march 14: speak out against bill c-51

Guest post by Allan:

Tomorrow - Saturday, March 14 - there will be protests across Canada against Stephen Harper's latest assault on democracy and free speech - Bill C-51 ("The Anti-terrorism Act 2015").

While Harper states the bill would merely "criminalize the promotion of terrorism" and give the government the power to remove "terrorist propaganda" from the internet, left unanswered is who defines "terrorism" and "terrorist propaganda". The bill is written in such overly broad terms it could be applied to nearly anything the Conservative government wants to deem criminal.

The introduction of C-51 comes on the heels of news that the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's spy agency, is operating a covert, mass surveillance program that monitors the online activities of millions of Internet users around the world. Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto, likened the CSE program to a "giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives. . . . Everything single thing that you do . . . is being archived, collected and analyzed."

To find out where the nearest rally is to you, click here or here. (Information about the Toronto rally is here.)

Amnesty International lists seven reasons to oppose C-51. Other groups endorsing the rallies include: Leadnow.ca, Idle No More Toronto, Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Occupy Canada, and Greenpeace Canada.

C-51 will expand the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) while also allowing the Conservatives to increase their crackdown on legal political dissent.

Paul Champ, a civil liberties lawyer, said there are serious concerns that C-51 "is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies." Indeed, an internal RCMP report from January 2014, obtained by Greenpeace, reported that the so-called "anti-petroleum" movement is a growing security threat to Canada.

C-51 would relax privacy restrictions, lower the legal threshold for police to obtain a warrant, and allow Canadian authorities to hold suspects without charges for as long as one year. The Toronto Star reported the bill would give 17 security agencies "access to any information in any government department on any Canadian".

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, has sharply criticized the bill, saying it would "allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force". After some initial waffling, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has spoken out against C-51.

Silencing of dissent appears to be one of the bill's main goals. When May asked the public safety and justice ministers during question period if C-51 could be applied to non-violent civil disobedience, such as blockading along a pipeline route, she did not receive a direct answer.

Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said C-51 "proposes an unprecedented expansion of powers that will . . . impose a broad chill on legitimate political speech".

Harper and the Conservatives remain hostile to transparency and accountability. CSIS's internal watchdog was eliminated by the Conservatives in 2012 and C-51 offers little in the way of additional oversight. University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese says the Conservatives want to return to an era when the security services were free to engage in illegal, dirty tricks. He wrote that the bill creates a "secret jurisprudence on when CSIS can act beyond the law".

We must speak out against such obvious anti-democratic activities and resist Harper's totalitarian measures.

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