Bill C-51: Why it is dangerous and what you can do to fight it

By an independent group of concerned Canadians (and residents of Canada)

“Canadians should not be willing to accept such an obvious threat to their basic liberties.”
— The Globe and Mail

On January 30th, 2015 the Harper Government tabled Bill C-51, a bill misleadingly titled, “The Anti-Terrorism Act”. The bill is used to target “activities that undermine the security of Canada”, including “terrorism” – A category of activities that is so broad that it has the ability to impact almost anyone and put them on par with “terrorism”. The bill also introduces unprecedented powers to law enforcement to deal with these “threats”.

So concerning are its contents that the four past Prime Ministers (alongside 18 other prominent figures including Supreme court Justices, Justice Ministers, Solicitor Generals, privacy commissioners, and members of the security and intelligence review committees) have penned a letter to the government expressing their serious concerns. In addition, over a hundred law experts have written an open letter warning that Bill C-51 “is a dangerous piece of legislation in terms of its potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada’s democracy.

In addition to these prominent figures, many people ranging from academics and journalists to activists and Edward Snowden himself as well have expressed serious concerns about this threatening bill. The broad and open language of Bill C-51 is so extreme that critics have likened it to Orwell’s fiction novel, 1984. We will attempt to summarize the issues with this bill here.

1. An Overly Broad Reach

Among the many things that this bill lumps into “activities that undermine the security of Canada” they include: “Terrorism; interference with the economic or financial stability of Canada; changing or unduly influencing a government in Canada by unlawful means; interference with critical infrastructure; and any activity that undermines the security of another state.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this language could be open for interpretation and could be applied to labour movements and union strikes, indigenous rights activism and demonstrations, environmental activism and protests, student-sit-ins to protest tuition hikes, anti-war and peace demonstrations, or something as simple as what Rosa Parks did when she sat in the wrong section of the bus.

Strong evidence reveals that indigenous and environmental activism is already seen as a particularly strong threat by the current government, and critics have warned that they are likely to be a popular target for this bill. In general, it can be used to target those who challenge the status quo and the policies of the current government.

2. Criminalizing Advocacy of “Terrorism in General” and the Resulting “Chill” of Free Speech

Bill C-51 allows imprisonment for what they call “the advocacy or promotion of terrorism offences in general” through speaking, writing, recording, gesturing, or through other visible representations. Keeping in mind the extraordinarily broad definition of “terrorism” being used, as well as the broad concept of “advocating” and “terrorism in general”, serious concerns have been raised about how this new speech crime could chill free speech or ensnare government dissenters.

So, for instance, if the government considered Greenpeace a potential “terrorist” organization (and evidence shows that they are positioned to do so) and you verbally state that you support Greenpeace’s actions, regardless of whether or not you ever intended to participate in their work, you could be deemed to be “advocating terrorism” and this “crime” could be punishable by law with up to five years in prison. Roach and Forcese further warn “that the proposed offence can, unlike willful promotion of hatred, be applied to statements made in private. Thus, any understanding of the effects of the offence should take into account the implications of expansive anti-terror wiretap and other surveillance powers. What is said in both surveilled public and private conversations may be criminalized”.

3. Further Lowering the Threshold for Arrest Without Cause

This bill explicitly changes wording to lower the threshold for arrest without trial, evidence, or charge – also known as preventive detention. The law currently reads that law enforcement may arrest someone who they suspect “will” commit a terrorism offence whereas the new legislation would allow them to arrest someone they suspect “may” commit a terrorism offence. In addition, it increases the maximum allowable length of detention without cause from three to seven days and house arrest up to a year. And remember: These are detentions without trial, evidence, or charge. In short, these are detentions of people who have been convicted of no crime.

4. Granting CSIS “super powers”

The bill grants unprecedented and sweeping powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, including the ability to circumvent the law and due process with little to no oversight. In fact, amongst many other things, the bill explicitly grants CSIS the power to circumvent law and the Charter of Rights. The suggested limitation that they must first seek a judicial warrant is misleading: A warranting system is intended to prevent violations of the Charter, not authorize them, making this a completely unprecedented use of warrants.

Experts have questioned the need for creating and strengthening CSIS powers in Canada and critics have noted that the government has not provided one case for why existing anti-terrorism laws are insufficient and that a bill as flawed as this is likely to do more damage than good.

