Bill C-59, the National Security Act of 2017

Breaking down Bill C-59, the new National Security Act

The good, the bad, and what you can do to fix it

Bill C-59 is officially known as the National Security Act, 2017. Introduced in June, 2017, it is the Trudeau government’s follow-up to last year’s national security consultations and its response to Bill C-51 – the Harper government’s very unpopular Anti-terrorism Act of 2015. During the 2015 election, the Liberals made a campaign promise that they would fix the most problematic aspects of Bill C-51. Does this do the job?

The bill is 150 pages long and contains extensive changes, from reforming current laws to creating entirely new acts and government bodies. This, even though the Liberals also promised no more omnibus bills. It contains 7 main sections:

1. An act creating the new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency – or NSIRA

2. An act creating the new Intelligence Commissioner

3. An act – finally – legislating the existence of the Communications Security Establishment (this is Canada’s electronic spy agency, basically our version of the American NSA)

4. Amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act

5. Amendments to the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act (SCISA) which came into force through Bill C-51

6. Amendments to the Secure Air Travel Act, which was brought by Bill C-51 to modify Canada’s no-fly list regime to be more like the US model

7. Amendments to the Criminal Code regarding preventative arrest and investigative hearings, among other things.

That’s a lot of pieces for one bill. What does it all mean?

In brief: More review and oversight is good. Up until now there have been huge gaps in keeping an eye on Canada’s spies and national security agencies, so this is very a positive development. At the same time, these new review mechanisms could be tougher.

Read more about Bill C-59’s new oversight and review mechanisms

There’s also a lot of bad in this bill. Bill C-59 fails to tackle some of the worst parts of C-51, and ultimately does not get rid of this unnecessary, ineffective and dangerous bill.

Read more about Bill C-59’s changes to C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act of 2015

On top of all that, Canada’s spy agencies will actually be granted more power. CSIS and the CSE will be able to hold on to more information about us than ever before, and the CSE will be given huge new cyber powers that raise a lot of questions.

Read more about Bill C-59’s new mass surveillance and cyberpowers

The fear of terrorism is used to slowly increase the powers of intelligence and security agencies without proof that these powers are necessary to keep us safe; and at the same time, these powers pose a greater and greater risk to our civil liberties.

We call that the “national security creep.”

We must resist incremental increases in government powers that chip away at our civil liberties, unless we want to become the proverbial frog in the boiling pot.

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