Cartoon: Patrick Corrigan, Artizans.com/National Newswatch
Intro: Conservatives are now calling criticisms of Bill C-51 “conspiracy theories”
PressProgress Canada March 24, 2015
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Your government’s controversial anti-terror bill is plummeting in public opinion polls. A lot of people are concerned the bill is too vague and too broad, and that it will erode civil liberties and result in unintended consequences. Do you:
(a) Acknowledge their concerns and work speedily to improve the bill?
(b) Claim there’s a “widespread misinformation” campaign of “conspiracy theories” at work and that your critics haven’t bothered to “read the bill”?
If your answer was (a), you wouldn’t just be wrong — you’d be dead wrong!
Tuesday morning at the Public Safety Committee’s ongoing Bill C-51 hearings, Conservative MP LaVar Payne dismissed criticisms of the bill as “conspiracy theories.”
That sentiment was echoed by the committee chair, Conservative MP Daryl Kramp, who told a Belleville newspaper on Monday that critics of C-51 have their, “information dead wrong… They’re quoting rumours and they’re quoting mistruths.”
Then there’s Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who suggested C-51 criticism is an “esoteric debate for law professors” in a Parry Sound newspaper.
And speaking at Monday night’s hearings on C-51, Public Safety Parliamentary Secretary Roxanne James floated the idea that critics of C-51 have been fooled by “misinformation.”
“I find it unfortunate there’s been such misinformation put out about this bill,” James said, suggesting this “unhelpful information” has “taken away [from] what is actually important, which is the national security of Canada.”
Below: Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. After practising law and a stint in the government of Mike Harris, Tasha became the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-wrote the 2005 bestseller, Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. Tasha moved back to Montreal in 2006 and served as vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute, and later director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute, while also lecturing on conservative politics at McGill University.
Harper is losing the argument on C-51 … with Conservatives
Tasha Kheiriddin iPolitics Canada March 26, 2015
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Bill C-51 was supposed to unite conservatives in the latest round of the War on Terror™. Instead, it’s dividing them — both on and off Parliament Hill.
This week, Conservative MP Michael Chong, never one to blindly toe the line, criticized the bill’s lack of oversight in a statement to the House of Commons: “However, while I fully support Bill C-51, I also believe we need greater oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies by a parliamentary committee of elected MPs, who are directly and democratically accountable to Canadians. That greater oversight is even more important as we give these agencies new powers to combat terrorism.”
That same day, at committee hearings on the bill, Connie Fournier, founder of the former conservative online forum FreeDominion, criticized the bill’s infringements on privacy and freedom of speech. Fournier is going a step further, reviving her website to fight Bill C-51 — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“I feel like we’re in some kind of alternate universe,” she recently told the Tyee. “You spend your life working for the Conservative party, and the Conservative party finally gets in, and (now) you’re saying, ‘I hope the NDP really steps up and protects us from our Conservative government.’”
The committee has heard criticism from others on the right as well. Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal supported the bill but called for more independent oversight. Former Security Information Review Committee chair Ron Atkey predicted the bill could not survive a constitutional challenge. So did Brian Hay, chair of the Mackenzie Institute, who said “… permitting a judge to break a law, or to ignore the Charter to uphold the law or to protect a society which is to be based on law, seems, at best, contradictory.”
Sheldon Clare, president of the National Firearms Association, who had publicly described Bill C-51 as “being a sort of creeping police state bill”, was supposed to appear before the committee, but mysteriously pulled out at the eleventh hour.
What’s curious is that the government seems completely uninterested in addressing the bill’s obvious shortcomings — even though doing so would appeal to parts of the Tory base. Additional oversight, for example, is a no-brainer that would actually reinforce the Tories’ security agenda in the long run. If you’re going to champion a law and order agenda, people need to believe that no one is above the law — and that they can trust law enforcement to respect them and their rights.
Another smart change to the bill would be to enhance privacy protection. It’s an issue important to libertarians and freedom-lovers of all right-wing stripes — so you’d think the Conservatives would address this, if only for partisan reasons.
