October 9, 2015

Welcome to the Canadian Police State

Kurt Biray

The draconian Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51) is a hot topic and election issue for the federal political parties as well as grassroots organizations and activist groups. The notorious and highly criticized Bill C-51 received Royal Assent and became law earlier this year, amending the Criminal Code of Canada and outright violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the Harper Conservatives and their support base, Bill C-51 is an attempt to strengthen Canada's national security by targeting suspected terrorist activities at home and abroad. For the vast majority of Canadians, this law is a direct and blatant infraction of our democratic, civil and labour rights.

The purpose of this legislation is to extend police powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), RCMP and law enforcement agencies, primarily giving CSIS the ability to disrupt any potential “threats to Canada's national security”. CSIS was created in 1984 by the Mulroney Government as an intelligence gathering agency, after a series of scandals created by the RCMP’s trampling of civil liberties. The Harper Government has extended CSIS’ mandate, turning it into a secret police force.

With judicial authority, CSIS now has the power to shut down or remove radical websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts (whatever they deem as being radical) and to collect personal information and documents (ex. bank account and travel information) from suspected terrorists. CSIS' extended mandate and augmented powers have many Canadians wondering how their fundamental freedoms will be compromised by the Harper Government.

Many Canadians are apprehensive with regards to the enactment of Bill C-51 and their questions and concerns are perfectly legitimate. The most troubling and dubious aspect of this legislation is its ambiguity. There is very little information regarding the legal parameters and judicial limits of the various provisions of Bill C-51. For example, one of the most questionable and draconian stipulations "criminalizes the advocacy or glorification of terrorism". This provision on its own can be interpreted indefinitely. Does this pertain to jihadi terrorism only? Does it also pertain to political dissidents and lawful protesters who are disgruntled with the Harper Government's right-wing fiscal and foreign policy agendas? What about activists who speak in favor of boycotting Israel, who the Harper government’s friends have already labelled as supporters of terrorism.

Another stipulation of this legislation "outlaws any threat to Canada's economic security". Is this applicable to public and private sector unions that lawfully go on strike due to a loss in benefits, poor working conditions and frozen wages? Harper’s back-to-work legislation against workers at Air Canada and Canada Post used “economic security” arguments to remove labour rights. These questions remain unanswered.

The Conservative Government claims that the purpose of Bill C-51 is to target and disrupt terrorist-related activities. However, it seems that this law intends to target and crush groups and organizations on the political left. This includes the labour movement, Aboriginal movements, environmentalists (esp. pipeline protesters) and socialists/communists. The government intends to shut down any political dissent or lawful protests under the pretense of targeting suspected terrorists and terror-related activities.

The Harper Conservatives made some minor and insignificant amendments to Bill C-51 in Parliament earlier this year. “Lawful” protest and dissent were excluded from the bill and CSIS' ability to "make arrests" was downgraded to "disrupt potential threats to Canada's national security". The amendments still remain ambiguous. For example, how will CSIS, RCMP and law enforcement distinguish between what is “lawful” and “unlawful”? Can lawful protest and dissent be interpreted as being unlawful? This already happens extremely regularly, for example police in Montreal have made it a habit of declaring protests illegal the moment they assemble, using anti-democratic municipal legislation.

The federal parties and leaders hold differing views regarding Bill C-51 as it is an integral component of their election platforms. The Conservatives obviously support the law in its entirety. The Liberals want to see more amendments to the legislation and the NDP and Greens want to outright repeal it. The Communist Party of Canada was the first to speak out against the Bill and wants to repeal it and dismantle CSIS. With this information, it is clear that the political left and all defenders of democratic rights in this country must mobilize and work towards preventing the Conservatives or Liberals from forming a government after the October 19th federal election. If the Liberals get elected, they must be forced to change their position and repeal the legislation. The vast majority of Canadians want to see this law repealed as it threatens their basic and fundamental freedoms, undoubtedly violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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