(Photo: A gutted charter of Canadian rights and freedoms)

Invalidated sections: Bill C-51 will supercede about half of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms. 

In January, Greenpeace obtained an RCMP report that identified the “anti-petroleum movement” as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security. This movement is, the RCMP says, foreign funded, highly organized and “consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

Wording in the report repeatedly casts doubt on the scientific basis of climate change and indicates that citizens concerned with it are on the political fringe. The report warns that “violent anti-petroleum extremists will continue to engage in criminal activity to promote their anti-petroleum ideology.”

In his Greenpeace blog, Keith Stewart says that it “identifies anyone who is concerned about climate change as a potential … anti-petroleum extremist.” That would likely include US president Barack Obama, who in February called climate change an urgent and growing threat.

Also in January, the Harper government tabled Bill C-51 – the Anti-Terrorism Act. The bill gives expanded powers to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to gather information about Canadians and share it with numerous other departments and agencies.

Most of the activities listed in the bill are already illegal. But the bill adds interference with “critical infrastructure” and “the economic or financial stability of Canada” to more established threats such as terrorism, espionage and proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons. This raises concerns that the bill is targeted at First Nations and environmental groups. The accusation of interfering with the economic stability of Canada could fall on an entrepreneur who develops a technology for cheap, clean energy, as that could be seen as interfering with the fossil fuel economy.

Critics of the bill claim that it will grant police powers to CSIS, an intelligence agency – a fundamentally anti-democratic move given that CSIS works in secret and without parliamentary oversight. In fact, CSIS was created deliberately in order to separate spying from policing and keep police powers transparent and accountable to the public. Instead, CSIS will be allowed to violate citizens’ Charter rights via warrants obtained during secret hearings where only government representatives will be present. The agency will also have the vague power to “disrupt” threats of terrorism, but it is not clear whether that includes the power to detain and interrogate.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien made a submission on Bill C-51 to the House of Commons public safety committee in March. He called the legislation excessive, saying it provides no recourse for those who could be victims of improper applications of it. Therrien, Canada’s privacy watchdog, was not even invited to testify during rushed hearings in which the majority Conservative members of the safety committee used the venue to attack the credibility of the witnesses who were allowed to testify.

Law professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese produced over 200 pages of analysis on the bill and presented their findings to the Senate in April. The pair “beseech” the government to remove the ability of CSIS to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, saying that this power exceeds any given to similar agencies among Canada’s allies.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May points out, “We already have anti-terror laws.” She says Bill C-51 is not about terrorism, it’s about creating a secret police. She calls it the death of freedom.

The bill was passed by the Senate in June. 

Janet Kimantas is associate editor at A\J with degrees in studio art and environmental studies. She is currently pursuing an MES at UWaterloo. She splits her spare time between walking in the forest and painting Renaissance-inspired portraits of birds.

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