Stephen Harper wants you to be afraid. VERY afraid. If you’re frightened, you likely won’t question his and his party’s destruction of the country, the decaying economy, job losses, homelessness, the ignored murder of aboriginal women, the muffled and cowed bureaucracy, hobbling the CBC, undermining Canadian science and scientists, and our waning credibility on the world stage.
And if you’re scared, you certainly won’t challenge him or his party over the introduction of Bill C51 – ostensibly an “anti-terrorism” bill but one that threatens to take away your rights and advance Harper’s private agenda.
And, of course, it’s his tactic for winning the next federal election: by appearing Canada’s sole defender against the boogeyman of terrorism, while tarring his opponents with the epithet “soft on terror.”
But while all Canadians are concerned about the threat terrorist post to our society, our institutions and our way of life, it seems few of us think Harper’s Orwellian, Big Brother state is worth the trade. Some of us even wonder why the bill seems to ignore the growing cyber-security threats from Asia and Russia, and focus so much on Islamist extremists.
Harper has been accused by opposition leaders of fostering intolerance towards Muslims:
Tom Mulcair accused him of fostering “intolerance” and helping create “Islamophobia.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who began the attacks earlier this week by accusing Harper of spreading “fear” and “prejudice” of Muslims, jumped into the fray again on Wednesday.
But in reality, all Canadians should be worried by this bill. As the Globe and Mail noted in an editorial in February, “Anti-terrorism bill will unleash CSIS on a lot more than terrorists…”
Why does the bill do so much more than fight terrorism? One part of Bill C-51 creates a new definition of an “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada” that includes “terrorism,” “interference with critical infrastructure” and “interference with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada….”
So what is this other class of security-underminer the bill refers to? A political party that advocates Quebec independence (there goes our “territorial integrity”)? Indian activists who disrupt a train line? Environmental activists denounced as radicals by a cabinet minister?
… if Bill C-51 passes, CSIS will be able to disrupt anything its political masters believe might be a threat. As the bill is currently written, that includes a lot more than terrorism.
But it’s not just Bill C-51 that’s a threat to civil liberty. The government also has Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, in the wings. As the Huffington Post notes,
The bill would allow CSIS to seek a judicial warrant to investigate a security threat — “within or outside Canada.” The warrant could be issued “without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state,” the legislation states.
An editorial on Rabble noted,
Bill C-44 is a systematic attempt by the government to circumvent the limits Canadian courts have placed on its investigative and surveillance powers, through legislative amendments. It expands the powers of CSIS to allow for surveillance activities in Canada and abroad, consequentially allowing CSEC to intercept, or allow other foreign agencies to intercept, telecommunications of Canadian citizens when travelling abroad.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter said it was “debatable” whether terrorism should be considered the most serious issue facing Parliament, but acknowledged it has become a political wedge issue: “It’s an issue of the times… But it comes from several avenues. One, the Prime Minister has overheated the terrorism fear.”
The Hill Times commented on the near-obsessive hold it has on Canadian politics:
Four House and Senate committees are studying what the federal government can do to prevent terrorism and protect Canadians, a “palpable” concern that MPs and Senators say is indicative of the government’s messaging, mass media coverage, and public fear.
At The Tyee points out, Bill C51 gives government the unparalleled power to suppress dissent:
Bill C-51 gives the government the ability to designate an extraordinarily broad range of activities as potential security threats. The government claims it will use good judgment when deciding which individuals and groups constitute true threats. Whether or not a group is deemed a national security threat may hinge on whether their cause is politically popular or in line with the views of the government.
… if the bill passes; the average Canadian has little hope of feeling confident that their legitimate political activity hasn’t inadvertently crossed the line. Bill C-51’s expansive language means many Canadians will likely choose not to express themselves — even in completely legal ways — rather than risk prosecution. Legitimate speech will be chilled, and our democracy will be worse off for it.
Which of course suppresses democracy and the pillar of free speech that keeps it aloft. But the Harper government has never liked free speech, much less dissent, so that comes as no surprise.
In another editorial, titled Parliament must reject Harper’s secret policeman bill, the Globe and Mail published:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper never tires of telling Canadians that we are at war with the Islamic State. Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.
Similarly, The Star weighed in with an editorial titled, Bill C-51 threatens to sacrifice liberty for security:
Ignoring the most effective way to protect both our security and liberties to win the fear vote on terror is a Faustian bargain of selling the soul of your democratic principles for power. Could it be that his refusal is also based on the need for maximum opposition to the legislation so those who disagree with the bill can be slammed as “soft on terror”?
The Canadian Constitution Foundation, examining Bill C51, noted:
If you post an anonymous blog about a sensitive political subject—say, criticizing Canada’s military role in Afghanistan—it’s now legal for the authorities to have your post wiped from the web and have you tracked down and put behind bars.
And as the Ottawa Citizen pointed out, it’s already happening. Harper’s people are challenging anyone who speaks out against the bill, attacking their credibility, even suggesting that any opposition to their agenda is pro-terrorist:
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney Tuesday has spoken out against the “so-called experts” who oppose C-51. Those individuals include former prime ministers, retired Supreme Court justices, eminent former politicians, national security legal academics and constitutional scholars…
Tory MP Rick Norlock questioned Carmen Cheung, senior counsel for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, a group that opposes the bill.
“Is there any degree of checks and balances that would satisfy you?” he asked Cheung. “Are you simply fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the street?”
And the Tories are completely unrepentant over their “‘McCarthyesque’ attacks on security-bill critics,” as Ian McLeod writes:
Conservative MPs ignored opposition demands Friday to apologize to some of Canada’s leading environmentalists, civil liberty advocates and Muslims for remarks that appeared to insinuate critics were national security threats because they spoke out against the government’s security legislation.
…Conservative MP LaVar Payne. Addressing Joanne Kerr, executive-director of Greenpeace Canada, on the bill’s measures for greater sharing of Canadians’ personal information between government departments, he said: “The purpose of the act is sharing for national security threats, so it makes me wonder if your organization is a national security threat?”
As the Stop C-51 sites tells us, if the bill passes, at least 17 government agencies, plus foreign governments, will also have access to your confidential and what you once believed was private information. And…
This bill disproportionately targets indigenous communities, environmental activists, dissidents, and Muslims, many of whom are already subjected to questionable and overreaching powers by security officials. This bill will make it easier and ostensibly lawful for government to continue infringing upon the rights of peaceful people.
Sure, we all want a safe country, we all want to be free from fear and not have to worry about extremists with hostile intention. But is this the way to get that? I don’t think so. The cost to our civil liberties, the cost to our freedoms and civil rights is far too high. And the result look a lot too much like a nascent police state for me to to be comfortable.