Defending our liberties in face of Bill C-51 is not a vice

by | Mar 25, 2015 | Opinion

Ian Burns

News Editor


Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock of late, you may have heard about Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The bill does have some good sections.  Certainly removing the barriers that prevent Canadian government agencies from sharing information about potential terrorists can only be good for us.  But C-51 offers some rather Orwellian language on some aspects.

C-51 expands Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s ability to arrest people who “may” commit terrorist acts.   Not “will.”  “May.”  The vague definition of “may” has not been clearly described, which seems to suggest it is up to the government to decide who “may” or “may not” commit a terrorist action – which opens a Pandora’s Box of troubling scenarios.  Can the government decide that a person staging a legal protest “may” be about to commit an act of terror and sic CSIS on them?  This question has not been adequately answered.

Another troubling part of the bill is that CSIS can become involved in looking into any “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada,” which also includes “interference with critical infrastructure” and interfering with the “economic or financial stability of Canada.”

The question that emerges is—what acts would trigger such an action?  Presumably if a terrorist “interferes with critical infrastructure” by blowing up a railway, say, he would be charged with terrorism.  This provision is already in the Criminal Code.  Why the necessity of defining a new class of crime?

And who does it refer to?  Can environmental activists, who block the construction of a pipeline, be targets of CSIS now?  Certainly these actions can be viewed as a crime, but to mention them in the same breath as “terrorism” seems to be a bit of a stretch.  Protesting a pipeline and flying an airplane into the World Trade Center are two very, very different things.

No oversight is offered over CSIS’ actions save the underfunded and understaffed Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC).  When people mention that the United States and the United Kingdom have elected officials who oversee the actions of their nations’ anti-terrorist groups (albeit in closed-door meetings), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his point man on the file, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, hem and haw and don’t tend to offer a good answer why this is bad for Canada despite it working amongst our allies.

Earlier this month, federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said powers under Bill C-51 “are excessive and the privacy safeguards proposed are seriously deficient.”  In my opinion, Mr. Therrien has hit the nail directly on the head.

People of a college-age generation tend to be viewed as apathetic, and there are good reasons for this view.  But with an issue such as this, which has the potential to have serious ramifications on people’s everyday lives, everyone’s voice must be heard, whether in support or opposition.  Let your MP know your opinion.

Barry Goldwater once said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.  I would suggest defending liberty in the face of extremism is no vice, either.