterloo Day of Action Against Bill C-51

Twitter Hashtags

#StopBillC51
#stopc51
#BillC51
#C51
#RejectFear
#killbillc51
#OpC51
#C51DayOfAction
#cdnpoli

Videos on Bill C-51

There are plenty of YouTube videos with more information on Bill C51

More to read:

Mulcair opposes C-51 while Trudeau folds like a cheap suit 2

Did Conservatives violate their own terror bill by sharing “terrorist propaganda” on Facebook?

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

Quirks and Quiddities presents A Collection of Resources Concerning Bill C-51- the “Anti-Terrorism Act”

“Total Information Awareness”: The Disastrous Privacy Consequences of Bill C-51


Image Credit
Mounties at the Calgary Stampede” by Anna Webber released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Text Credit
“Canadian rights groups decry limited Parliamentary Committee hearings for Bill C-51, proposed major national security reforms” by BC Civil Liberties Association is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.

Fair Elections Act Petitions

X marks the spotThe Harper Government is rushing the so called “Fair Elections Act” 242-page Omnibus Bill through the House of Commons at breakneck speed. The sweeping changes this ill advised draft legislation seeks to implement are raising alarms among Canadians about the future of Canadian democracy.

You can read the full text of Bill C-23 here.

PETITIONS

So far there are two petitions in opposition to the ill advised “Fair Election Act” the Harper Government is rushing through the House of Commons.

The first is being mounted by the online advocacy group Leadnow, who are particularly concerned with the aspects of the bill which will serve to disenfranchise many Canadians, including First Nations peoples, Canadian young people, and the growing ranks of the Canadian poor.
PETITION: Stop US Style Voter Suppression From Becoming Canadian Law

The second petition is from The Council of Canadians, who are particularly concerned with the undemocratic changes this law would make to our electoral system.
PETITION: Investigate and prevent electoral fraud with a truly fair Elections Act

Further Reading:

My previous article looked at the “Fair Elections Act” but there are so many things wrong with C-23 there have been a flurry of articles already:

Canada Flag

Reclaiming Democracy: ReformAct

Canadian FlagPolitically, Canada is a mess. Our 19th Century inequitable winner-take-all electoral system needs to be brought into the 21st Century. Canada needs Proportional Representation if we are to have a real democracy.

Whatever democratic checks and balances we once had have long since been eroded or compromised. Far from being the independent representative of our sovereign, the Office of the Governor General in the person of David Johnson seems to be functioning as a Public Relations arm of The Harper Government.

Rather than providing a house of sober second thought, Canada’s Senate is instead a house of scandal. And everything is made even worse with the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)

The problem we are facing is, strangely enough, NOT Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Nor is it the Conservative Party of Canada.

The problem is a system that allows ANY political party to have so much power.

Over the last few days there has been a lot of talk about Conservative back bencher Michael Chong‘s Private Member’s Bill called The Reform Act which seeks to limit the power of the PMO.

Andrew Coyne summarized it thus (via Rachel La of SmartChange):

  1. A leadership review vote could be triggered at any time on the receipt of written notice bearing the signatures of at least 15% of the members of caucus. A majority of caucus, voting by secret ballot, would be sufficient to remove the leader, and begin the process of selecting a new one.
  2. membership in caucus would no longer simply be up to the leader to decide.
  3. the riding association, and not the leader, would decide who its nominee was. There would be no leader’s veto.

If this bill does what it purports to do, it will make the Prime Minister accountable to the MPs of the Prime Minister’s Party. It will not make the PM or the party any more directly accountable to citizens (we need Proportional Representation for that) but it is a start.

It would be a first good step towards decentralizing power, Which is, incidentally, a feature of democracy.

I wouldn’t trust Mr. Tom Mulcair with the keys to the kingdom, any more than I would trust Mr. Justin Trudeau with the unaccountable power vested in the PMO these days, just as I certainly don’t trust Mr. Stephen Harper with this power. I might trust Ms. Elizabeth May for a single term, but I would prefer not to have to.

