Senate committee misses opportunity to protect rights in study of national security bill, C-59. Now Senate as a whole must act.

OTTAWA, ON, May 13, 2019 – The Senate committee on national security and defence has missed an important opportunity to protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Canada and internationally by failing to bring necessary amendments to the National Security Act, 2017 (Bill C-59).

Bill C-59 was passed by committee without substantial amendment today, despite calls from leading civil liberties and human rights groups, and hundreds of letters from the public.

“National security concerns cannot come at the cost of privacy, free expression, due process and government transparency,” said Tim McSorley, national coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. “There was a missed opportunity today to address the most egregious aspects of this bill.”

The Liberal government has touted Bill C-59 as being a “fix” for the previous government’s controversial Bill C-51 (the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015). While it brings some important improvements, Bill C-59:

  • Continues to allow CSIS to engage in secret and dangerous threat disruption powers;
  • Maintains the secretive No Fly List, which violates due process and has never been proven to be effective;
  • Grants sweeping new surveillance powers to both the CSE and CSIS, including the collection of metadata, vaguely defined “publicly available information,” and the incredibly broad category of “unselected information” (which essentially means any information)
  • Fails to prohibit the use and sharing, in all circumstances, of information linked to mistreatment and torture;
  • Will allow the CSE to engage in broad and powerful new “active cyber operations” with little oversight, creating the risk of retaliation as well as attacks from leaked new cyber-weapons.

The provisions adopted by the committee today to reduce the number of years before review of Bill C-59, and which allow the Intelligence Commissioner to suggest conditions on surveillance authorizations, are welcome, but are severely insufficient.

The committee also had the opportunity to improve on the strongest part of the bill: new national security review and oversight bodies. The ICLMG has welcomed the proposed National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), as well as the Intelligence Commissioner. Greater transparency, independence and the ability to make binding recommendations, as well as offer redress for complainants when abuse is found, though, are essential to ensure both accountability and that the public have faith in the review and oversight system being created.

Even if review and oversight were improved, though, it still would not make up for bad laws, warns the ICLMG. “The NSIRA and the Intelligence Commissioner will only be able to enforce the rules set out in Bill C-59. With new powers of surveillance and data collection, ongoing secretive activities, and the real threat to due process, free expression and privacy, these bodies risk simply becoming rubber stamps,” said McSorley.

The bill will now return to the full Senate for debate and vote at third reading. The ICLMG is urging senators to use this last opportunity to take a strong position in defending civil liberties and human rights in Canada and internationally, all while protecting the safety of people in Canada and abroad.

Take action and urge the Senate to protect our human rights and fix C-59

Read our more detailed recommendations and our full brief to the Senate.

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Read our National Coordinator’s live-tweeting thread of the meeting

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