Bill C-51 violates Universal Declaration of Human Rights, OSCE finds

The Harper government’s controversial anti-terrorism bill violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada has ratified, according to legal analysis by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization.

The Vienna-based group, which Canada joined in 1973, found that Section 16 of Bill C-51, which contain amendments to the Criminal Code outlawing “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism,” places a number of direct restrictions on freedom of expression.

“International standards, in recognition of their potential overbreadth, call for restrictions on freedom of expression in this area to be limited to direct and intentional incitement to terrorism, instead of broader notions such as advocating, promoting or encouraging, and they also rule out indirect intent requirements such as recklessness,” OSCE report read. “This is potentially of particular concern to the media, which has a professional responsibility to report on terrorism and to ensure that the public are informed about terrorist threats and activities.”

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Section 16 of the Bill also gives the responsible minister the power to seize and otherwise suppress ‘terrorist propaganda’, defined as anything that advocates, promotes or counsels the commission of a terrorist offence.

“In addition to the problems with restricting material that merely advocates or promotes terrorism, this rule is problematical inasmuch as it enables administrative action to restrict freedom of expression which is triggered by the very low standard of having ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe the material is terrorist propaganda,” OSCE reported. “Furthermore, there are no protections against the overbroad application of this rule, such as a requirement that dissemination of the material would be likely to incite a terrorist offence before it may be seized. Once again, these provisions are potentially of serious concern to the media, in particular due to the risk that professional reporting on terrorism may require them to disseminate material which could be deemed to be terrorist propaganda.”

OSCE also expressed concern that the erosion of privacy rights and the expansion of no-fly lists would act to chill freedom of expression.

“Section 2 of the Bill establishes the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, which substantially increases the power to share information among 17 different Canadian government institutions, including institutions that hold a tremendous amount of personal information about Canadians,” the OSCE report read. “The link between threats to privacy and to freedom of expression has been well established and the enabling of significantly greater internal sharing of information among government institutions may exert a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

“Although intentional abuse of this provision is unlikely in the Canadian context, there is a real risk that individuals who are in no way associated with terrorism may be caught up in the scheme based on controversial comments they may have made about terrorism,” OSCE added. “Furthermore, individuals placed on the no-fly list may be prevented from going before a court to contest this action for up to 90 days.”

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

The anti-terror bill is currently being studied in the senate after passing the third reading in the House of Commons by a margin of 183 to 96, with Conservatives and Liberals voting for the legislation and NDP and Greens voting against it.

Dozens of groups opposed to Bill C-51 are holding protests across Canada on Saturday May 30 against the legislation and are asking Canadians to write to the senators urging them to vote against the anti-terror act in the senate.