By Michael Keefer, SFSC Member
The Harper government’s Bill C-51, or Anti-Terrorism Act, has been in the public domain for over a month. Long enough for us to know that it subverts basic principles of constitutional law, assaults rights of free speech and free assembly, and is viciously anti-democratic.
An unprecedented torrent of criticism has been directed against this bill as the government rushes it through Parliament. This has included stern or at least sceptical editorials in all the major newspapers; an open letter, signed by four former Prime Ministers and five former Supreme Court judges, denouncing the bill for exposing Canadians to major violations of their rights; and another letter, signed by a hundred Canadian law professors, explaining the dangers it poses to justice and legality.
As its critics have shown, the bill isn’t really about terrorism: it’s about smearing other activities by association―and then suppressing them in ways that would formerly have been flagrantly illegal. The bill targets, among others, people who defend the treaty rights of First Nations, people who oppose tar sands, fracking, and bitumen-carrying pipelines as threats to health and the environment, and people who urge that international law be peacefully applied to ending Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. (Members of this latter group include significant numbers of Canadian Jews.)
But the Anti-Terrorism Act is more mortally dangerous to Canadian democracy than even these indications would suggest. A central section of the act empowers CSIS agents to obtain judicial warrants―on mere suspicion, with no requirement for supporting evidence―that will allow them to supplement other disruptive actions against purported enemies of Harperland with acts that directly violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other Canadian laws.
The only constraints placed on this legalized law-breaking are that CSIS agents shall not “(a) cause, intentionally or by criminal negligence, death or bodily harm to an individual; (b) wilfully attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice; or (c) violate the sexual integrity of an individual.”
The second of these prohibitions―occurring in the midst of a bill that seeks systematically to obstruct citizens in the exercise of their rights, pervert justice, and defeat democracy―might tempt one to believe that there is a satirist at work within the Department of Justice. (Note, however, that CSIS agents can obstruct, pervert and defeat to their hearts’ content, so long as they do so haphazardly, rather than “wilfully.”)
But the first and third clauses amount to an authorization of torture. Continue reading →