ICLMG warns Senate committee of dangers of new foreign interference bill


ICLMG’s National Coordinator, Tim McSorley, testified about our many concerns with Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act, at the Standing Senate Committee on National Security (SECD) on Thursday, June 13th.

The bill, which contains provisions that will significantly impact the rights and liberties of people in Canada, is being rushed through Parliament, with the aim to pass it before the summer break. It was tabled a mere month ago, while the commission of inquiry on foreign interference is ongoing, faced only one week of study by the House public safety committee, and will also be studied for only one week by the Senate national security committee. This is unacceptable.

This rushed undemocratic process leaves no time for careful analysis, meaningful participation from many expert individuals and groups, and the addition of much needed amendments to protect our rights.

We shared with the committee our most pressing concerns within our allotted five minutes:

  • Providing CSIS with new forms of warrants, granting it extra-territorial reach for foreign intelligence activities, and allowing the service to disclose information to any person or entity would lead to increased surveillance, diminished privacy, and racial, religious and political profiling.
  • Possible life imprisonment for even minor offences committed in association with a foreign entity could infringe on freedom of expression and association, and raises concerns of proportionality in sentencing.
  • The bill would transform how federal courts handle sensitive information that can be withheld from appellants or those seeking judicial review, undermining due process in courts through the use of secret evidence.
  • Changes to sabotage laws, including amendments passed by the House of Commons, threaten the right to protest and will undermine the rights of Indigenous land defenders and their allies.

Watch our short intervention above or read the transcript below.

You can also read our Brief on Bill C-70: The Countering Foreign Interference Act submitted to the Senate.


Thank you for the invitation to appear here today on behalf of our coalition of 46 Canadian organizations. We recognize the importance of addressing the impacts of foreign interference, particularly where governments are threatening individuals or their close ones in order to repress their ability to exercise their fundamental rights or engage in democratic processes.

I’m also very cognizant of and grateful for the effort that has gone into this committee holding multiple, and even marathon meetings this week.

However, I must share that I, the coalition I represent, and my colleagues at other civil liberties and human rights organizations, are deeply troubled by the rushed process that this bill has taken.

A bill of such breadth requires in-depth study. Introduced barely a month ago, with the Foreign Interference Inquiry ongoing, it will have gone through committee study in both chambers of parliament in just two weeks. This is faster than even the 2001 study of the first Anti-terrorism Act, which was considered over a period of two months.

This expedited study means that experts and organizations with limited resources have had to rush their analysis of the bill, and has made submitting briefs and appropriate amendments nearly impossible.

Bill C-70 is a very consequential bill, that deals with crucial issues that are important to the protection and promotion of democracy and democratic rights in Canada. It has the potential to uphold those rights, but also contains very clear areas where those rights may or will be undermined. We fear those concerns will remain unaddressed until after C-70’s provisions are implemented, and their impacts felt by individuals and communities across Canada.

We therefore urge the committee to work with your fellow Senators to extend your study of Bill C-70  in order to hear more input and analysis and to provide the opportunity to develop, propose and debate amendments.

In what ways are the changes in Bill C-70 consequential?

It has been presented as legislation to address threats of foreign interference, but the changes proposed by this legislation go much further. If adopted, Bill C-70 will have wide-ranging impacts on Canada’s national security, intelligence and criminal justice systems. As such, it will also have significant impacts on the lives and fundamental rights of people in Canada.

This includes growing surveillance, diminished privacy, and increased racial, religious and political profiling. Other provisions contain undefined or overly broad wording that could infringe on freedom of expression and association, along with proposed punishments that raise significant questions of proportionality in sentencing. The way courts handle sensitive information will also change, undermining due process in the justice system through the use of secret evidence.

I’d like to share some of our specific areas of concern:

First, modifications to CSIS’ dataset regime are only tangentially related to foreign interference. Many of these changes arise from a scathing National Security and Intelligence Review Agency report that found CSIS has been breaking the law in its implementation of the dataset regime. Instead of ensuring adherence to the law, the law is being modified to legalize CSIS’ activities. The potential consequences of these changes remain unclear, and should have been addressed during a statutory review of 2019’s National Security Act. We would recommend removing these changes until such a review happens.

We are also concerned by changes to disclosure powers in s. 19 of the CSIS Act. While we understand the goal of ensuring appropriate information can be shared, serious questions have been raised over the past two decades about how CSIS has handled the disclosure of sensitive information. Subsections 34(2) and 34(3) of C-70 in particular require greater safeguards.

Bill C-70 also grants CSIS significant new production order and warrant powers. It comes after years of courts admonishing CSIS for misleading them in their warrant applications. Warrant requirements exist to protect our rights – they shouldn’t be lessened; and especially not while CSIS’ problem of breaches of duty of candor to the courts has not been resolved.

This bill also changes the Security of Information Act to create new rules that could see minor offenses, if committed in “association” with a foreign entity, be punishable by either life in prison, or consecutive sentences that could amount to life in prison, raising concerns of proportionality in sentencing as well as freedom of expression.

We also have concerns about the proposed foreign influence registry, and new sabotage offenses – including a very troubling amendment adopted in the other place this past Monday – but I’ll conclude by commenting on changes to the Canada Evidence Act. Our coalition is fundamentally opposed to expanding the use of secret evidence in Canada’s courts under the guise of protecting national security, national defense and international affairs. Introducing a standardized system for withholding information from those challenging government decisions will normalize this process and will facilitate the spread of the use of secret information further into our justice system.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.

Since you’re here…

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