Democracy must have checks and balances.

MPs should not serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister must serve at the pleasure of our Members of Parliament. When MPs are made to vote the party line, they are representing the party, not their constituents.

Which is why every MP needs to vote for this private member’s bill.

Any MP who does not vote for this will be telling their constituents — and Canada — that they do not want a voice in parliament. The thing is, if they don’t have a voice in parliament for themselves, they certainly can’t speak for any of the people they are supposed to be there to represent.

Most of us don’t understand how our government actually works. Even after taking every history class going when I was in school, I was unaware of what they call “Whipping.” To understand why we need Mr. Chong’s Reform Act, every Canadian should watch Sean Holman‘s excellent documentary Whipped: the secret world of party discipline Documentary that explains how it all works. Although the film looks at the process at the provincial level, the same thing happens federally.

“In Canada, citizens exercise only one franchise, one vote at the federal level: A vote for their local Member of Parliament. And they rightfully expect that their local member be empowered to respond to their views and aspirations,” Chong said.

http://www.reformact2013.ca/

MP Michael Chong will be hosting a Twitter live chat Q&A at 6:00pm EST today, Wednesday December 4th, 2013

@MichaelChongMP Due to the overwhelming response, I have decided to do an hour long Twitter Q&A tomorrow at 6PM EST. #ReformAct #ReformActQA


Act Now
The Leadnow Letter Campaign in support of The Reform Act

An you can always contact any or all of the Members of Parliament
(Sending them snail mail is free, too.)

The Reform Act Support Report is an ongoing listing of which MPs support the Reform Act.

One of the first supporters of this bill that I heard was Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who likened it to CPR for democracy on a CBC interview last week. Ms. May will be withdrawing her own Private Member’s bill C-503 Democratic Local Nomination Act  in favor of Mr. Chongs as it does not go as far as Mr. Chong’s.

Further Reading

Private member’s bill proposes to give MPs more power over leaders

Pirate Party Supports Vital Caucus Reforms

Andrew Coyne: Reform Act bill would change Canada’s parliament forever

Pierre Poilievre Suggests Tories Don’t Need Reform Act

Andrew Coyne: The forces of inertia gather to halt a concrete plan for repairing our damaged democracy

Liberals Invite Tory MP Michael Chong To Discuss Reform Bill

Group of Tory Backbenchers Pushing To Limit Prime Minister’s Power

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Democracy Week 2013 Continues

25,000 signatures!

Fair Vote Canada Executive Director Anita Nickerson addresses the crowd in Waterloo Public Square on Monday
Fair Vote Canada Executive Director Anita Nickerson addresses the crowd in Waterloo Public Square on Monday

On September 16th 2013, Fair Vote Canada‘s “Declaration of Voter’s Rights” reached 25,000 signatures!

Fair Vote Canada will be holding a press conference and campaign launch event on Parliament Hill on Thursday, where Executive Director Anita Nickerson will proudly display a giant copy of the Declaration this Thursday ~ September 19th, 2013 ~ on Parliament Hill. Standing alongside FVC will be NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Stephane Dion (former Liberal Leader), Georges Laraque, Joyce Murray, Paul Dewar, Leadnow, Greenpeace and more! They hope to reach 100,000 signatures by 2015!

Watch the video at Craig Scott on the Principle of Electoral Reform

(editor’s note: I originally had the video embedded, but it was doing weird things so I removed it after the fact,)

My parents were born and raised in Canada, yet they couldn't vote till after WWII because they were of Japanese extraction, so I value the right to vote. I have voted in every federal election since I reached adulthood and have never voted for the party that formed the government. We desperately need Proportional Representation so that a diversity of values and perspectives may be elected." ~David Suzuki
“We desperately need Proportional Representation so that a diversity of values and perspectives may be elected.” ~ David Suzuki

