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Indigenous Nationhood

Pamela Palmater's picture
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.

Harper may have just turned Indigenous activists into terrorists

| February 12, 2015
Harper may have just turned Indigenous activists into terrorists

Prime Minister Harper's Conservative government has introduced Bill C-51 The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015,  which it claims is needed to protect Canadians from terrorism. Experts and commentators have called the bill, which will create a secret police force for Harper: terrifying, illegal, unconstitutional, dictatorial and totalitarianism. In case you don't know what totalitarianism means, it's a term usually reserved for fascist (extremist or dictatorial) leaders that lead a centralist government that does not tolerate differences of opinion and tries to exercise dictatorial control over many aspects of public and private life -- including thought. Voila: Bill C-51.

The media reports that the Liberals and NDP have all but acquiesced to the bill and will only offer mild resistance in the form of suggested amendments. They may even call for some oversight, but will not challenge the massive violations of Canadian rights, liberties and freedoms which are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and constitutionally protected. And this is how it happens. Dictators throughout history have only been able to do what they did to their citizenry because they were permitted to do so. No single man has the power to destroy a country governed by the people for the people -- unless the powerful people around the dictator allow it to happen.

In a world where Canada used to pit environmentalists, scientists, doctors, teachers, and even bird-watchers against First Nations who peacefully defended their lands, Idle No More helped bring us together. As treaty and territorial allies, First Nations and Canadians face a formidable foe and threat to our collective futures. Idle No More raised awareness about the break down in democracy in general and human and Aboriginal rights specifically. Hundreds of thousands of people across Canada rose up against Bill C-45 -- the large, unconstitutional omnibus bill pushed through Parliament without debate which threatened our lakes and rivers. This time, the threat is personal -- any one of us could go to jail for thinking or voicing our opinions.

All of the rights, freedoms and liberties upon which Canadian democracy rests will be suspended with Bill C-51. This bill creates what has been described as Harper's "Secret Police force" with terrifying expanded powers. The purpose of the bill is to eliminate any "threat to security of Canada" which includes any activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada. It also includes some of the following:

  • interference with the administration of justice;
  • interference with diplomatic relations;
  • the economic or financial stability of Canada;
  • terrorism; and 
  • interference with critical infrastructure.

The specific powers granted under the bill greatly expand the powers of CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) from an organization that collects and analyzes information related to security -- to one which can take law enforcement action. They are further empowered to take measures against anything they deem to constitute a threat to Canada -- inside or outside of the country. Additional anti-terrorism powers under the bill include:

  • Materials deemed to be terrorist propaganda can be seized or removed from a website;
  • Standards of investigation and arrest will be lowered from proof to suspicion;
  • Police may arrest someone if they merely "think" that a terrorist act "may" be carried out; and
  • Deny air transportation to anyone who they "suspect" may be engaging in terrorist activity.

According to security law experts like Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, this new offence of "advocating or promoting terrorism" is not at all clear and Canadians should be extremely concerned about its conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One of their concerns is that it gives the police "substantial and unusually invasive powers" to be exercised under their own discretion. A significant change from offences against the promotion of hatred is the fact that anti-terrorism applies to statements made in private and implies extensive wire-tapping. They fear this bill will result in "speech chill" -- the fear to exercise our right to free speech.

For First Nations, this completes the circle of criminalizing every aspect of who we are as Mi'kmaw, Maliseet, Mohawk and Cree Nations. When they made it against the law to be a Mi'kmaw person, our population was reduced by 80 per cent for the scalping bounties placed on our heads. When speaking our languages and practicing our culture was considered anti-Canadian, they enacted laws to outlaw our ceremonies and killed upwards of 50 per cent of our children they forced into residential schools. When we refused to die off, they forcibly sterilized our Indigenous women and girls without their knowledge and consent to reduce our populations. Standing by and watching our Indigenous women and girls go murdered and missing was a gross violation of our right to life by the RCMP, provincial police and Canadian governments.

When we survived, Canada made our traditional way of life a criminal act -- hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering became criminal or regulatory offences which landed us in jail, resulted in beatings by the RCMP and/or our gear, vehicles and boats were seized. The defense and protection of what little lands we have left resulted in Canada bringing out the RCMP and army to stop our people. When we drummed and danced in Idle No More, we became the targets of illegal monitoring, publicly vilified and categorized as radicals, militants and terrorists. Now, our very voices, our private discussions and even the defense of our sovereignty is now an act of "terrorism."

We warned Canadians, that what happens to First Nations under Harper's dictatorial regime is just a sign of things to come for Canadians. To Canadians who value their freedoms, the beauty and bounty of our shared lands and waters, and the peaceful right to live the good life as you see fit -- everything is about to change. Canadians will, for the first time, be treated like First Nations people - without the protection of their basic rights, freedoms and liberties. Even someone who retweets or reposts a comment made by someone else on Facebook could potentially be captured under this sweeping legislation. Our ideas themselves will now be criminalized. Our private lives and opinions will be invaded, monitored and criminalized. For Canadians, this is a frightening new turn of events that may well override our basic human rights, liberties and freedoms -- an end to Canada as a democracy as you've known it. 

Our decades long experiences with murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, Starlight tours and the deaths of our Indigenous men while in police custody, the wrongful shootings of our unarmed peaceful protestors, the over-imprisonment of our Indigenous men and women, and the palpable fear many of us have of law enforcement will be part of the Canadian reality unless we stop this Bill now. We are allies in this territory. First Nations fought alongside Canadians in many wars to protect these lands. We lived up to our treaty obligations to protect you and be your allies. Now it's time for Canadians to stand up and restore this treaty and allied relationship - and protect our collective rights.

Canada has violated First Nations' constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights and basic human rights for decades. If we do not stand together now, this is what Canadians have to look forward to for their children. Please act to stop Bill C-51 now -- before it becomes an act of terrorism to even speak about.




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