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Three reasons Bill C-51 should be an election issue

October 1, 2015

2-minute read

3-Reasons-HeaderFew understand the dangers of the security state run amok better than Canadian author and human rights advocate Dr. Monia Mazigh.

Dr. Mazigh's husband, Ottawa-based engineer Maher Arar, was deported by the U.S. to Syria, where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. A commission of inquiry in 2006 not only exonerated Arar, but also found that information shared by Canadian officials likely contributed to his deportation and ultimate torture.

In the upcoming book, The Harper Record 2008-2015, Dr. Mazigh analyzes Canadian national security policy since 2008, including the controversial Bill C-51 "anti-terror" legislation enacted by the federal government in June of this year.

Three key insights from her analysis of Bill C-51 should give us all pause about this unprecedented legislation, which was a heated point of discussion at the Munk Centre’s foreign policy debate this week.

1. Under C-51 CSIS can apply to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All Canadians have protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since Bill C-51 passed, however, these rights and freedoms can now be violated by CSIS with the approval of a judge, subject to a secret hearing in which only the government is represented.

Legal experts Craig Forcese and Kent Roach note that it is “impossible to know which rights might be limited when CSIS comes to Federal Court in secret proceedings.”

2. C-51 expands the definition of activities that allow government collection and sharing of personal information with foreign agencies. Terrorism is only one activity covered under information-sharing provisions of Bill C-51. Nine other activities are laid out, including (most alarmingly) activities that could impact the “economic or financial stability of Canada.”

This sweeping phrase could put a chill on protest in Canada through increased government surveillance of engaged citizens. “Environmental groups and Indigenous peoples rightly worry that protests against provincial or federal energy policies (e.g., oil and gas pipelines) may lead to terrorism files being opened on well-meaning activists,” Dr. Mazigh writes.

Canada's federal privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, has also warned about these information-sharing provisions of C-51. “All Canadians—not only terrorism suspects—will be caught in this web,” he said. “Bill C-51 opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians.”

3. Lack of oversight or robust review mechanisms means we can “expect that the new powers granted by C-51 will lead to more victims” like Arar. As the C-51 debate raged earlier this year, four former prime ministers and five former Supreme Court justices released a public statement calling for increased oversight of Canadian national security activities, a measure missing from the new anti-terror legislation.

The statement warned that without robust oversight mechanisms, “abuses can occur in the name of maintaining national security,” with “not only devastating personal consequences for the individuals, but a profoundly negative impact on Canada's reputation as a rights-respecting nation.”

Arar's ordeal is well known, but as Dr. Mazigh notes, at least three other Canadian men were also tortured in Syria. According to a second inquiry, Canadian state agencies having indirectly contributed to their detainment. C-51 risks more such cases by expanding the scope of national security powers, including information sharing with foreign agencies.

For more on Bill C-51 and Canadian national security policy implemented since 2008, read Dr. Mazigh's chapter in the upcoming CCPA book, The Harper Record 2008-2015.

Alex Hemingway is the Andrew Jackson Progressive Economics Intern at the CCPA. Follow him on Twitter @1alexhemingway.

Updated 10/05/15: The Harper Record 2008-2015, builds on the 2008 collection of the same name and continues a 25-year tradition at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives of periodically examining the records of Canadian federal governments during their tenure. It is available for download via the CCPA website.

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