Comment: Federal Liberals should repeal Bill C-51 entirely

This weekend, federal Liberals from across B.C. will descend on Victoria to attend their biennial policy conference and convention. And, at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, concerned citizens will descend on the Liberal convention to tell them to repeal Bill C-51, the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015.

 This law has less to do with protecting Canadians and more to do with restricting our rights and freedoms.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on fixing the problematic elements of the bill, and he promised to engage Canadians in broad public consultation. However, Trudeau made no mention of Bill C-51 in his throne speech, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has yet to implement public consultation, amend any aspect of the bill or provide a concrete timeline for the review.

Saturday’s keynote speaker for the Liberal convention will be Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose mandate letter included instructions to “support the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness in his efforts to repeal key elements of Bill C-51, and introduce new legislation that strengthens accountability with respect to national security and better balances collective security with rights and freedoms.” Yet, she has been quiet on this issue.

Canadians have not been quiet.

Last year in Victoria, we saw some of the biggest anti-Bill C-51 demonstrations in Canada. During that time, 200,000 Canadians, 12 privacy commissioners from across Canada and 106 Canadian law professors spoke out against Bill C-51. The Canadian Bar Association urged Canadians to take to the streets in order to stop this reckless, dangerous bill.

In addition, prominent officials voiced their concerns about Bill C-51. They included former prime ministers, supreme court judges, public safety and justice ministers and others.

Why would so many people speak out against it? Because it gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service powers to “disrupt” broadly defined “threats to the security of Canada” (including threats to critical infrastructure and threats to the economic security of Canada).

What disruption means is up to interpretation, but could include break-ins, computer hacking, draining bank accounts and smear campaigns.

CSIS can also get a warrant from a judge to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or carry out measures that are contrary to other Canadian law. And, to top it off, it can do this all without oversight of its activities.

 In contrast, CSIS this past week expressed its reluctance to give up its new powers, and CSIS’s director appears to be advocating against some of the Liberals’ campaign pledges. How the agency is enacting these new powers is shrouded in secrecy. CSIS has admitted to using disruption techniques in the past six months, nearly two dozen times, but we are assured that they are not overstepping their bounds.

 CSIS will continue (at least until the fall) to make use of the powers granted to it when Bill C-51 was passed, with no clear definition of what “disrupt” means in the legislation, without adequate oversight, and without guarantees that the tactics used don’t breach our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While one could argue that we just need the Liberal government to hurry up with its amendments, one riding association is bringing forward a motion for the act to be repealed in its entirety.

Kelowna-Lake Country argues that:

• “Witnesses who testified at the relevant parliamentary hearings could not provide concrete examples of how the act would fulfil its stated purpose of better protecting Canadians.

• “Legal experts have shown how the act harms civil liberties by, for example, giving the government of Canada the discretion to target peaceful political opponents and activists who pose no threat to national security; legal experts have shown how the act is unnecessary as there are already 14 broad terrorist-related offences in the Criminal Code.

• “Legal experts have shown those harms are so abundant and intertwined that they cannot be adequately addressed without repealing the act in its entirety.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Liberals should explain how they expect to build effective legislation from something so fundamentally flawed.

 Laurel Collins is an instructor of social justice studies and political sociology at the University of Victoria.

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