Ratifying FIPPA = Abdication of Responsibility

The Canada-China Trade Deal

To get a deeper understanding of why ratification of the Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments [China-Canada Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA)]  is such a bad deal for Canada, I recommend Christopher Majka’s series:

and

Open letter to Stephen Harper: Fourteen reasons the Canada-China #FIPA needs a full public review
This trade treaty is often called the “Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement” (FIPA)

Canadian Flag (cc by laurelrusswurm)

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May suggested that:

All Liberal and Conservative MP’s should ask their party the following questions:

    1. Why does this treaty lock Canada in for 31 years, when NAFTA allows 6 month notice to exit, and even the investment treaty with Benin, tabled in the House after the China Treaty, allows exit in 16 years?
    2. Why does the China treaty give the State Owned Enterprises from China a six month window for diplomatic wrangling, within which Canadian governments and businesses can lose in behind-closed-doors pressure by China on the Canadian government? No other investment treaty includes a 6-month nation to nation diplomatic process.
    3. Why is this the first treaty in years that allows the entire arbitration process to remain secret, allowing Canada only the option of making it public?
    4. Why has Australia, with a 10-fold larger volume of two-way trade with China than Canada, refused to enter into investor-state agreements, including refusing to negotiate one with China. Why has Canada not conducted a study, as Australia did, to determine whether these treaties do more economic harm than good?

“Unless every Member of Parliament can get satisfactory responses to these questions, any vote in support of this treaty will be an abdication of our responsibility as Canadians to ensure we are not giving the Peoples’ Republic of China the right to challenge our laws – whether municipal, provincial or federal, or court judgments – claiming billions even for measures taken with no intent or evidence of trade discrimination,” said Ms. May.

Happy Earth Day: House to vote on Canada China Investment Treaty Today

Gerry James adds:
5. Why can we as a nation leave nation to nation dispute settlement mechanism to a three person arbitration board for final judgments of such magnitude and gravity. While I understand arbitrators can effectively resolve many international commercial differences, to leave the fate of nation to nation trade conflicts under this pact to a panel of 3 arbitrators with binding decisions is willful recklessness.

Canadian Flag surrounded by cables

majority

Stopping a Federal Government with a majority from doing exactly as it wants is problematic. Absent the real democracy Canada might have with a proportional electoral system, public opinion is one of the few checks we have on our government. Sometimes the most powerful dictator can be swayed from pursuing an ill advised path if faced with unified public opinion.

The various opposition parties have been fighting FIPA in their various ways all along, but at the end of the day, the Liberal Party chose not to stand with the NDP in voting against FIPA ratification. Instead, the Liberal Party chose to support FIPA.

The volume of partisan blaming online is deafening. NDP blame Liberals for not supporting their scrap FIPA motion, while Liberals argue that the NDP behaved just as badly as Liberals by refusing to support the Liberal motion to amend FIPA. Are the two motions equal? The NDP answers that its motion could have stood a chance had all opposition united behind it, but that the LPC motion merely repeated an NDP motion previously quashed by the government.

I sumbit that there is merit to the NDP side.  If the LPC had voted with the NDP, there was a chance some CPC backbenchers would have voted for the NDP motion because it was so clearly in the public good. Had that happend, a majority vote against ratification would have killed the treaty. But there is no reason to expect any CPC MP will commit pointless party suicide by voting against party dictates without a real chance of accomplishing something — in this case protection of the public good.

Whether you buy into either partisan tale or none, the fact remains that partisan special interests trumped the public good. The inability of the opposition parties to work together is not good for Canada.

Trade deals can be good or bad, but it seems pretty clear that this incarnation of FIPA will be very good for China, and very bad for Canada – for am unprecedented 31 years.

The only thing now standing between Canada and the FIPA steamroller is that the Hupacasath First Nation Filed Notice of Application Against Canada – China FIPPA

Since our government has let us down, the only thing the rest of Canada can do is support the Hupacasath First Nation in standing up for Canada’s future.  Leadnow is raising donations to help with the legal bills.  If you can, please Donate to the First Nations legal challenge that could stop FIPA in its tracks

FIPA: The Greatest Threat to Canada’s Future

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Post Script:

If the Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments (FIPPA) is ratified, Canada will be stuck with it for more than three decades. That is an awfully long time for an entire nation to suffer the consequences of an ill advised path that was negotiated in secret.

