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National security consultation opens door to repealing Bill C-51 but framing of issues raises concerns

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After over 18 months of campaigning, it looks like Canadians finally have a chance to repeal Bill C-51. On September 8, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould launched a wide-ranging public consultation on C-51 and other privacy and security issues.

However, advocates are expressing concerns about the wording of the consultation, which appears far more focused on addressing the concerns of the police rather than the needs of the public. Questions have also been raised about whether the government will actually follow through and repeal Bill C-51 when Canadians tell it that's what they want.

This consultation is a huge opportunity for Canadians to ensure a future where all of us can experience privacy and security online. Sadly, 300,000 people called for this consultation, but the government does not appear to have addressed it to them. Instead, their language focuses on the concerns of police rather than the needs of Canadians. We worry Ministers Goodale and Wilson-Raybould don't quite know their target audience.

Much of this consultation reads like it's been written by police for police. Many of the issues are framed in a highly one-sided way that ignores the reasons why the public is so concerned about Bill C-51 in the first place, notably its impact on the health of our democracy. That said, this consultation is a step in the right direction and we'll be encouraging as many Canadians as possible to take part.

We have been calling for such a consultation since last fall's federal election and believe it represents the country's best chance to completely repeal Bill C-51 and address many other long-standing weaknesses in Canada's privacy protections. In recent years, spy agency scandals, Stingray surveillance, and government data leaks have left everyday Canadians afraid for their personal security.

Key points made by Ministers Goodale and Wilson-Raybould include:

  • Five specific changes the government wants to make to Bill C-51, including: ensuring CSIS warrants comply with the Charter, safeguarding legitimate protest, addressing false positives with Canada's no-fly list, narrowing the definition of "terrorist propaganda," and requiring a review of Bill C-51 after 3 years.

  • Potential for further changes to Bill C-51, based on what the government hears from Canadians in this fall's consultation.

  • The consultation focuses on 10 specific areas, including the highly controversial "information sharing" provisions of Bill C-51 which enable Canadians' sensitive private information to be shared between multiple government agencies.

Last year, we published a pro-privacy action plan, crowdsourced from over 100,000 Canadians. The plan sets out 24 key recommendations designed to address Canada's privacy deficit, including ending warrantless access to our private information, putting a stop to mass surveillance, and embracing accountability for our security agencies.

The government's public consultation will run from now until December 1, 2016. The government will then consider the results, before bringing proposed legislation to Parliament.

Canadians are speaking up for privacy at OurPrivacy.ca

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