Bill C-51: Denying Canadians their legitimate right to privacy

By Rathika Sitsabaiesan, NDP MP, Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
[Photo Credit: Pirate Party of Canada]

12 Canadian privacy commissioners have publicly criticized Bill C-51, but not one privacy commissioner was invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. These are the public authorities on privacy and should have been heard. In a written submission to the committee, Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, wrote:

However, the scale of information sharing being proposed by Bill C-51 is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient. While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive. All Canadians would be caught in this web.

Under the proposed legislation, law-abiding citizens could find their information shared by federal departments and agencies with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, the Privacy Commissioner stated that Bill C-51 does not prescribe clear and reasonable standards for the sharing, collection, use and retention of personal information. Canadians have a legitimate right to privacy.

How can the government be so reckless with the personal information of Canadians? How can it allow the sharing of information without proper oversight and clear standards regarding the necessity for the sharing of this information? Furthermore, experts such as Craig Forcese have pointed out that Bill C-51 also would erode the individual’s right to legal recourse. Under Bill C-51, as long as Canadian government officials share information in good faith, if people are tortured or their livelihoods lost, these individuals could not sue the Canadian government.

We were shocked and saddened by the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was tortured in Syria because of the information that was shared about him. Maher Arar was able to use legal recourse to get an apology and compensation from the government. If Bill C-51 becomes law, if anything like what happened to Maher Arar happened in the future, there would be no legal recourse for Canadians. As a nation, we should be ensuring that what happened to Maher Arar never happens again to another Canadian. We need to do that by ensuring there is oversight, and that the rights of our citizens are protected. We should not be allowing information to be shared with a little oversight and then stripping away the ways in which Canadians can hold their government accountable.