Security bill risks too much

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The Harper government introduced stronger national security legislation, insisting it is necessary to protect Canadians and Canada from the kind of extremist attacks that last fall cut down two Canadian Forces soldiers and threatened Parliament. Terrorism, the alleged target of Bill C-51, is just one in a broad sweep of activities it seeks to stop.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/02/2015 (2797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Harper government introduced stronger national security legislation, insisting it is necessary to protect Canadians and Canada from the kind of extremist attacks that last fall cut down two Canadian Forces soldiers and threatened Parliament. Terrorism, the alleged target of Bill C-51, is just one in a broad sweep of activities it seeks to stop.

The bill would dangerously mess with the distinct roles of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP. CSIS may need new tools, but this bill would stoke old rivalries and a distrust between the surveillance and policing agencies that in the past led to catastrophic failures to protect Canadians.

Canada’s spy agency was established with the express purpose of monitoring potential threats to national security — to do the careful, deliberate ground work to detect and raise alarm about such activity. It was created to get the RCMP out of the spying business by collecting evidence of national threats and turning it over to police for action.

CP National War Memorial where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo died

But now Bill C-51 proposes giving CSIS policing powers, the ability to move in — bust into a house, seize computers, diaries, posters — when it detects activity that “undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada.” This includes espionage, terrorism, cyber-attacks, the proliferation of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Any measure that threatens the security, including financial and economic security, of the nation also falls into the realm of CSIS’s new powers to collect and pass on information from government departments and agencies, such as tax data. Reposting messages from a high school buddy-turned-self-radicalized, angry young man? Your Twitter account may be hacked and disrupted, or taken down, courtesy of the state.

CSIS still can not arrest or hold a suspect. That’s left to the RCMP, which will get expanded powers of its own — detaining people longer, seven rather than the current three days, without warrant before appearing before a judge, to prevent a crime. Further, it will be easier for the national police force to get a warrant for a peace bond that curtails the rights of suspects they believe “may” (not will) commit a crime.

There are huge privacy concerns for Canadians in this proposed law. What monitoring of data and personal information sharing can Canadians expect in this bill? It shreds the rules for protecting the hundreds of thousands of tiny details of ordinary lives collected by government in a myriad of ways. The bill permits departments and agencies to pass the details of our personal lives onward if they believe it useful in the campaign to protect national security. Moreover, there is limited oversight. The Harper government has bridled at the suggestion stronger oversight by Parliament is required of CSIS.

The core of Canada’s anti-terrorism laws, tested before the Supreme Court, has remained intact after repeated challenges. Emboldened, perhaps, the Harper government is using the “lone-wolf” attacks against Canadian Forces soldiers in Quebec and at Parliament Hill last fall as a premise to extend extraordinary new powers to CSIS and the RCMP. Yet, as the RCMP said itself, there was no evidence for it to have foreseen either of the attacks.

But there is ample evidence of the tragic consequences that occur when security agencies engage in a hostile rivalry. The Air India terrorist attack in 1985, and the “rendition” by the U.S., with the help of Canadian intelligence, of Maher Arar to a torture cell in Syria, both show what happens when two national security agencies aggressively refuse to co-operate to keep Canadians safe.

Turning CSIS into a police force with bigger muscle will confuse their roles and invite rivalry, undoing the hard lessons of the past. If the Harper government cannot show where such powers would have made a difference in the defence of security, it cannot justify the risk this bill would entail.

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