It may be too late for us to do anything that will work, but at this point, it is too important to let go. Anything is worth a try if there is any chance at all we can salvage our children’s future. The government has not yet ratified the Canada-Chinese Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments (FIPPA).

Canadians must keep on letting them know we are not willing to accept this travesty.

Leadnow and SumOfUs have already delivered their digital petitions. If you have not yet signed any petition, here are the three I know of:

The Council For Canadians Petition
NDP petition
Green Party Paper Petition

Other things we can do:

Leadnow’s call-your MP form Although the vote has already transpired, you can continue to call your MP, and use the talking points on this Leadnow page. When speaking directly to your MP, an excellent strategy is to remain calm and firm, and repreat what you want to say until you get verbal acknowledgement that the person on the phone has heard you. They are most likely to respond with party “talking points” that don’t actually answer your questions or concerns. Stay focussed on your points… have notes written down in front of you if it will help. Under our antiquated and inequitable system, most MPs have very little more power than we do. But if they continue to receive calls telling them that their constituents are not willing accept this, it may encourage thekm to do the right thing.

Note: The Green Party digital petition is no longer online, but we can still download and sign – and get our community to sign – paper petitions we can then mail (postage free) to Ms. May and/or our own MPs, of whatever flavour.

The Green Party also makes available online forms to:
Green Party Write-A-Letter to your MP
email your friends
Green Party Write-A-Letter Form

Finally, you may want to read or re-read Elizabeth May’s article:

The threat to Canada’s sovereignty — what we are giving to China

Trade with China should not mean handing over the keys to Canada.

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Why Canada Needs the Senate: Omnibus Crime Bill

yes, another one... against a cyan sky

legislation

In the world of books, an omnibus is a perfectly acceptable way to package a collection of previously published stories, related either by content or author, in a single over sized volume.

black and white head and shoulders photo of uniformed officer from behind

But in government, especially in a democracy, an omnibus bill is problematic.

An omnibus bill is several pieces of unpassed draft legislation lumped together into an unwieldy package, and inevitably fast tracked. Because the original drafts have already been part way through the process, they have received varying amounts of scrutiny and debate. Legislators can have a sense of déjà vu about the disparate parts of an omnibus, even without having completely examined it all.

The sheer size of an omnibus bill makes it difficult or impossible for it to get the same kind of scrutiny any individual piece of legislation would receive. It is allotted about the same amount of time as any individual piece of legislation. It’s one thing to skim a book you’ve already read; but it is something else entirely for a legislature to skim through draft legislation.

Laws need to be debated and weighed to ensure they fulfill the needs of a democratic society.

The problem, of course, is that our less than perfect “first-past-the-post” adversarial political system allows any government that holds a majority of parliamentary seats — the “majority party” — to pass any law it wants.

And they frequently do. This is the government equivalent of a parental rules that exist “because I said so.”

I don’t know about you, but I would rather see laws made with care instead of rushed to completion. Fast tracked laws have more chance of unintended consequences than laws that are more carefully considered.

crime

black and white snap of toddler and mother

Not just as a citizen, but as a parent, Bill C-10 strikes me as totally wrong.
My child was raised with logical consequences, not unreasonable harshness. Punishment should always be a last resort.

Experience has taught me that prevention and inclusion are far more effective than punishment and exclusion — in both parenting and society — because they deter bad behaviour. Isn’t that the point of law?

Child poverty in Canada is as bad — or worse — than it was when first identified as a priority years — maybe decades? — ago. Modern statistics say crime rates have been dropping across Canada. So I don’t understand why our government wants to invest vast sums into building bigger jails and incarcerating more Canadians.

