It's been one year. Saturday marked exactly 365 days since the former Conservative government introduced Bill C-51, with its controversial spy powers that experts warn are shredding our basic constitutional rights. So, where do things stand now? After intense debate, C-51 was pushed through Parliament and is now law, but its many opponents are making progress. Over the past few weeks, we have seen positive signs from the new federal government, as it has finally promised to meet calls for public consultation from Canadians, civil society and experts.
This is how Conservative MP Laurie Hawn responded to the now 140 plus businesses who have raised concerns in a letter published by the National Post about reckless spying Bill C-51: "[They] should seriously reconsider their business model and their lack of commitment to the values that bind us as Canadians."
In the space of a few short months since Bill C-51 was announced, hundreds of thousands of people have taken action to stop it: signing petitions, writing letters to local newspapers, phoning and writing to their member of Parliament, and hitting the streets in nationwide demonstrations in over 70 communities across Canada.
Small businesses across Canada are speaking up to warn the government about the economic damage that its "secret police" Bill C-51 will inflict on our economy. If Bill C-51 is passed, it will change Canada's economic climate for the worse, notably by harming Canadian commerce, trade, and data security. This upsurge in opposition from small businesses couldn't be more timely: committee hearings on the Bill are continuing today in the Senate, while the House of Commons could hold its final vote in just days.
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.
Anyone can be a victim of surveillance. If you've used any of over a hundred popular file-hosting websites in the past three years, chances are you've had your online activity collected and analyzed by CSEC, acting without a warrant and with no independent oversight. There is a great deal that can be done to tackle our privacy deficit.
The Harper government's newly introduced "anti-terrorism" legislature, Bill C-51, has been roundly condemned as an assault on privacy and free speech -- and rightly so. Besides hunting down would-be terrorists, the new laws could be used to stifle dissent, remove due process and lead to the creation of a secret police force, critics say. In a supposedly enlightened and democratic country such as Canada, these would be unwelcome developments to say the least. But there is a deeper cost to eroding privacy than just the spurring of undesirable changes in external entities such as courts and communications networks. Also at stake is the very freedom of Canadians to internally determine who they are and want to be.
Perhaps the most notable revelation from documents obtained under the Access to Information Act is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.
Global attitudes on spying shift dramatically when the targets of the state's vast monitoring apparatus are suspected terrorists. Not surprisingly, a majority agree that it's acceptable to scrutinize the communications of those who would potentially do harm. Unfortunately, though, our governments have failed to show that they are capable of doing the job with care and precision.
Minister MacKay's lack of respect for Canadians is symptomatic of a government with a terrible track record on privacy issues. They continue to resist calls to take common sense steps to rein in Canada's out-of-control spy agency CSEC -- an agency that just 8 per cent of Canadians trust with their private information, according to a recent poll. The CSEC was caught red-handed collecting hugely sensitive information about law-abiding Canadian air travellers, and storing our private information in giant, insecure databases to be shared with their U.S. partners at the NSA.
There are few rights more important in any healthy democracy than the right to privacy. When citizens believe they are being watched, their willingness to engage in democratic debate is eroded, which in turn undermines our whole democratic process. Yet we clearly have a privacy deficit in this country.