4. Ending Privacy
As described by Forcese and Roach, “Bill C-51 speaks of information sharing aimed at “detection, identification, analysis, prevention, investigation or disruption” of these “threats.” And so the government may be empowered to distribute information preemptively, in anticipation of this sort of conduct that may be unlawful.
In sum, it is hard not to read this bill as aimed at “total information awareness” of real threats, and also more banal forms of dissent. But even if it were more reasonable in its scope, this bill fails to include proper safeguards. Information can injure. Improperly shared information may result in rumours and innuendo being reconceived as fact, and used to justify action. Information sharing lay at the core of the Arar commission of inquiry [where information sharing played a role in Arar’s rendition to Syria as well as the torture of three other Canadians]”.

How Canadians are Fighting Bill C-51

One of the first steps to any movement is education. Spread the word. Let people know what is going on and what it means. Up until February 19th, national media was overwhelmingly negative and critical of the bill. As soon as the story hit mainstream media on February 18th with Peter Mansbridge’s coverage of it as a hot election topic, there have been far more favorable articles and stories.

Almost all of these stories cite a recent poll of 1500 Canadians claiming that the bill has an 82% approval rating. Review of the methodology of the poll shows that the questions asked do not actually address Canada’s response to the tradeoffs and shortcomings of the bill identified in this article and that the majority of Canadians don’t actually know what’s in the bill.

Canadians are also being encouraged to contact their Members of Parliament to express their concerns about the bill, encourage those MPs voting in support of the bill to reconsider, and those opposing it to stand strong.

Petitions are a popular form of voicing opinions there days and there are numerous online petitions. Only hardcopy petitions in a specific format, however, can be presented in Parliament.

And of course, what democratic discontent is complete without a public rally? Dozens of communities across Canada are participating in a coordinated “Day of Action” Rally against Bill C-51 on Saturday, March 14th.

29 Responses to Bill C-51: Why it is dangerous and what you can do to fight it

  1. Daniel Emond says:

    im out of words on this one this bill and harper have to be stopped

    • Jamie Demmings says:

      It’s not just Harper and the conservatives!! Every voting Liberal voted yes to this bill too!! Our country is no longer free, its been hi-jacked by the same people leading the United States!! Im no longer a proud Canadian!!

      • Aaron says:

        Agreed, we once were the peace keeping nation. One day it may no longer be wise to wear a Canadian patch abroad

  2. [email protected] says:

    Just say no !

  3. [email protected] says:

    Too much power toThe wrong people ‘

  4. Luanna Miles says:

    Absolutely not.

  5. Marilyn Maxwell says:

    Canadians need to take a stand for their rights and freedoms or lose them! We need numbers showing Harper government your disapproval in non-violent protest. If this Bill C – 51 is passed and approved it will be the last time you will ever have an opportunity to do so. We will be a Police state and no better than a Dictatorship.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If the past 4 prime ministers and 18 prominent figures say that Bill C-51 is bad ,then I say Mr Harper, bring it on.

  7. anonymous says:

    This bill is the end of free speech in Canada and its time to take a stand. Look online and see if there is a meeting in your city. If you cannot attend, join the twitterstorm #stopc51 on twitter. Citizens cannot go down on this one without a struggle. Harper needs to know Canadians fond this bill unacceptable.

    • john says:

      you are a bloody moron this bill is a direct violation to free speech and will open a proverbial Pandora’s box . This bill dosent support what canada stands for this bill is nothing less than an attempt to control the masses and push sneaky agendas without local opposition. Do you think harper gives a fuck if this bill is used improperly? no he doesnt and i personally think this bill and harper need to be stopped. But lets all face the sad truth for a moment.. as much as we complain about this bill nobody is going to march on parliament and make them toss the bill we are all going to sit at home and hope it goes away, this is the only thing im ashamed of about being canadian absolutely no will to ACTUALLY change things we all want somebody to do it for us but i suppose we are about to learn a hard lesson.

  8. Jared Koreen says:

    Oh dear god the sky is falling and we are becoming a police state! Get over yourselves you alarmist idiots. This is a perfectly reasonable response to the threats of the world we all live in today. That your first thought is that the government will spy on you, randomly arrest you because you’re protesting tuition hikes, or detain and imprison you because you are advocating for equal rights of a minority is simply a sign that YOU feel you are doing something wrong. Maybe you should look to your own actions. Maybe, if you are concerned that you are somehow violating a law, you should STOP. You are, one and all, overreacting to something that hasn’t even happened yet.

