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A few more words about Bill C-51 – a discussion blog for organizers and activists

This blog doesn’t detail what’s wrong with Bill C-51, for that read this, and this

Rather it is to speak to the people, who are organizing actions, attending rallies and signing petitions. The test of many of our movements is our ability to speak outside of the small circles of activists, progressives, or radicals that we are often limited to in this part of the world. On that front, the mobilizing against Bill C-51 is succeeding. And it is at this very point that a few words of caution and strategy need to be laid out.

Now, more than ever, it is critical to ground our mobilizations in the lived realities of who are already being targeted by anti-terror legislation. If this mobilization cannot result in supporting a broad base to support those already, and those most likely to be targeted – it will be an opportunity squandered. It is critical that that we shift the debate in a way that we can both oppose C-51 and not empower the existing systems of domination.

I want to commend those taking a stand C-51, and am writing these words to initiate a discussion on deepening our analysis and work. Here are three suggestions to change some of the ways in which we are speaking about C-51. These are not to say that none of this being said by anyone - rather that more and stronger links need to be made. These are not new ideas. And I urge many of you who are far more astute than I to share your own thoughts in the comments: 

(1) More accountability is not the answer: Many alarm bells have been rung about how the Canadian spy agency CSIS will be getting more powers but without adequate oversight. The lead statement in many writings is that the Bill is simply ineffective. These assertions imply that what is needed is a tweak to the existing structures and perhaps more Parliamentary oversight. That in general, the anti-terror frame must be accepted but perhaps there are more effective means to do so. At this point, we need to remember that whether it is the War Measures Act that imprisoned people of Ukranian descent in World War I and those of Japanese descent during World War II; or the Afghan detainee torture cover-up in 2009, elected officials have often allowed for the quashing of basic rights. Many people despise many of the laws currently in place in Canada, its important to remember that many of them were passed by Parliamentarians. We need to challenge the so-called more 'effective' deradicalization tactics like these groups in Quebec, and not just the heavy handedness of C-51. At the same time, we need to oppose the global imperialist war of terror, that Canada is deeply complicit in, against our communities in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. 

(2) Police agencies regularly break laws, the laws are already broken: C-51 gives extended powers of surveillance to policing agencies. It also allows sharing of information between agencies, and expands the definition of terrorism. It allows the state under exceptional circumstances to detain citizens for 7 days without charges, from the current 2 days. The resulting outcry is that ‘our’ charter rights are being violated, and that the government is violating the constitution. At this time, we must insist loudly and repeatedly that law enforcement always breaks existing laws. Whether it’s the disgusting practice of carding in Toronto where the police have a file on almost every black man in the city; or multiple exposes of RCMP surveilling and intimidating pipelines protestors, or G20 protestors – only pointing out what’s wrong in the law ignores that laws are rarely followed. We are hearing now that Canadian officials may have been directly involved in supporting transnational recruitment for ISIS, in return for permanent residency. Not only must we insist that laws are broken, we must show that they are not broken uniformly. Rather specific people in specific communities – indigenous people, racialized people, Muslims - without tremendous social networks are the ones that caught in their cross-hairs. Where the state oversteps and goes after someone with greater social access – the response is swift and push back strong. The vast numbers of people incarcerated in Canada are indigenous and black people that aren’t activists with social movement support behind them. And the large majority of people that are targeted as terrorists aren’t even charged criminally. We must remind people that there are hundreds of people in immigration detention in Canada that are detained without charges of trial – indefinitely. This includes anti-apartheid icon, Mbuyisa Makhubu who has been jailed for 13 years. We must remind people that when Indigenous people and allies hold strong, whether its Oka or Elsipogtog, the state will use its complete force to shut it down – and that’s legal under their laws. 

(3) The entire anti-terror regime needs to be challenged: Soon after the shootings in Ottawa, the RCMP went on the record saying it was reopening a number of old cases. More recently, RCMP head honcho Bob Paulson said that they have sidelined 320 ‘significant criminal’ investigations to focus on counter-terrorism. The result has been a slew of terror-related arrests, all of Muslim men, most without full immigration status. One of the first was Aqeeq Ansaari, arrested days after the shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Mr Ansaari has no criminal charges, and untested assertions about him are being quoted as fact in the media. He faces revocation of his status. More recently, on March 11th, Jahanzeb Malik, a father and permanent resident in Canada was arrested by Canada Border Services Agency. Though the newspapers report that Mr Malik who has lived in Canada since 2004 is being held for plotting to bomb Bay Street and US Embassy in Toronto – he is not being charged. Immigration law is being used to revoke his status and deport him. The silence on the actual people being targeted under so-called counter-terror policing by many of the organizations speaking out on Bill C-51 has been deafening. Neither is there mention of the unjustifiable and continued imprisonment and detention of Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Harkat – three Muslim men charged under so-called Security Certificate trials, jailed without charges or trial, under secret information, for decades. We need to support those being charged for terrorism now, and share resources to read media assertions about new 'terror' arrests critically.

A question of strategy that always emerges is we have to simplify our stances to speak to a broad enough groups of people. I agree, I also think we need to trust the people turning out these protests and actions and not just cater to fear, hype and historic amnesia. Including these three points (and others likely in the comments below) will only make our movements stronger, not just now but in the years to come. 

If you are in Toronto, and want to insist that you have taken confrontational actions for justice in the past, and will continue to in the future, come to this event to continue this discussion.  

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