News from ICLMG

Joint letter urges Justice Minister to split Bill C-63

On May 7, 2024, OpenMedia and more than 20 civil society groups – including the ICLMG – and legal experts delivered an open letter to Minister of Justice Arif Virani, urging the government to separate controversial Parts Two and Three of Bill C-63, The Online Harms Act, into independent legislation. This separation is vital to allow Parliament and the public to focus on considering the merits of the Online Harms Act itself, as described in Part One of Bill C-63.

The signatories point out that public discussion surrounding Bill C-63 has overwhelmingly focused on its controversial changes to the Criminal Code and Human Rights Act described in Parts Two and Three, overshadowing the core elements designed to tackle illegal online content and protect young people in Canada.

Part Two’s proposed Criminal Code changes, including pre-emptive peace bonds and potential lifetime imprisonment, raise serious concerns about disproportionate punishments that risk chilling legitimate speech. Part Three’s changes to the Human Rights Act are widely believed likely to overwhelm the Commission with complaints, delaying more substantive cases and potentially incentivizing bad-faith complaints as tools of harassment.

To refocus public and parliamentary conversation on due consideration and debate of the Online Harms Act itself, signatories request the government separate Parts Two and Three as a distinct legislative package.

Many of today’s signatories have engaged the government throughout its consideration of illegal online content, including through 2023 expert letter outlining red lines and recommendations for potential legislation, and by individual submissions to the government’s 2021 consultation.

Bill C-63 was introduced on February 26th, and is currently awaiting second reading in the House of Commons. Since Bill C-63’s introduction, more than 4000 OpenMedia community members have written to their MPs asking them to split Bill C-63.

Quotes

Matt Hatfield, Executive Director, OpenMedia: “Bill C-63 presents Canadians with a false choice: either we accept extraordinarily draconian punishments for our speech, or we can’t have common sense online protections. That’s a false dichotomy. That’s why OpenMedia is asking the government to do the right thing and separate the Online Harms Act itself from its other proposals. Young Canadians and victims of online sexual violence should not be used as pawns to force to force through profound restrictions on our fundamental rights.” 

Anaïs Bussières McNicoll, Director, Fundamental Freedoms Program, CCLA“Bill C-63 enables blatant violations of expressive freedom, privacy, protest rights, and liberty. It also undermines the fundamental principles of democratic accountability and procedural fairness by granting sweeping powers to the new Digital Safety Commission. It is crucial that both parliamentarians and the public be given enough time to properly address the many flaws of this Bill. Separating Parts Two and Three of the Bill would be a first step in the right direction.”

James L. Turk, Director, Centre for Free Expression (CFE)“As an answer for how to minimize harms we experience online, Bill C-63 is a failure. While it makes some useful efforts to regulate digital platforms, it includes serious, and I believe unconstitutional, limitations on freedom of expression that have nothing to do with online governance. At the very least, these sections should be severed from the Bill so the focus will be on the difficult question of whether the remainder of the bill will result in meaningful and Charter-compliant online protections.”

Fareed Khan, Founder of Canadians United Against Hate: “In trying to address the issue of harmful content online the government’s proposed legislation could create new harms by suppressing and criminalizing legal acts of freedom of expression, like the current pro-Palestinian protest condemning the genocide Israel is committing.  This would damage Canada’s democracy and violate fundamental Charter rights.  Given the complexity and flaws of the bill the only way to get it right is to separate Parts Two and Three and table them as separate bills.”

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Provisions of new foreign interference bill will have much broader consequences on rights and freedoms in Canada, warns civil liberties coalition

May 7 2024, OTTAWA – While diaspora groups have made it abundantly clear that more needs to be done to address foreign interference, especially when it involves threats or leads to violence, many of the proposals in the newly-introduced An Act respecting countering foreign interference go far beyond addressing foreign interference and will have wide-ranging impacts on the rights and liberties of people in Canada, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) is warning.

Areas of concern for the ICLMG include significant changes to CSIS’ powers to secretly collect and analyse troves of information about people both inside and outside of Canada; what information CSIS can disclose and to whom, including foreign entities; as well as new rules around what evidence can be disclosed in open court, and the ability of defendants to challenge those decisions.

“These are concerns we raised during the federal government’s consultation on new foreign interference measures, but they have decided to charge ahead,” said Tim McSorley, national Coordinator of the ICLMG. “These and other changes deserve their own specific scrutiny but instead are being lumped in with another omnibus bill.”