Black and white: looking up at the Don Jail

If it costs around $100,000 a year to incarcerate someone, shouldn’t we be concentrating on prevention? Canadian tax dollars could be better spent on social programs that address child poverty and the appalling conditions in which many of our first nations citizens struggle.

black and white police car parked in a lot

What I don’t understand is why our government would spend money we don’t have on jails we don’t need.

As a parent I know that the children who are excluded are the ones that become a problem.  The same is true for citizens.  People who do not feel a part of society have no motivation to fit in or follow societal laws.  Harsh punishments result in hardened criminals.

You don’t have to take my word for it: that’s what the experts say, too.

senatorial oversight

The Canadian electoral system is archaic and horribly overdue for reform. Our “First Past The Post” system was established in the days of quill pens, so it isn’t surprising to find it unsuited to the computer age.  Nonetheless we seem to be stuck with this unstable adversarial system that confers an unfair advantage to the political party that achieves the most seats, and thus a majority government even without a majority of votes.

The inequities in our system are so great that it is common for political parties that are not in power to rail against the inequity. They can clearly see how Canada’s outmoded electoral system is detrimental to Canada — until their own party benefits from the inequity and achieves a majority.

It is an adversarial system which has winners and losers. But the biggest loser is always Canadian democracy, particularly when we have a majority government typically elected by 30-40% of the popular vote.  With a system so imbalanced, huge numbers of Canadians vote “strategically” in futile attempts to make their votes count.

Fewer than 30% of eligible voters voted for the Conservatives, who currently hold the majority of seats in parliament. 

Our system makes no provision for a majority of Canadians to oppose any draft legislation. The majority government is vested with the authority to act as an effective dictatorship until the next election.  The majority has the power to pass any law it likes, and there is nothing Canadians can do about it.

Canada is out of luck…

black and white emergency poleOr is it?

Isn’t this why the Senate exists?

Senators are appointed for life which frees them to make their own choices. Senators can’t lose their Senate seats for stopping harmful legislation and sending it back to the drawing board.

Which is why Senators are appointed for life.

Many Canadians question the validity of the Canadian Senate, since succeeding governments have attempted to suborn the institution by “stacking the deck” with patronage appointments intended to turn the Senate into a mere rubber stamp for their party agendas.

sober second thought

The Senate exists to provide necessary checks and balances to our imbalanced system of governance. The Senate has the opportunity to slow or stop laws that may well prove terribly detrimental to Canada.

It is far better to legislate with care rather than with haste. Bundling many different bits of draft legislation together into an omnibus bill is always dangerous; and without proper scrutiny, laws passed hastily can cause harm.

But it is within the Senate’s purview to review the evidence. The Senate’s constitutional role is to make substantive analysis of legislation, especially for bills of far reaching consequence, and then submit needed improvements through amendments which are then sent back to the House of Commons. The Senate’s role is most crucial when we have a majority government.

This is why our Senate has the power of oversight, to ensure that a single political party’s agenda doesn’t act against the public good.

black and white image of a stop sign at an angle

What’s the rush?

We are at the beginning of a new term of a majority government.  We are told that majority rule is “more stable,” since majority governments have both the luxury of time and the last word. So what harm is there in taking the time, doing the research,  listening to the experts and examining the evidence before rushing to legislate?

Bill C-10 has been fast-tracked, and the House of Representatives has passed it hastily in the wake of growing objections from many quarters.

The Crime Omnibus is precisely why Canada need an Upper House. We need the Senate to perform the function for which our Upper House was created. It should not matter which government appointed a Senator; the Senate’s purpose goes beyond party politics, stretching into the wider purpose of serving Canada.

Canada truly needs some sober second thought.


Bill C-10: What The Experts Say

References courtesy of leadnow.ca:

The leadnow.ca page has a form e-letter to make it easy for you to send a message to your senators. For those of us who prefer crafting our own missives for our elected representatives, I’m putting together an online senatorial contact list to allow easy contact with the appropriate senators.

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