BILL C-51: Even with Amendments, C-51 Should Worry Activists

BILL C-51: Even with Amendments, C-51 Should Worry Activists

Postby Oscar » Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:29 am

Even with Amendments, C-51 Should Worry Activists

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History shows 'lawful protest' clause a flimsy shield against surveillance, dirty tricks.

By Reg Whitaker, March 28, 2015,

A storm of criticism has engulfed the Harper government's Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act.

One of the leading points of contention is whether peaceful protesters will be caught up in the wide anti-terrorist net cast by the new legislation.

Opponents point to the expansive definition of national security threats that would now include ''interference'' with ''critical infrastructure'' or with ''the economic or financial stability of Canada.'' They suggest this could include, for example, First Nations and environmental protests against pipeline megaprojects. It's no surprise these groups feel anxious. Among other things, C-51 provides for increased information sharing, an expanded no-fly list, and new CSIS powers, including secret judicial warrants that permit agents to use any means -- even break the law -- to reduce threats.

Until Friday, the government's position was entirely dismissive. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney bluntly asserted: ''These allegations are completely false and, frankly, ridiculous.'' Again and again, government spokespersons cited a clause defining what a security threat isn't: ''For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.'' For Mr. Blaney, case closed.

But for critics, the word ''lawful'' excludes peaceful civil disobedience, wildcat strikes, or any demonstration that technically breaks a law. Witnesses appearing before the House of Commons safety committee told government the legislation still violates First Nations and environmental groups' Charter rights.

In the first indication of willingness to bend in the face of criticism, A CBC report suggests government may soon amend the bill to ''narrow the scope of what might be captured as a terrorist-related activity.''

Before declaring victory, critics should recognize that even if a ''lawful'' protest is defined more generously, there is a much bigger problem here. ''Lawful advocacy, protest or dissent'' -- already present in the CSIS Act -- is a flimsy shield against intrusive surveillance of peaceful protest, as a quick look at history attests.


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