I wasn't going to write another word on Harper's Bill C-51, because all seemed to me to have been said. 1) It's an appalling Bill, creating an unaccountable political police with wide powers—a piece of legislation clearly designed to stamp out civil dissent; and 2) With a few cosmetic changes, it's already a done deal.
But a formidable new expert has now been heard from, and any waverers need to listen. Before getting to that, though, since we're on the subject, here's a brief resume of the proposed Conservative amendments to C-51 as reported in the media.
Removing the word "lawful" from the Bill seemingly clarifies that acts of peaceful civil disobedience, trespass, and (in Montreal) exercising the former right of free assembly to protest government austerity, will not be considered "terrorist" acts. The Bill will now emphasize that CSIS has no power to make arrests. Information-sharing will be restricted, but we don’t yet know to what degree.
Permitting, or appearing to permit, peaceful civil disobedience is less of a change than it appears. Got a couple of Black Bloc provocateurs in your peaceful demonstration of dissent? That triggers the "unless carried on in conjunction with" clause in the CSIS Act, sufficient legal cover to unleash CSIS against the demo's organizers, leaders and organizational participants. That's even without C-51, which expands the powers of CSIS without serious accountability.
No CSIS powers of arrest? It's not as though they are living in a silo. Their colleagues can be counted upon to do the arresting, or the secret police of other nations, leaving CSIS to do the interrogations. CSIS is explicitly not allowed to kill you or rape you or inflict lasting bodily injury under C-51—which, by implication, means that pretty well everything else goes. Fancy a swim?
How much will information-sharing be cut back? Will that include the provision of personal information to torture-prone governments abroad? Remember what the previous Liberal administration got up to on that score. C-51 just widens the gate to more abusive practices.
So, oversight of CSIS is clearly a key issue. It's been a major concern of the Bill's opponents from the beginning. The Harper Conservatives have demeaned and defamed those critics, and prevaricated throughout the process; but the fact remains that there is no oversight now, and C-51 will not provide any.
Two bodies used to survey the doings of CSIS. The first, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), takes a cursory look, at best, at past CSIS activities. It was headed up at one point by an accused fraudster who would likely fail a security clearance himself, followed immediately by a pipeline lobbyist whose conflict of interest was so glaring that he had to step down shortly after Harper appointed him.
The grossly ineffective and compromised SIRC was, however, accompanied by the Office of the Inspector General of CSIS, whose small body of experts provided some genuine oversight. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Harper Conservatives abolished that office in 2012, leaving everything in the hands of SIRC.
Now, in an explosive scoop by iPolitics journalist Andrew Mitrovica, the last Inspector General has spoken out. To put it mildly.
Eva Plunkett, nobody’s fool or hand-puppet, doesn't hold back: "This government, even though they go on and on about security, they have no interest in accountability so they put their political hacks in that joke of a committee called SIRC."
Whew. Read the whole thing. There's a lot more.
To sum up: a secret police, well known for what a federal judge--and even SIRC!-- have called a "lack of candour," a body of shady operatives already out of control, will be gifted by Stephen Harper with vastly expanded powers, and "overseen" by an ineffectual body composed largely of Conservative political cronies.
What could possibly go wrong? Ask Eva Plunkett.
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