Conservatives, beware: The closer your supporters look at C-51, the less they seem to like it. If the Tories are planning on campaigning on this bill at election time, they’d better make some changes — or risk the wrath of their own people.
Items: List of protests tracked by government includes vigil, ‘peace demonstration’
Alex Boutilier Toronto Star Ontario Canada March 29, 2015
OTTAWA—What do Canadian veterans, advocates for the disabled and the country’s largest union have in common? Their activities were monitored and reported on by police and government agencies over the last year.
Documents show the central Government Operations Centre received reports on more than 160 protests, community events, and demonstrations between May 2014 and February 2015. The RCMP, Public Safety Canada, and the Privy Council Office prepared reports for the GOC — which co-ordinates the federal government’s response to national emergencies and natural disasters.
While much of the monitoring focused on First Nations causes and environmental activism, the GOC showed a diverse set of interests, including:
But Wayne Easter, a former solicitor general and the Liberal MP who obtained the documents, said the agency seems to have strayed from its original mandate.
“They’re supposed to be there in terms of co-ordinating operations for the safety and security of Canadians and the need for an initial response to, whether it’s a natural disaster or a man-made disaster, in the most effective and efficient way possible,” Easter said Tuesday. “That’s what they’re supposed to be doing.”
A June 2014 letter leaked to the Ottawa Citizen asked all government departments and agencies to help the operations centre build a comprehensive list of demonstrations across the country.
An operations centre analysis obtained by The Canadian Press earlier this month found that few demonstrations actually meet the criteria for events in the “national interest,” leading to questions about why seemingly innocuous gatherings are being recorded by the centre.
“It’s a really ridiculous way to go about doing something,” said Michael Vonn, policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. “The notion that there might be something that could happen, an eruption if you will … in the context of any of these demonstrations, constitutionally-protected exercises of people’s rights, are so rare that the sense that we’re going to survey the landscape for the purpose is instantly suspect.”
The Star reported in September that the centre has received reports on around 800 demonstrations, community events, and protests since 2006. The reports vary from “open source” intelligence (such as newspaper reports), to information provided by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Activists have raised concerns the Conservative government’s new anti-terror law, Bill C-51, would allow CSIS even greater powers to spy on their activities.
Conservative MPs, including Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, have repeatedly said that “lawful” protests do not fall under C-51’s purview. But numerous internal documents reported by the Star and other outlets show law enforcement agencies already have a keen interest in “lawful” protests.
“We asked about this some time ago, and the government assured us that they were concerned these groups were about to turn violent, and they were going to keep monitoring them,” said Randall Garrison, the NDP’s public safety critic. “I just can’t understand how they could continue to waste public resources on this.”
Harper and his ideologue minions reason enough to fear C-51
Michael Harris iPolitics Canada March 29, 2015
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As Stephen Harper transforms Canada into a nation of suspects and self-censors while holding a match to the Charter of Rights, the Conservative party robots are blowing their circuits coming up with justifications for Bill C-51.
Their excuses have gone from the lame to the ludicrous. Justice Minister Peter MacKay proclaimed that our allies are doing it, so we are too. (Pssst, Petey, did you hear that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently advocated the beheading of disloyal Arab Israelis? Israel is our ally, right? Thoughts? Should we be grinding the blade for Pat Martin?)
And then Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney declared that “the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers, it began with words.”
Two things come to mind. First, Blaney obviously has never read a history of the Holocaust. If he had, he never would have compared Canada’s minuscule terror problem with one of the greatest crimes against humanity in all of our bloodstained history.
Second, Jewish supporters of the CPC should reconsider their allegiance to a party that exploits their people’s devastating experience in Nazi-occupied Europe to advance a dubious political agenda in a country where ISIS will never be seen. Someone should tell Jason Kenney and his communications commandos that Islamic State has Toyotas, not Tornados. Ever try invading North America from the Middle East in a pick-up truck?
