By now, most of us who read the news should be well aware of the Conservative’s proposed Bill C-51, an anti-terrorism act focused on combating the growing threat of terrorism within Canada’s borders. Consider for a moment that only six months ago at Canada’s National War Memorial in Ottawa, Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed while on sentry duty by Michael Zihaf-Bibeau – a man presumed to have been motivated by radical Islamic ideology, likely stemming from the highly publicized ISIS occupation in the Middle East. It is also worth acknowledging that just one month ago, a Somali terrorist group known as Al-Shabab publicly appealed to sympathizers within the Somali community in Edmonton to carry out an attack on West Edmonton Mall (the largest mall in North America for those who are unaware). Keeping these events in mind, it would seem odd that many Canadians dispute the implementation of Bill C-51. So the questions is; why are so many people opposed to this anti-terrorism act, legislation that the Conservative government assures will enhance Canada’s ability to fight terrorism at home and abroad?
The answers to these questions are evident once the contents of Bill C-51 are inspected. For starters, the Bill broadly expands the definition of ‘security’ to include “interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to… the economic or financial stability of Canada”1. Under this definition, the peaceful protests in Burnaby against the Kinder Morgan pipeline could have been considered a national security threat, as hindering the construction of the pipeline may be construed as interfering with Canada’s economic stability. What’s more, the bill establishes an immense scope for what is considered to ‘undermine’ Canadian security. British Columbia’s Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) explains that these far-reaching concepts will allow warrantless sharing of information between and outside of government agencies as well as grant unfettered access to Canadians personal information2.
Bill C-51 will also enact the Security Air Travel Act, which provides a framework for identifying individuals who pose a potential threat to transportation security. Although the purpose of the Act is justifiable, the means by which the Act achieves its purpose is questionable at best. The Act allows government to establish a no-fly list that is largely secretive, meaning individuals who have been listed as a threat have no way of knowing the reasoning for there ban, or obtaining evidence associated with their listing. Moreover, the Act suffers from serious procedural flaws concerning the process of appealing a no-fly listing. Specifically, if a listed individual is successful in initiating an appeal, the judicial process is authorized to take place in secret.
There are also two serious drawbacks to Bill C-51 concerning its proposed amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC), foremost being the creation of a new offense that targets individuals found ‘advocating or promoting terrorism’. The new offense would criminalize any speech in support of terrorism without requiring an actual terrorist offense to have occurred. In other words, a speaker may be accused of advocating terrorism even if they do not intend for a terrorist offense to occur. As a result, this amendment to the CCC will severely restrict Canadians’ freedom of expression. The second drawback concerns a CCC amendment that would lower the legal threshold required for police to arrest individuals for terrorist activity. Currently, the language of the CCC allows police to detain, arrest, or impose conditions on individuals (who have not, and may never commit a crime), if they have a legitimate belief that a terrorist activity will occur. The amendment will lower this threshold, allowing police to detain individuals on the mere suspicion that terrorist activity might occur sometime in the future, while also doubling the amount duration of time that an individual may be held without charge. It would be reasonable to speculate that this amendment could have the result of innocent Canadians being detained or punished based on sheer speculation that they represent a danger to the public.
It is clear by examining the evidence above that the Conservative’s proposed Bill C-51 has many critical flaws, all of which would directly impact the lives and democratic freedoms of Canadians. What is interesting is that although much of the media publications on Bill C-51 refer to the legislation as ‘damaging’ to the democratic rights of Canadians, a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute indicates that 82 per cent of Canadians are in support of the Bill3. What’s more, opposing parties such as the Liberals or NDP have not actively opposed the anti-terrorism bill due to the upcoming federal election. Opposition governments contend that fighting Bill C-51 is counteractive, as Canadians are seemingly in support of the legislation (causing damage during election period if they were to oppose it) and also because the Conservatives maintain a majority government. Instead, the task of stopping Bill C-51 has fallen into the hands of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). The SCC will review the legislation for its constitutionality and hopefully restrict many of the proposed amendments for impeding guaranteed Charter rights or freedoms.
If anyone is interested in joining the petition against Bill C-51 please click this link àhttps://stopc51.ca/. Otherwise, it seems likely that the fate of Canada’s proposed anti-terrorism bill will be determined in court.
1 – Bill C-51: Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. (2014). s. 2(2)(a)
2 - BCCLA (2015, March 09). Submission to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security: Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015
3 - The Globe and Mail (2015, February 19). New poll finds Harper's anti-terror bill is a political juggernaut.