Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, was tabled in Parliament on January 30, 2015. After many anti-democratic tactics to limit the debate on the bill and a few insufficient amendments, and despite a huge opposition from the population and from the national security experts, Bill C-51 was adopted into law on June 18, 2015. The 65-page long legislation contains many problematic, dangerous and human rights violating elements. Here is a summary of ICLMG’s concerns, shared by Amnesty International Canada, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Assocation, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Assocation, la Ligue des droits et libertés, and the National Council of Canadian Muslims:
- In conjunction with an earlier bill (C-44), C-51 substantially broadens the powers held by CSIS, transforming it from an intelligence agency to an organization with very broad authority to directly disrupt activities, something CSIS was originally created to avoid. Anything goes except bodily harm, obstruction of justice, and violation of sexual integrity. Although the powers in C-51 generally require CSIS to get a warrant, the law allows judges to grant these warrants authorizing CSIS to violate fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The role of judges in Canada’s system is to uphold the Constitution and ensure that any restrictions that the government places on our rights are justified and reasonable. The new warrant powers are a radical change that turn our constitutional system on its head.
- C-51 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” which, according to the definition in the Act, includes a wide range of activities that is not remotely related to terrorism if they “threaten the country’s economic interests and financial stability”, including labour strikes, peaceful protests (such as roadblocks to a pipeline project) and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It also allows information sharing with foreign governments – including repressive ones – 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.
- C-51 creates a new crime of “promoting or advocating terrorism offences in general”. Anyone promoting an act of terrorism – regardless of intent – can be sentenced for up to 5 years. What is promoting and what is terrorism is very vague. Furthermore, the list of existing terrorism offences in the Criminal Code is already extensive and includes facilitating, participating, instructing, harbouring and financing. Criminal liability for counselling a terrorist offence is also already a crime under the Code. The primary impact of this new offence will be to chill legitimate speech and send radical online expression – which can provide valuable leads for intelligence agencies and law enforcement – underground.
- C-51 codifies a system for establishing a Canadian no-fly list without providing a clear mechanism for how a person on the list becomes aware of their status, and severely limits their ability to challenge the listing. The law allows for a judicial hearing that may occur outside of public view and allows for the use of secret evidence. This is a radical departure for a mature democracy.
- C-51 lowers the existing thresholds for preventive arrest and peace bonds and lengthens the amount of time someone can be held without being charged. Allowing individuals to be subjected to severe restrictions on their liberty without a criminal charge – much less a conviction – is already permitted under existing Criminal Code provisions. These measures are extraordinary and should be permitted only in the most exceptional cases, but the new law would substantially broaden the state’s ability to control an individual’s liberty without any criminal charge or conviction, and with minimal evidence of any criminal plan or intention by lowering the threshold for a preventive arrest from “will commit” a crime to “may commit” a crime.
- C-51, although it significantly increases information sharing and the powers held by CSIS, does not include any stronger oversight and review mechanisms. Although better oversight and review would not save the law, this omission is especially problematic in the light of the conclusions and recommendations of Justice Dennis O’Connor for the Commission of Inquiry into the Maher Arar case, and the criticisms of present or past CSIS watchdogs, affirming that the present oversight powers are insufficient and ineffective.
Public consultations are coming up but we hear that repeal is off the table. We need real and open consultations that will allow Canadians to decide to kill C-51.
See the list of briefs on C-51 presented to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security here.
See ICLMG’s press releases on C-51 here.
For more information on C-51, see a list of resources, analyses and critiques here.
For an in-depth legal analysis of Bill C-51, see the website of law professors and national security experts Craig Forcese and Kent Roach here.
See OpenMedia’s interactive timeline on C-51 here.
Since you’re here…
… we have a small favour to ask. Here at ICLMG, we are working very hard to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called “war on terror” in Canada. We do not receive any financial support from any federal, provincial or municipal governments or political parties. Any donations will go a long way to support our work.
On the fence about giving? Check out our Achievements and Gains since we were created in 2002. Thank you for your generosity!