New anti-terrorism legislation needs amending

In the lead up to the 2015 election many issues made a compelling case for a change in government.  Among the most prominent was the Anti-Terror Act (C-51).  Although the current government supported the legislation when it was introduced, by the time the campaign was underway they were promising to undo the most egregious aspects of the Conservative Act.  Now, the government’s own legislation, C-59 is at committee and is in need of a tune-up if it is going to address some of the serious concerns that arose out of C-51.

Bill C-51 created the Anti-Terror Act in 2015. It was one of a string of anti-terror bills that have been in place since the aftermath of the attack on World Trade Centre in 2001.  It was easily the most authoritarian version and was passed with little debate, no evidence showing it was needed, and without a single amendment from the opposition parties. The law failed to strike a balance and came down heavily on the side of security while eroding our right to privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Experts from across the country agreed that C-51 violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and failed to provide additional resources to tackle terrorism. Canadians’ opposition to Bill C-51 was vocal and overwhelming which explains why the current government campaigned on a major roll-back of the legislation.

This week, members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security began voting on amendments and going clause-by clause on the updated national security legislation. During committee stage, New Democrats presented over 60 amendments aimed at ensuring the government can keep Canadians safe while fully protecting their rights.  That balance has proven to be the elusive with anti-terrorism legislation over the years.

New Democrats are concerned that the current bill does not fix the most egregious elements of C-51. In its current form the bill does not address information sharing powers that violate Canadians’ privacy, has not rolled back sweeping threat reduction powers by spy agencies, and has not given review and oversight bodies enough access to information in order to keep the government accountable.

In light of current controversies surrounding the conduct of companies such as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the already slippery slope of “publicly available information” used by Canada’s spy agency CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment - among other departments and agencies – poses a grave threat to Canadians’ privacy. The broad new powers being given to Communications Security Establishment in the current legislation leave us with many questions, were never part of the government’s consultations, and have been shoehorned into this omnibus piece of legislation.

New Democrats are asking the government to work with us and accept our amendments that will help establish balanced legislation that can protect our security while protecting our rights and freedoms. One of the major sticking points during the C-51 legislative process was that the government was unwilling to listen to, or address, valid concerns raised by the opposition.  C-59 has the opportunity to chart more a more consultative path. We will see how much of that lesson has been learned when the bill clears committee.