But my favourite line in defence of Bill C-51 came from LaVar Payne. He’s the Conservative MP from Medicine Hat who apparently needs a little medicine. He famously wondered in committee why anyone who was not a terrorist would be against anti-terror legislation like C-51. He proceeded to tell the head of Greenpeace, whose reasoned criticisms of the bill prompted his outburst, that he now wondered whether her group was a national security threat. You get the picture: all hat, no cattle.
Which brings me to the saga of Franke James. It’s a parable about government’s deep tendency toward deception and abuse of power. Franke is a world-famous Canadian artist, author and environmentalist. Back in 2011, she was planning a travelling exhibit of her work in Europe — a show aimed at providing climate-change education.
Franke James was not sunk by Foreign Affairs for being controversial, but for “wrong-thinking,” a high crime in the deadly Harper orthodoxy that Canada has become. If the existing legislation can turn an artist into a threat, just imagine what could happen under C-51.
C-51 hearings end with suggestion government erred in drafting bill
Stuart Trew rabble.ca Canada March 30, 2015
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Like university students cramming for an exam, Thursday night the parliamentary public security committee (SECU) finished the last of nine hearings (over only six days) into the government’s anti-terrorism bill (C-51). It’s now up to the committee to perform a clause-by-clause review of the omnibus legislation and draft recommendations to the House, including possible amendments, before third reading, which is expected to happen quickly. The NDP and the Liberals have announced the amendments they will be seeking.
On Wednesday I asked what C-51 was for if not stopping terrorism. There are no new resources for the RCMP or CSIS built into the omnibus bill, just new responsibilities and a wider net of possible security threats to cover, including legitimate protest activities. Statements to committee from police witnesses that the RCMP, CSIS and local police have better things to do than spy on low-level protests are contradicted by recent leaks and much of the historical record. Promises by those same people, and lecturing Conservative members on committee, that the new powers in C-51 won’t be used to suppress dissent among Indigenous communities and environmentalists ring hollow.
One possible reason we’re seeing this specific legislation at this specific time was never mentioned: ongoing perimeter security talks with the United States. “The Beyond the Border Action Plan”, launched in December 2010, called for Canada and the U.S. to “improve information sharing, including developing clear and responsible channels or mechanisms for cross-border sharing of information and intelligence.” It’s part of a suite of measures to increase co-ordination of customs, security and immigration policy, including the collection and sharing of biometric data in an effort to better track flows of “legitimate” versus threatening goods and people into and out of North America based on a common set of criteria for what constitutes a threat. The two countries just signed a pre-clearance agreement that had been in the works for about a decade, delayed by White House demands for U.S. customs agents at Canadian pre-clearance sites to be able to search, investigate and fingerprint people, even when they choose not to cross into the United States.
Things seem to be moving forward, though without all the details yet (the pre-clearance deal will need new legislation) it’s hard to know if, for example, privacy is being compromised in the process. We know privacy is definitely threatened by C-51 because Canada’s privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, said so in a written submission (he was prohibited from appearing before the SECU committee):
I don’t want to imply that Canada’s only or even most important reason for introducing C-51 was to satisfy the endless U.S. hunger for data. (What would new Walrus editor Jonathan Kay think of this “spurious intrusion of Yankee bogeymen?”) But I don’t think it’s inconsequential either. There must be a reason why neither the Liberals nor Conservatives will act on the recommendations of the O’Connor and Iacobucci Commissions with respect to sharing intelligence with foreign governments, one of which was that it should happen in accordance with clearly established policies respecting screening for relevance, reliability and accuracy, and that these activities should be carefully monitored by a centralized unit with expertise in national security. As lawyer Paul Champ said in his presentation to SECU committee on C-51:
There are also very specific dangers associated with information sharing that can have devastating consequences for individuals. It can lead to damaged reputations, loss of employment, being barred from flying or crossing the border, and worse. As two public inquires found, in the wake of 9/11 fears, four Canadians were detained and subjected to torture due in part to erroneous or improper information sharing by Canada with foreign countries… One could conclude that the government appears to have not learned the lessons of the Arar debacle, were it not for the inclusion of s. 9 in the new Act. That provision protects the government from future civil liability for information sharing, which would likely prevent Maher Arar from suing if he were to experience the same terrible ordeal today.
