In early February, Canada's Parliament voted down a bill to bring back the mandatory long-form census. The Conservative government's position was that the census was too intrusive. Remember that word: intrusive. Two weeks later they are arguing for the need of mass surveillance and other drastic civil liberty erosions that Bill C-51 brings. The inconsistency is disturbing when the intrusions of a census are deemed unacceptable while the disastrous privacy consequences of Bill C-51 are pushed as imperative.
The Conservative government first axed the mandatory long-form census in 2010, citing concerns about personal freedoms. Canada's then Industry Minster, Tony Clement, argued the census was intrusive to Canadians "who just want to be left alone a little bit."
Presumedly Canadians' desire to be left alone hasn't changed, but now Bill C-51 would crumble personal freedoms to an exponentially greater degree than any census could have. The weakened privacy restrictions that allow government agencies to collect and share citizens' personal information is just the beginning of the intrusiveness of this Bill.
C-51 is called the Anti-Terrorism Act, but laws already exist to combat terrorism. Opponents argue that the broad language of this Bill will be used to stifle environmental, social and Indigenous movements in Canada. Any action or expressed sentiments that interfere with "critical infrastructure" or the "economic and financial stability of Canada" could be criminalized. Justice Minister Peter MacKay acknowledged that pipeline projects would fall under the definition of critical infrastructure.
Back when the Canadian government axed the mandatory long-form census, Clement repeatedly insisted that concern over the threat of imprisonment for not filling out the form played a large part in the government's decision. It's important to note that no Canadian has never been jailed for refusing to fill out the form.
Now, the remarkably broad Bill C-51 would make it easier to throw people in jail without a charge. The legal threshold for police to obtain a warrant to arrest individuals who have committed no crimes would be lowered. Canadians could be held in custody for up to seven days without charges. Bill C-51's gives powers of "preventive detention," which means jail time for individuals even when there isn't any suspicion criminal activity has taken place.
The government cited unsubstantiated widespread privacy concerns when they eliminated the mandatory long-form census. After the decision was made, documents obtained under Access to Information revealed that less than 100 complaints were lodged with Statistics Canada. Many of those complaints were not about the supposed intrusive nature of the census, but other concerns like unease over Canada awarding the census software contract to Lockheed Martin, the world's largest weapons manufacturer.
The Toronto Star reported at the time Clement saying that if only one Canadian complained about the mandatory long-form census that was good enough to kill it.
That is very telling. A cabinet minister admitting that one voice is enough to get the government to make significant changes to Canada illuminates a process that is vastly undemocratic and possibly explains how we could end up in this predicament of Bill C-51. We can safely imagine it is only one particular voice who is heeded, one voice very special to the Harper Government: Harper himself.
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