The areas of the bill specifically addressing foreign interference will also require a great deal of scrutiny to ensure they do not infringe on Charter rights of freedom of expression and association, and the ability to participate fully and freely in democratic processes in Canada, while addressing threats to Canadians and people in Canada, says the coalition. Some items that raise immediate questions are new stand-alone offences regarding interference with very broadly defined “essential infrastructure” and provisions of the proposed Foreign Influence Transparency and Accountability Act.

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The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, founded in 2002, is an Ottawa-based coalition of 46 Canadian civil society organizations that works to defend civil liberties in Canada in the context of anti-terrorism and national security.

More information:

Tim McSorley
National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
(613) 241-5298
national.coordination@iclmg.ca

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. You can become our patron on Patreon and get rewards in exchange for your support. You can give as little as $1/month (that’s only $12/year!) and you can unsubscribe at any time. Any donations will go a long way to support our work.panel-54141172-image-6fa93d06d6081076-320-320You can also make a one-time donation or donate monthly via Paypal by clicking on the button below. On the fence about giving? Check out our Achievements and Gains since we were created in 2002. Thank you for your generosity!
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Canadian coalition calls for urgent action to uphold civil liberties and Charter rights at protests and encampments across the country

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As people across Canada come together to voice their concerns over the crisis in Gaza, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), representing 46 Canadian civil society organizations, is urgently calling on government, university, law enforcement and other officials to uphold the Charter-protected rights of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

“Recent rhetoric by some officials and commentators, which conflates criticism of the Israeli government with support for terrorism, not only undermines the principles of free expression, assembly, and association but also threatens the civil liberties of those engaged in peaceful protests,” said Tim McSorley, national coordinator of the ICLMG. “Such unfounded allegations serve to mischaracterize legitimate political expression as dangerous extremism, creating a chilling effect on open dialogue and perpetuating discrimination against Muslim and Arab communities. It is imperative that all levels of government uphold the Charter’s protections and resist any attempts to erode the legitimate exercise of these rights through misrepresentation or over-policing.”

This is a continuation of the vague, unfounded allegations of support for “terrorism” that have for decades been used to justify surveillance, over-policing and significant rights abuses directed particularly at Muslim and Arab communities.

For example, over the past several days, peaceful protest camps on the campuses of McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa have been wrongly attacked by politicians and officials as being “antisemitic,” “dangerous,” “pro-Hamas,” and in support of “terrorism.” Calls by student protesters to discuss their demands for divestment and a just peace have been answered by university administrations with unwarranted requests for police intervention to remove protesters. The involvement of police, as seen with recent efforts to clear encampments on university and college campuses in the United States, has often been the cause of escalating tension and violence, as opposed to the encampments themselves.

Attempts to vilify and discredit protest camps as expressing support for “terrorism” and posing a threat to public safety comes after months of the same accusations being directed at marches and protests that have swept the streets of Canadian cities, resulting in unfounded arrests, unwarranted ticketing, and the curtailment of free expression.

The coalition is also expressing its deep concern with the recent ban on the keffiyeh in the Ontario legislature. The keffiyeh is a common and culturally important piece of clothing for Arab, and particularly Palestinian, communities. Whatever one may think of banning political props from legislatures, applying such a rule to clothing of cultural significance is misplaced, reductive, and discriminatory. Banning the keffiyeh inhibits Palestinians and Arabs the legally protected ability to engage in democratic processes, and propagates racism.

The ban also sends a dangerous message that the keffiyeh is an unacceptable piece of clothing that should be excluded from public venues. This was recently demonstrated at an Oakville, ON, high school where a student was asked to remove his keffiyeh because it reminded a staff person of terrorists. The keffiyeh ban is part of a disturbing trend of students and workers facing repercussions again for simply supporting Palestinian human rights, and must be overturned.

As the toll from Israel’s attack on Gaza continues to mount, reaching 34,000 people killed and 77,143 injured as of April 29, 2024, and the International Court of Justice‘s interim measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza from acts of genocide are being ignored, the ICLMG is also reiterating its Fall 2023 appeal for Canada to not only call for a permanent ceasefire, but to halt all arms sales, transfers and military aid to Israel. To refuse to do so is a violation of Canada’s obligation under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to do all in its power to prevent genocide.

In summary, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group urges:

  • Officials to stop equating Charter-protected expression and dissent with “support for terrorism,” and refrain from calling for law enforcement to forcibly end or prevent protest activities.
  • Law enforcement agencies to refrain from acting against protesters exercising their Charter-protected rights, including at encampments.
  • The Ontario legislature to immediately reverse the keffiyeh ban.
  • Canada to call for a permanent ceasefire and to halt all arms sales, transfers and military aid to Israel.
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