In the aftermath of the Ottawa shooting last October, I wrote an article on how the emerging Islamophobia is a threat to our country’s multiculturalism and could lead to the infringement of civil liberties. This shooting has no doubt sent the country into a state of polarization regarding whether liberty or security should triumph as a response to the tragedy. One side views liberty as indispensable in the aftermath of the shooting and therefore vouches to maintain an adherence to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The other side views the event as a failure in the security of Canadians and therefore vouches to ramp up the powers of the government to combat the fears of future threats.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada have opted for the latter response and have been on a crusade to strengthen Canadian security from extremist and terrorist activities. In the pursuit of strengthening our security, the Harper government has put forward Bill C-51 (or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015) as an attempt to make a multitude of changes. Some of these changes range from amending the Criminal Code of Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to enacting the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act. In any regard, these changes are unnecessary, vague, and disgracefully illiberal for a country such as Canada. While my fellow Canadian colleague, Vanessa Walsh, has recently discussed how anti-liberty this legislation is in a great article, I seek to showcase some of the more specific issues with Bill C-51.
For starters, the Security of Canadian Information Sharing Act authorizes the Government of Canada and other government institutions to disclose information about Canadian citizens amongst each other “in order to protect Canada against activities that undermine the security of Canada.” This could indirectly lead to a governmental information sharing network that has the ability to easily lead to the establishment of databases on individuals, whether it is their health records or educational background. Though specific government institutions have access to this information already, checks and balances on the distribution of this information amongst non-related government institutions is absent, because there is no process of independent review to be found in the legislation. And like many pieces of anti-terrorism legislation around the world, the definition of what undermines security is very vague. And due to this vagueness, the privacy rights of Canadian citizens can easily be infringed upon, whether Aboriginal or Quebecois sovereigntists, purely because of the clause that mentions the undermining of “territorial integrity” as a threat to Canadians.
The Secure Air Travel Act also raises many concerns regarding the undermining of Canadian civil liberties. In this act, instead of sharing information between different Canadian government institutions being the issue, the issue is sharing information between nation-states, particularly Canada’s no-fly list. Like the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, there is no independent review in the process to protect the sovereignty of the Canadian people’s information, nor is there any way to challenge the placement of Canadian citizens on the no-fly list in the first place. (more…)