The Harper Conservative government passed Bill C-51 this summer. Many groups have termed the Anti-Terrorism Act as the most comprehensive reforms to Canada’s national security laws since 2001. Widely expanded powers and new criminal offences raise serious human rights concerns including the following:
– A vague Definition of threats that could include a wide range of protest activity that may not be lawful, but is certainly not criminal;
– Asking federal courts judges to authorize CSIS threat reduction activities that could include human rights violations in Canada;
– Suppressing freedom of expression by making it a crime to advocate or promote the commission of terrorism offences in general;
– Lowering the Threshold for, and extending the duration of, preventative detention without charge;
– Expanding information sharing without sufficient safeguards to prevent the sharing of unreliable, inaccurate, or inflammatory information domestically and internationally;
– Inadequate appeal procedure for individuals who find their names on no fly lists;
– No increased review or oversight of increasingly complex national security activities.
National Chief Perry Bellgarde of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) made a submission to the Standing Committee on National Security and Public Safety this spring in which he emphasized the danger of this proposed legislation to First Nation Canadians. He asserted:
“The key issues at Stake in Bill C-51 are the State’s power to place individuals or groups under surveillance, to monitor their everyday activities, to create criminal offences that affect our ability to exercise our legally recognized rights, and the overall relationship of state power to fundamental human and indigenous rights…..
So the core of this discussion for First Nations is the unfinished business of balancing federal and provincial laws with inherent jurisdiction and sovereignty of First Nations. ……this discussion is about reconciliation-reconciling Canada’s claims to sovereignty with our pre-existing rights, title and jurisdiction.”
National Chief Bellgarde expressed concerns about the Security of Canada Information Act which sets out an overly broad definition of “activity that undermines the security of Canada.” He asserted:
“We see this as a euphemism for an “excuse to spy on” First Nations when they exercise their collective and individual rights. Our people could find themselves under increasing surveillance because the broad, vague concepts and activities covered by this phrase. It clearly goes way beyond the current Criminal Code definition of “terrorist activity.
The “for greater certainty clause” that excludes “lawful” advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression is not adequate to deal with complexities of the ongoing task of reconciling First Nation laws and jurisdiction with Canada’s asserted sovereignty.”
National Chief Bellgarde concluded his presentation with two recommendations:
1) That the Government withdraw the Bill and consult properly with First Nations about its impact on our rights;
2) That the government discuss with First Nations options for a review process to examine all federal legislation that can impact the assertion of our Section 35 rights.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression filed a legal challenge of Bill C-51 and asked Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to hear their constitutional case against the federal anti-terrorism measures according to a Canadian Press report in the Ottawa Citizen of July 21, 2015.
In a joint statement, the two organizations challenging the law said that key elements violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The notice of application in the court challenge says the measures amount to “an extraordinary inversion” of the time – honoured role of the courts and the principles of fundamental justice by asking the judiciary, not Parliament, to authorize limits on charter rights “as opposed to protecting such rights and preventing their violation” according to the article in the Ottawa Citizen.