Monday, February 9, 2015

Green Party and civil liberties groups criticize Harper's anti-terror bill

While leaders of the two main Canadian opposition parties the New Democratic Party's Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal, Justin Trudeau, have been muted in criticism of Harper's new anti-terrorism legislation, Green Party leader Elizabeth May is quite critical.

Both Trudeau and Mulcair have asked for more oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), given that they are given considerable more powers under the new legislation than they previously had. However, Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, said that his party would vote for the legislation even if the Conservative government of Stephen Harper did not accept changes suggested by his party. The NDP is building a case against the bill and Mulcair, the leader, is likely to announce his opposition to the bill when parliament meets later in the month. However, while the NDP caucus build its case, Mulcair asks questions about oversight and seems wary of being targeted as soft on terrorism.

 A major Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail published a quite critical editorial on the Bill-C51 the new anti-terror legislation. May said on her website: “I completely agree with the editorial in the Globe and Mail today that Parliament must reject this bill. In the House of Commons today, I urged all MPs to read the editorial and not allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force.The words found under the definition of ‘activities,’ which affect the ‘security of Canadians,’ are so broad that the definition can apply to almost any activity, including nonviolent civil disobedience. This bill could now treat peaceful protesters as potential terrorists. Is Stephen Harper using the imagined fear of widespread security threats to score political points before the next election?”

The Globe and Mail article notes, as do commentators on May's site, that the Harper legislation can be used against many other groups than terrorists associated with Islamic radicalism. Harper has long been suggesting that radical environmentalists out to block projects favored by the Harper government and the oil industry are "public enemies", as far back as 2012. In 2014 an RCMP report joined the chorus suggesting that radical environmentalists were a larger threat to Canadian energy development than religious extremism: “Environmental ideologically motivated individuals including some who are aligned with a radical, criminal extremist ideology pose a clear and present criminal threat to Canada’s energy sector. The Canadian law enforcement and security intelligence community have noted a growing radicalized faction of environmentalists who advocate the use of criminal activity to promote the protection of the natural environment.” No doubt aboriginal activists may also expect to come under increased scrutiny by CSIS under this new legislation.

 Even US whistleblower, Edward Snowden, warned Toronto high school students about the new legislation. Along with journalist Glenn Greenwald, Snowden delivered a keynote speech at Upper Canada College's annual World Affairs Conference. Snowden spoke through a Google Hangout connection from somewhere in Russia. Snowden claimed that the new bill "fundamentally changes the balance of power between the citizen and the state." Responding to some remarks about his violating his commitments not to divulge secrets and the view of some that he is a traitor, Snowden said: “Regardless of how bad a guy I am, ultimately the revelation of warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance on a global scale is something that we the people deserve to know. And if the government will not tell us, it falls to journalists ... to find and publish the information that informs our voting habits.”Snowden was critical of the mass media who tried to change the narrative as to whether he was a hero or traitor instead of focusing on the substance of what he had revealed.

 The Globe and Mail editorial notes that CSIS will now have powers to actively stop any activity that "undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada. Activities listed include 'interference with critical infrastucture" or "interference with the capability of the Government in relation to..the economic or financial stability of Canada." The Globe points out that an environmentalist who blew up part of a pipeline would be covered under the law as being a terrorist. A Quebec separatist party could be regarded as terrorist since it would "undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Canada." Aboriginal activists who block a train line could be terrorists. No doubt union activity that interfered with production could become terrorist action.

 Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Assocaition (CCLA) claimed that no explanation had been given as to why our existing laws were not adequate to deal with terrorism. She complained that "advocacy of terrorism" was undefined and that criminalizing such an undefined action could have a chilling effect on what academics and journalists might feel that they could say or write. That probably is the whole idea of leaving the phrase undefined. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association said that the bill would produce "an unprecedented expansion of powers that will harm innocent Canadians and not increase public safety." Unfortunately, the many forceful critiques of Bill-C51 are unlikely to cause the Harper government to change the legislation substantially.

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