    • Jim Jones says:

      The over bearing nature of Bill C-51 is what is making people worried. Not that they see their actions as being wrong in some way. When the government demands over reaching laws which will affect everyone in the country for the sake of a boogeyman (Yes, that what “terrorism” is, just some adult boogeyman created to scare you) it becomes important to look at just how much of our actions will then be deemed as actions of the boogeyman. You need to see the underlying power grab the Harper government is trying to take.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank god someone said it

  9. Mr. Dodge says:

    Sounds like War Measures Act 365 days a year 24/7, but without the tanks. Maybe even go so far as to say Naziism. Wait a second; isn’t Remembrance Day all about our great nation opposing this sort of government action?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Koreen you may be right that it hasn’t happened, and I’m not saying it will; but it shouldn’t even be POSSIBLE for the government of Canada to suspend rights or freedoms without due trial. Hence why many Canadians don’t want the bill to pass. Why give them a power if you never want to see them use it? Also, this kind of bill can see you detained for anything down to spraying your weeds with a non-approved pesticide or parking in the wrong spot, if they know how to twist their words right. How’s that for alarmist?

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, one more point. This bill, once passed, is in effect until enough people want to change it again and get the motion into Parliament, etc, etc, etc. A long process to change it back if it doesn’t work out. And Harper’s government will only be the first to use it. He may not abuse it, but any governments after might.

    • Jack says:

      Use approved pesticides and park in the correct fucking spot. Why are you fighting so hard to remain as unaccountable for your actions as you possibly can. I would love to see Darwinism run its course on a large number of my Canadian brethren.

      • Tarzon says:

        “Darwin!”

        Really…?

        Get in line Jack! U go first! Stupid is as stupid gets!

        You’re one sick walking spinal column.

  11. Bruce Wallace says:

    This bill is long overdue. It’s about time our government made a stand against terrorists and not let us end up like most European countries that have waited until it is too late. For those that think it invades their privacy then it is time they sucked it up and be damn glad they live in a country that is trying hard to keep us free from terrorism.

    • Tarzon says:

      You must be getting paid at least 10 cents each for your comments. Lol…

      Mr. Hopeless has too much reading to do.

  12. Mar Logo says:

    Is there a hard copy petition against this being circulated? Not all citizens can join in day specific events/outdoor protests, but is anyone gathering signatures(such a door to door) or organizing one to be circulated?

  13. Tarzon says:

    Dear Parliament,
    I pledge allegiance to:
    __ Israel
    __ Canada

    Pick ONE!

    The only moral purpose of a guv is to protect the people, not to become our only enemy.

    If a lover stalked his ex like a secret police does a people, you’d put him in jail!

    Canada has no enemies, so don’t become ours! Some countries sociopathic leaders act out in dishonest, bogus, histrionic & theatrical ways that cause everyone around them to want them destroyed, but until this, that’s not been Canada! So get a life or go see a shrink!

    “Kill Bill C-51!”

  14. Mar Logo says:

    Yeah, I signed the few online ones, hope they may help. As per your suggestion, I sent you an email request for any printed material/letters I could use to open a few eyes around here(I’m not the greatest at typing up politically related letters, so thanks. 🙂

    Hope I’m not to late to help..

  15. […] C-51 is a train wreck that pretty much every expert has condemned. See here and here and here and […]

  16. jack says:

    Hello

    please can you put me in contact with the main opposition
    to the recent terror law bill.

    my name is Jack Healy, and for the past 4 years, the Vancouver Police have been travelling to Ireland to kill me.

    Six weeks ago, Jim Chu chief of police to Vancouver Canada, the man who has been trying to kill me , telephoned the police in Ireland to report me as an immediate or life endangering threat to his life in Vancouver because I emailed him and told him of my intention to return to Vancouver and see him prosecuted.

    Then the former mayor of Toronto backed up Jim Chu by ringing the police about me to.Rob Ford

    This entire scandal started on April 21st 2010, when Jim Chu and Gregor Robertson, framed an innocent member of the vancouver Police force called Peter Hodson.

    Jack

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