Many witnesses presented on the threats and inconveniences that C-51’s information-sharing provisions will create for totally innocent people without improving the ability of Canada’s security agencies to stop potential terrorist attacks. It is unfortunate that there was not more time at committee to discuss the ways that the Beyond the Border negotiations might compound these threats. On the other hand, I’m sure there will be an excellent section in the committee’s final report on Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of Canadian universities, community centres and other public institutions. Lock up your children!
Federal anti-terrorism bill changes not enough to satisfy concerns
The Canadian Press/National Newswatch Canada March 30, 2015
OTTAWA – A Conservative plan to amend the federal anti-terrorism bill hasn’t squelched opposition to the sweeping security legislation.
A handful of proposed government amendments don’t alleviate Green party Leader Elizabeth May’s concerns about what she calls a dangerous and undemocratic bill.
May said Monday she plans to present five dozen amendments when the House of Commons public safety committee begins examining the 62-page bill clause-by-clause on Tuesday.
Seven leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, issued a joint statement Monday calling on the government to withdraw the legislation.
The NDP and Liberals have also called for changes to protect civil liberties and improve oversight of security agencies.
The government bill, tabled in response to the murders of two Canadian soldiers last October, would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more power to thwart suspected terrorist plots — not just gather information about them.
It would allow CSIS to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a judge’s permission, expand the sharing of federal security information, broaden no-fly list powers and create a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorism attack.
In addition, the bill would make it easier for the RCMP to obtain a peace bond to restrict the movements of suspects and extend the amount of time they can be kept in preventative detention.
Sources have told The Canadian Press the government plans to introduce four changes to clarify or curtail elements of the bill, including an assurance the information-sharing powers do not apply to protesters who demonstrate outside the letter of the law.
But the amendments do not remedy several key concerns of opposition MPs and rights advocates.
“The reality is this bill will make us less safe,” May told a news conference.
She denounced the legislation as vague, badly drafted and, ultimately, “dangerous garbage.”
The NDP and Greens plan to vote against it, while the Liberals intend to support the bill despite their desire to see changes.
“I still hope the bill can be defeated,” May said.
Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer announce 60 amendments to Bill C-51
elizabetmaymp.ca Canada March 30, 2015
Visit this page for a video of the May/Hyer press conference to announce their amendments to Bill-C51 (22:36). The Green Party proposed amendments to each of the 5 parts of the omnibus terror bill. This page also contains links to “Backgrounder on Green Party amendments to Bill C-51″ and the “Text of C-51 Amendments”.
OTTAWA – Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader and Member of Parliament for Saanich – Gulf Islands, along with Deputy Leader Bruce Hyer, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Superior North, announced their amendments to Bill C-51 at a press conference this morning. Ms. May and Mr. Hyer, who have been vocal critics, will table 60 amendments during clause-by- clause consideration of the bill.
“While there is no way to fix this deeply flawed bill, our duty as elected legislators compels us to protect Canadians from its most egregious faults,” said Ms. May. “Our amendments seek to protect Canadian’s Charter rights and make this country safer by eliminating the reckless and dangerous Conservative policies in C-51.”
While Ms. May was a regular attendee of committee hearings during its study of Bill C-51, Conservative MPs blocked her every attempt to ask a single question. Although any MP has a right to sit at committee, participation is at the discretion of the Chair. During these hearings, the Chair chose to put Ms. May’s requests to the floor for unanimous consent, which was summarily denied by her Conservative colleagues.
The process by which Green MPs submit amendments to committee is one created by PMO to deprive Green MPs from presenting amendments to the House of Commons at Report Stage. Ms. May used this right effectively in opposing Bill C-38 in spring 2012. Since the fall of 2013, due to identical motions passed by Conservatives in every committee, Green amendments are deemed to have been moved at committee. Ms. May and Mr. Hyer will be given time to present each amendment but are not allowed to vote.