The UN Human Rights Committee is scheduled to release a report on July 23rd on the Canadian Federal Government’s human rights record over the past 10 years. The issues it is addressing range from the “muzzling of scientists and public servants, treatment of veterans, intimidation of human rights advocates and increased surveillance of Canadians” (Ottawa Citizen). One topic it is considering, the surveillance of Canadians, is one that has been widely debated throughout the country over the past months.
Bill C-51, as passed by the House of Commons on May 6th, is known as the Anti-Terrorism bill and is a response to the ISIS threat. It then received royal assent in mid June and is now the law. It is defined by the government as:
“An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts”.
Many Canadians see it as a threat to their privacy. It has been opposed openly through many protests, hundreds of thousands of signatures of a petition and criticisms by experts, politicians and former prime ministers. However, despite all the opposition, the bill still went through. So what does this mean for Canadians? Is it as simple as, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear”? I’m afraid not.
Under this new bill, there are a few major changes that will affect the lives of Canadians:
- The Promotion of Terrorism:
The encouragement and promotion of terrorism to others is now a jailable offence. One may still be found guilty, regardless of whether a terrorist act was committed. This may be the result of the government attempting to prevent jihadist teachings in mosques across Canada, however, the biggest concern with this new offence is its effects on one’s freedom of speech. It is defined as targeting those who promote “the commission of terrorism offences in general”. However, this means that if, for say, you wrote a blog post and unknowingly caused someone to attempt a terrorist act, you could get jail time.
The Bill will also add onto the Criminal Code a section that allows for a larger crackdown on individuals who spread terrorist propaganda. The concern citizens have about this section is that the definition of “terrorist propaganda” is vague.
The next change is a change of wording. Before the Bill was put into place, police could arrest without a warrant if they believed terrorist acts would be carried out. The new wording allows police to arrest without a warrant if they believe terrorist acts may be carried out.
- Security of Canada Information Sharing Act:
Through the “Security of Canada Information Sharing Act”, 17 government departments will be able to share information with other departments. However, concerns have been raised over whether this sharing is necessary, as things such as health do not relate to national security. If such a broad range of information is shared, coupled with the list of potential threats to national security listed by C-51, some may be targeted unnecessarily.
It is clear that while many Canadians will not have anything to worry about if they are not doing anything wrong, this bill may blur lines and cause violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For example, it is the people’s right to protest, however, under the new bill, according to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, “any protests and strikes that lack the proper permits will be fair game”. This means that activists, union members, and environmentalists could be targeted for supposedly undermining national security.
In addition to concerns mentioned previously, Canadians and experts have criticized the bill because it gives greater power to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, known as CSIS. Similar to other parts of the bill, the wording in the CSIS Act is vague. Canadians are demanding more oversight, as the agency that oversees the CSIS, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, lacks necessary resources to do so.
A significant note about this bill is that it comes in an election year. Stephen Harper has been leading Canada and the Conservative Party since 2006, and distaste for this prime minister and his party has been brewing. It is said that this bill is, in ways, the Conservative’s message that only Harper can save us. Other political parties have been using this bill to their advantage as the October 2015 election nears. Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberals, has supported Bill C-51, while Thomas Mulcair of the NDP (New Democratic Party) and Elizabeth May of the Green Party has strongly opposed the bill. As Trudeau supports the bill, support of him and the Liberal Party drops to third place in the federal vote projections. The NDP vows to repeal the bill if put into power, while Trudeau, in what is most likely an attempt to win back voters, pledges to repeal parts of the legislation. Elizabeth May’s opposition to the bill is no surprise, however, a Green win is unlikely, as only 5% of Canadians are projected to vote Green.
After 6 months of debates, protests, and even a hacking by Anonymous, this bill is now the law, but it’s fate is still undetermined with political parties using it to their advantage in the upcoming election. As we wait for the UN to release their human rights report with regards to this bill, and for the fall election to arrive, it seems that we will just have to stick with it for now.