The government is listening to Canadians. Now, that statement has a completely different meaning. The federal government is engaging in wide-ranging public consultations, seeking input from Canadians about how to amend our national security framework and Bill C-51. They have released a National Security Green Paper and Background Document for comment, posted a series of online questions covering ten focus areas, and committed to hosting town halls across the country.
We need you to tell the government exactly what you think needs to be changed with this law to protect your rights.
You've got till December 1 to make an online submission to the consultation. Here's why you should do it.
Bill C-51 and other anti-terrorism laws undermine your rights and freedoms everyday
Thanks to Bill C-51 your confidential information and interactions with the government are fair game for sharing between departments, meaning your private information will no longer be private. Innocent words on controversial can be interpreted as terrorism, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. Online posts can be censored, and your right to remain anonymous online violated, if you share content that a judge considers "terrorist propaganda," even if you condemn the material in question. Protesting could put you under government surveillance. And customs officers now have powers to search your belongings and seize anything they consider terrorist propaganda, including computer and phone searches.
We'll be living with the results for decades
Unjust laws have a nasty habit of sticking around. National security laws and intelligence gathering procedures can subvert and undermine freedom of expression and privacy rights to an enormous extent, and the results of this consultation will shape crucial aspects of the free expression landscape far into the future.
For example, the War Measures Act was passed in 1914, providing the state with powers of "censorship and the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication," among others. The law enabled rights violations on a massive scale. Justified as an extraordinary measure in response to the outbreak of the First World War, the War Measures Act was not repealed until 1988, 74 years after the war came to a close. This was the same year that Canada officially apologized to Japanese-Canadians interned during the Second World War, an action given legal basis by the War Measures Act. Who will future Prime Ministers being apologizing to for today’s human rights violations? We can’t let this chance go by to fundamentally change the national security paradigm in Canada.
Intelligence agencies and industry lobbyists have already had their say
The public consultations just began, but intelligence agencies and national security officials have been lobbying behind the scenes since the day the Liberal government came to power. The government has spent the past year and a half listening to law enforcement officials, surveillance lobbyists and spooks telling them that they desperately need these powers. We've put in Access to Information requests to try to shed light on what the government heard and who it talked to, but we can take some educated guesses on what they were told. As Michael Vonn of the BCCLA says, the government’s green paper "reads like it was drafted by a public relations firm tasked with selling the current state of extraordinary, unaccountable powers and if anything, laying the groundwork for extending those even further." We can't let this be a one-sided conversation. We may not have their access, or their economic clout, but we have millions of voices. The government needs to hear from you.
This kind of consultation has never happened before
The scope and nature of the consultation is unprecedented. The government has invited comment not just on Bill C-51 (the Anti Terrorism Act 2015) but on the entirety of the national security framework in Canada. Most of the attention on this issue in the past 18 months have been focused on the reckless, irresponsible Bill C-51, but that doesn’t mean that the national security system we had in Canada before C-51 was any sort of ideal (on the contrary). It’s also the first time that the government has consulted on national security policy, which is usually kept totally opaque to public scrutiny and input. We may not get another shot like this for decades.
Too many people are getting away with claiming Canadians don’t care
Are you tired of hearing stuff like this?
Or this, totally misleading take offered wholly without evidence?
So are we. Let's make sure that no one is under the false impression that Canadians don't care about our rights (or that protecting those rights axiomatically "weakens" anti-terror measures).
It's easy to contribute
CJFE, along with our civil society partners, are committed to giving you the information you need to take part. In the months to come we'll be sharing a series of features and blog posts to keep you informed on the key issues. Future instalments include a look at the national security legacy of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the new crime of "promoting terrorism," the government’s forthcoming "countering violent extremism" strategy, lessons from the Air India and Maher Arar commissions, the harms of mass surveillance, and more.
We’re responding to the national security Green Paper and accompanying Background Document using Genius.it, which allows for live annotation of text on any website. Check it out here, and add your own thoughts!
There will be series of in-person consultations run by individual Members of Parliament in ridings across Canada. As soon as information is available, we will be updating our campaign page with a list of in-person consultations so Canadians have the opportunity to attend and voice their opinions about C-51.
The BC Civil Liberties Association is also publishing a "Different-Shade-of-Green Paper" series that untangles some of the complexities of the national security debate, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is doing something similar. Topics include including surveillance, no-fly lists, CSIS powers, encryption, and data retention. Together this is everything you need to make an informed submission to the government.
If you want to make your voice heard during these consultations, click here.
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