Harper’s new terror laws must respect Canadians’ fundamental rights: watchdogs

by: Obert Madondo  | Published Wednesday, Oct 29, 2014

Canada's privacy watchdogs are concerned about the Harper government's announced intention to enhance the powers of intelligence and security agencies such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). (Photo: OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive)

Canada’s privacy watchdogs are concerned about the Harper government’s announced intention to enhance the powers of intelligence and security agencies such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). (Photo: OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive)

Tougher anti-terror and surveillance laws are coming. Canada’s provincial and federal privacy commissioners are concerned.

The watchdogs are warning the Harper Conservatives against using the recent attacks in Quebec and Ottawa as a pretext to curtail Canadians’ fundamental rights. The government has linked both attacks to terrorism and radicalization. It has signaled its intention exploit the attacks to further blur the line between legitimate dissent and terrorism.

“The following days, weeks and months will be critical in determining the future course of action to ensure not only that Canada remains a safe country, but also that our fundamental rights and freedoms are upheld. Legislative changes being contemplated may alter the powers of intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” said the watchdogs in a statement.

“We acknowledge that security is essential to maintaining our democratic rights. At the same time, the response to such events must be measured and proportionate, and crafted so as to preserve our democratic values.”

The Conservative government has signaled its intention to fully exploit the attacks to implement an Orwellian national security agenda. A police state-style expansion of surveillance and policing powers is imminent.

A day after the Ottawa shooting of Canadian Forces member Cpl Nathan Cirillo, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons:

“In recent weeks I’ve been saying that our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, attention and arrest. They need to be much strengthened and I assure members that work which is already under way will be expedited…

“For now, make no mistake, even as the brave men and women of our Armed Forces are taking this fight to the terrorists on their own territory, we are equally resolved to fight it here.”

On Monday, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney introduced Bill C-44 in the House of Commons. The bill, deceptively christened the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act,” seeks to amend the “outdated” Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act. It would expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Bill C-44 would give Canada’s chief spy agency the power “to more effectively investigate threats to the security of Canada.”

“We are taking a clear stand against those who are committing atrocities against innocent civilians,” said Blaney on Monday. “We are also discussing how this action works in tandem with our efforts here in Canada under the Counterterrorism Strategy to address terrorist threats and to prevent Canadians from travelling to the Middle East, joining ISIL and other terrorist groups.”

Bill C-44 would also give CSIS the power to conduct espionage activities abroad. It would allow CSIS to follow in the footsteps of Canada’s secretive signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which currently collaborates with the so-called “Five Eyes” gang comprising Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K. and United States.

Leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden have confirmed that CSEC conducted widespread surveillance in Canada during the G8 and G20 summits in Toronto in 2010. The agency also reportedly spied on Canadian travelers. Late last year, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a lawsuit against CSEC, claiming that the agency’s “broad and unchecked surveillance of Canadians is unconstitutional.”

Harper’s Commons speech mentioned “our laws and police powers”. Bill C-44 is just the beginning.

The Conservatives are likely to use the attacks suppress opponents of the government’s dictatorship-style actions and policies. In a statement release Sunday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the national police force, tied the Ottawa shootings to ideology and domestic politics.

“The RCMP has identified persuasive evidence that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack was driven by ideological and political motives,” said the statement.

Canada’s privacy commissioners, who are assembled in the capital for their annual general meeting, are proposing three specific measures to ensure that the Conservatives’ new anti-terror laws respect Canadians’ fundamental rights. These are:

  • An evidence-based approach when debating the need for new legislation, including granting additional powers to police and security agencies.
  • Bringing Canadians into an open dialogue about any new measures, including transparently laying out the nature and scope of those measures.
  • Ensuring any new powers come with effective oversight for police and security agencies using those powers.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter.com/Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.