By Debby Gregorash
For the Sunny South News
The Harper government is fast tracking Bill C-51, which is being called, the “Secret Police” Bill. Last October, a mentally ill man murdered a soldier in Ottawa and put out a video saying he was seeking revenge for Canadian forces invading Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember watching the news that day and I turned to my husband and said, “This is just the opportunity Harper was looking for to turn us into a police state.”
Harper has been capitalizing on the fear of terrorism, trying to whip up panic in order to pass legislation that will take away privacy rights and freedoms, which is ironic because Harper says the jihadists want to take away our freedom. Well, if Harper’s bill passes, they’ve won.
Privacy Commissioner David Therrien says Canadians want to be safe but they also care profoundly about their privacy rights. Even the Globe and Mail editorial board, which endorsed Harper’s election, is accusing Harper of using his new spying law to create a secret police force. Therrien says the bill would provide 17 federal government agencies with almost limitless powers to monitor and profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them. They would be aware of all interactions you and I have with the government including tax information and details about our business and vacation travel. “The loss of privacy is clearly excessive. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security and other government agencies to determine the limits of their own powers,” Therrien said.
Currently, 14 of the 17 agencies that will receive information on you are not subject to independent oversight. Peaceful protesters could be targeted by Bill C-51. For example, former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, now finance minister, calls people who march in support of clean water, air, soil and biodiversity — eco-terrorists and radicals. Those trying to stop petroleum pipelines to protect First Nations tribal lands and regional economies are in the legislative rifle-sights of Stephen Harper and his petro friends.
Law professors Forcese of University of Ottawa and Roach of University of Toronto do not have confidence CSIS won’t be used to target political enemies of the government. CSIS has spied on environmental groups, co-operating with the RCMP, the oil industry and government. The Conservatives fight proper environmental assessments and protection. For example, Harper removed protection for 2.5 million lakes and rivers in Canada. Only 82 will be protected. This means there is no protection for all those lakes and rivers, which pipelines will cross.
Harper has pushed the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate environmental charities, making no effort to hide his contempt of any group that might criticize this government’s adulation of Alberta’s fossil fuel export economy.
This vague, “Secret Police,” Bill risks criminalizing speech, by making it illegal for anyone to advocate or “promote” terrorism. The thing is, who gets to interpret what is promoting terrorism and who gets to define what terrorism is? Minister Joe Oliver thinks I’m a terrorist because I defend nature. The Bill talks about “preventative arrests.”
The Harper government shut down the office of CSIS inspector general in 2012 and replaced it with the after-the-fact Security Intelligence Review Committee, a part-time committee that amounts to nothing. There will be essentially no oversight of CSIS. Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officer Francois Lavigne is worried about Bill C-51. He finds it convenient radicalized people are in the limelight when more Canadians are killed by drunk drivers and gang violence.
On Mar. 6, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson said the current legislation would be enough to lay charges against someone like the Ottawa shooter, that there was no problem with sharing information between government agencies.
We need full Parliamentary hearings on Bill C-51 in order to hear what CSIS experts have to say.