On Wednesday our parliament passed bill C-51; a bill which takes a sledgehammer to the principles in the Charter. How could a controversial bill with 52 per cent of Canadians opposing it and only 33 per cent supporting it pass? Ignoring the voices of your constituents is dangerous, especially in an election year.
Bill C-51, dubbed the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, should cause Canadians deep concern. Its provisions, if passed into law, would jeopardize many of our most basic rights and liberties and would only serve to undermine the health of our democracy. Any limits imposed by Parliament on our basic rights and fundamental freedoms must be "reasonable"; they must not be overly broad; and they must be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. On the thirty-third anniversary of the signing of the Charter, we should demand that Parliament scrap Bill C-51 altogether.
Even after the Conservative government buckled to pressure to amend the anti-terrors laws, Canadians can still be deemed too dangerous to travel by airline and won't be allowed to challenge the "evidence" against them. As lawyer and author Faisal Kutty puts it, Canadian Muslims can be considered "too guilty to fly, but too innocent to charge." Bill C-51 is a reckless attempt to win over an understandably fearful electorate under the pretense of fighting terrorism. Marginalizing the very Canadians who are on the front-lines of this struggle is worse than poor policy -- it's a threat to all of us.
Bill C-51 is complex, dangerous, and poses a serious threat to free expression in Canada. If found to be in violation of the proposed legislation, citizens and visitors could wind up slapped with censorship orders, detained without due process or imprisoned for up to five years. Is the federal government giving itself and its agencies more power to fight ISIS-like terrorism, or is it using high-profile tragedies to illegally spy, surveil and silence innocent citizens and its political enemies? Silencing Canadians with the threat of prosecution is tantamount to a chilling or denial of freedom of expression and association, among other Charter rights.
How best to describe the rushed hearings the House of Commons' Public Safety Committee held over the past few weeks examining Bill C-51, the government's anti-terrorism law reforms? Circus, farce and disgrace all come to mind. I know, I was there on Amnesty International's behalf earlier this month.
Unfortunately, when it comes to CSIS, Canadians can expect very little transparency, a cause for additional concern when you recall Harper eliminated the position of the CSIS watchdog in 2012. The only overview of CSIS is handled by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), a body comprised of part-time appointees with limited resources that assess CSIS operations after-the-fact.
Convicting and incarcerating those who return to Canada from fighting with extremist groups overseas alone is not enough. Radicalization spreads, particularly in prison, where many individuals feel wronged by the system and society more generally. Once those prisoners return to civilian life they take with them their twisted and radicalized beliefs and spread them in the communities where they live. Many of Canada's allies have their own de-radicalization programs in place for those who return home after joining terrorist organizations abroad.
Huge numbers of Canadians, including key Ottawa decision-makers, are pushing back hard against the government's Bill C-51, which proposes unprecedented new powers for Canada's security agencies. The bill effectively turns CSIS into a secret police force and would place every Canadian under a government microscope.
The Harper government wants to hide all of its secrets. A Canadian Press reported noticed a troubling policy detail buried in the feds' legislative bulletin that would dramatically expand the number of current and former federal government employees under a lifetime gag order, potentially curbing the right to free expression of thousands of Canadians.
The arrest by the RCMP of two individuals who were allegedly planning out a terrorist attack on a VIA Rail train will only heighten our level of anxiety as the scare hits closer to home. Reintroducing these provisions seems nothing more than an attempt by the Conservative government to further prove its 'tough on terror' credentials. But when our laws appear to be working -- results of brave and successful law enforcement operations -- attempting to play on our fears by using emotion over reason does not do justice to the seriousness this discussion this requires.
It's good that the Ministry of Public Safety has decided to introduce amendments to the existing Anti-Terrorism Act of Canada. Even so, such measures may engender considerable controversy under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.