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- The Government has made a commitment to ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protest and advocacy. The SCISA explicitly states that the activities of advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression do not fall within the definition of activity that undermines the security of Canada. Should this be further clarified?
While the Government has expressed its commitment to ensure Canadians are not limited from lawful protest and advocacy, we have yet to see concrete actions that go in this direction. For example, while the government has put an end to new audits of charities, it has allowed outstanding audits to continue – a contradiction made to statements when in opposition. Legal measures continue to be used to silence dissent of First Nations towards projects like the Site C dam. And the government supported a motion condemning the legal right of Canadians to use boycotting as a way to display their opposition to a country’s violation of human rights. None of these go in the direction of ensuring our rights to protest and advocacy are protected.
Regarding SCISA specifically, it should be repealed. The act facilitates the sharing of information on all Canadians amongst up to 17 government agencies for “activities that undermine the security of Canada and other countries.” These activities, according to the definition in the Act, include a wide range of acts that are not remotely related to terrorism, such as activities that “threaten the country’s economic interests and financial stability.” Even if there is an exception for legitimate protest and dissent, the above definition of “threat” could include illegal labour strikes, civil disobedience protests (such as roadblocks to a pipeline project) and even economic boycott initiatives. This last example is particularly important in light of the recent motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. It also allows information sharing with foreign governments without meaningful safeguards on the use of information, or any oversight, review or accountability for mistakes, potentially leading to serious human rights abuses such as in the cases of Maher Arar, Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin, and Benamar Benatta. This means that all Canadians – including those engaged in legitimate political activity – are placed in danger. The only solution is repeal.
- Should the Government further clarify in the SCISA that institutions receiving information must use that information only as the lawful authorities that apply to them allow?
This wouldn’t change the risks mentioned above. Repeal is the only solution.
- Do existing review mechanisms, such as the authority of the Privacy Commissioner to conduct reviews, provide sufficient accountability for the SCISA? If not, what would you propose?
The review mechanisms in Canada are not sufficient; they were not before information could be shared between 17 departments, and they are even less so now. Further Bill C-22, establishing a Committee of Parliamentarians, will not fix this either. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) is just one level of accountability; in order to provide sufficient accountability, an overarching review mechanism must be established (see our response on accountability for more details).
Regarding the OPC, the office should be allowed to conduct a privacy assessment of legislation before it is tabled. Information sharing between government departments should be the subject of a prior assessment on the part of the OPC, and the office’s recommendations should be binding. The resources of the OPC should also be augmented to meet the increased challenges to privacy.
- To facilitate review, for example, by the Privacy Commissioner, of how SCISA is being used, should the Government introduce regulations requiring institutions to keep a record of disclosures under the SCISA?
That this was not already included in the legislation, or required before, is highly problematic. However, as we have seen regarding the record keeping habits of CSIS and CSEC, such a regulation would not be sufficient to 1) ensure that record keeping happens and 2) make SCISA less risky or more accountable. The Act should be repealed.
- Some individuals have questioned why some institutions are listed as potential recipients when their core duties do not relate to national security. This is because only part of their jurisdiction or responsibilities relate to national security. Should the SCISA be clearer about the requirements for listing potential recipients? Should the list of eligible recipients be reduced or expanded?
It is obvious that sharing information between so many entities will lead to abuse, especially since it is based on mere suspicion of activities, and predicated on a new, enlarged definition of “threat to national security.” Moreover, even before the adoption of Bill C-51, the sharing of information lead to abuse. Better safeguards must be in place, and SCISA should be repealed.
Besides the troublesome domestic information-sharing allowed by C-51, the lack of debate and regulation around information-sharing in the context of the North American Security perimeter and Canada-US border agreements is unacceptable. A huge amount of Canadians’ private information, including airline passengers’ information on most domestic flights, is now shared with US Homeland Security. Once in the hands of US authorities, this information can be shared among 17 US agencies and is not protected by Canadian privacy laws.