A couple Mondays ago Brant MP and member of the Harper Government, Phil McColeman spoke to my political journalism class for our weekly assignment. He brought up a topic that caught my attention, one that has been a continuous debate reported across Canada’s media over the past few months: Bill C-51.
Now, before McColeman briefly touched on this, I had not known too much about the act besides the negative reactions it has received in respect to going against civil liberties such as a loss of personal freedom. McColeman spoke of this bill as a way of giving the proper tools to authorities such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP to be able to prevent terrorist events from happening such as the recent attack on Parliament Hill in October.
During this specific instance McColeman explained, “As police usually do, they had them pegged as dangerous people but they could not do anything about that. They had no powers to do anything about that. The fact that they had records of what their activity was, the fact that they were being watched didn’t matter; they could not do anything about it.” This fact is exactly what McColeman said sparked the government’s direction in preventing future terrorist attacks.
The Walrus outlines “the good, the bad… And the truly ugly” of Bill C-51 in a February article. The bad outlines the possibility of aggressive interrogation, which I completely agree with and believe it is something that should and could be added to Bill C-51. It also outlines the possibility of detaining an innocent person, which yes is likely to happen from time to time, but also still happens in our legal system today outside of terrorism activities. This is a risk we are willing to take in order to ensure the proper safety of our country. The last point of bad is the new information-sharing regime between government institutions. They feel the category of “activities that undermine the security of Canada” to be dangerously broad, I wonder how?
“The ugly” The Walrus touches on is the power this bill gives to police and prosecutors. But as McColeman explained, “There’s two layers of oversight you could say. One, civilian, one judicial.”McColeman noted that all branches of CISIS and RCMP have civilian oversight sitting on the board, even at the national level. On top of that, these extension of Bill C-51 have to first be presented and reviewed by a judicial court before the process can be put in to effect. The Walrus explains the worry of censoring and seizing “terrorist propaganda” because the term is again so broad. But is it really? They are worrying about citizens posting material that may be distantly linked to terrorist violence. But, why would anybody be posting anything distantly related to terrorist violence in the first place? The main radical “ugly” of Bill C-51 is outlined as the changes to CSIS that go against our personal freedoms and privacy. Honestly, what are you people hiding? Get over yourselves. The government doesn’t care about your kinky porn sites, they are looking for people who want to explode buildings. Jesus.
McColeman said “many of the things in Bill C-51 today – if you were to read them and to understand the bill – most Canadian’s would react saying, ‘I thought that was already being done. I thought the police already had these powers.’”So I thought I would go through it and see if this were true.
This bill has five specific parts that enacts the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, to the Secure Air Travel Act, and amends the Criminal code, the CSIS Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The first enacts the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, this authorizes government institutions to disclose information to other government institutions that have jurisdiction or responsibilities involving the security of Canada. It also makes amendments to other acts that are related to this same outcome. McColeman is correct, this is something that I would have assumed the government already has jurisdiction to do. I had no idea different government institutions were keeping information from one another before this.
Part two enacts the Secure Air Travel Act, which is a new legislative framework for identifying and responding to people that may pose a threat to transportation security, or who travel for the purpose of committing possible terrorist related offenses. This gives the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness the authorization to create a list of suspected people that fall under this category. Again, I thought, and do believe there was already a list like this. According to the “good” reported by The Walrus, there was a “no fly list” but it was not adequately put into place with proper checks and balances as this act now does. The act even outlines the proper recourse process for a person that does try flying and is on this list that includes appeal procedures.
The third part amends the Criminal Code with respect to recognizances that keep the peace relating to terrorist activities or offenses. This extends their duration, provides new thresholds and gives judges the authorization to include recognizance conditions regarding passports and specified areas. Again, something one would assume has already been put forward in law, and exactly what restricted authorities from preventing the attack on Parliament Hill. But this part also amends the Criminal Code by adding the offense of knowingly advocating or promoting terrorism offenses, which I would have totally thought was a law already as well, and it provides judges with the authority to shut down propaganda involving terrorist activities. All I see this doing is help stop the manipulation of recruitment to terrorism organizations. Lastly, this amendment provides an increased protection for witnesses. Obviously, this is a great addition.
Part four amends the CSIS Act, which permits them to take measures inside and outside of Canada to reduce national security offenses. I am not quite sure what these measurements are, so this is a moment where I may not be able to continue my argument without further information. But this amendment also gives the Federal Court the authority to give effect to warrants issued under this act, and new reporting requirements of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. Which actually sounds more beneficial for our civilian surveillance as long as we are able to see what these requirements are, and know that they are being properly followed.
The final part amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This defines obligations related to the provision of information in proceedings, authorizes judges with the request of the Minister to exempt the Minister from having to provide special advocate for relevant information that has not been first filed with the Federal Court, and allows the Minister to appeal or apply for judicial reviews if the disclosure of information could affect national security or the safety of that person. Which seems to be a better safe than sorry type of situation in my opinion. I know this may go against the personal freedoms of refugees and immigrants, but knowing who exactly we are bringing into our country is kind of a big deal, and otherwise overrules that right.
I can completely see where people are coming from with their opposing views to this legislation, but I can also see the reasons behind the legislation overruling those views. There are always going to be two sides to a story, but it is the most important that should be followed. Maybe this legislation is missing some key points, but it is a great start and I am happy that our government is taking security issues in Canada seriously.