Bill C-51 Canada's Anti-terrorism Act

Bill C-51 Canada's Anti-terrorism Act

On May 6th, 2015, the Canadian government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51.) According to the Angus Reed Poll taken days before, 82% of the people interviewed supported the bill. Of that group only 18% had read and/or discussed it with others, while 20% knew nothing about it. Of the rest, 25% had seen a story or two and 36% had scanned headlines.


Trudeau promised during his campaign that he would repeal this act. He has fulfilled his promise but he has asked for changes dealing with the sexual assault, libel, evidentiary presumptions, credit for time served and six obsolete provisions. And he has proposed to removed some  laws protecting freedom of religion. But the laws around national security have not been mentioned.


The Canadian Bar Association opposes C51. About 140 leaders of companies, some of which are valued in the billions, registered their opposition in a letter to the National Post, which itself opposes how the bill was slapped together and how it will be monitored.


Lawyers, CEOs and journalists know they will be affected, but the general public sits with the attitude that if I’m not doing anything wrong, I won’t be investigated. Also many Canadians are convinced that Canada faces new internal threats that go beyond organized crime, foreign-government hacking, civil unrest and domestic terrorism.

Many Canadians are convinced by the news and Hollywood. In the news, the CIA, FBI, RCMP and police departments deal with terrorism such as the Boston bombing or the Zehaf-Bibeau shooting on parliament hill. Hollywood presents films where foreign enemies import nuclear bombs and conspirators inside the CIA or the FBI rendition innocent people to torture sites around the world.


Domestic spying protocols in the US are the results of 9/11. Suspicious activities include photographing or hanging around critical infrastructure such as hydro dams, subway stations and public buildings. Racial, costume, religious and intellectual profiling is also included in these parameters. If the name in question is Arabic, Pakistani or African or if the person sports a turban or hijab, the chances of preventive detention and interrogation are imminent.


The American Civil Liberties Union, through the Freedom of Information Act, learned that these protocols keep expanding. Anyone who seems too “typically” American or who speaks with excessive coherence or is seen mumbling religious prayers/mantras, falls under suspicion. Even those who order food in a restaurant but don’t eat it are suspect.

I don’t travel to the US anymore. I’m a dark-skinned woman who works as a travel writer, and I often travel alone. This means that I have a passport with stamps from places unfriendly to the west like Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela and Tunisia. I find the occasional airport interrogations in the US scarier than those in most countries that are openly undemocratic, such as Iran, Sudan and Burma. In those countries, my actions are suspect because I talk to locals and take photos of monuments and infrastructure.


My experiences with domestic spying come from places like this. The biggest problems I encountered were in Sudan, officially a federal republic but in fact, a theocracy. I was caught in a surveillance tangle that could have led to deportation, incarceration or even worse, disappearance.


Before I could take any photographs, I had to apply to the Cinematography Board for permission. The application required a detailed account of my itinerary and my photography equipment.


I got the permit but with restrictions. I was not permitted to photograph military areas, bridges, trains or train stations, broadcasting stations and public utilities such as water, gas, petrol or electricity works. Slum areas, beggars and other defaming subjects were not to be photographed.


Also, as part of my entry visa I was required to report to the police before I got a room. This kept track of my movements. The officer in charge would issue a permit only after I told him where I’d be staying but I couldn’t get a room unless I had the permit. I managed this by asking hotel owners in advance if I could name their hotel as my residence. I usually got a yes.


In Sudan the National Intelligence Secret Service (NISS) and the Rapid Support Force have extensive powers of surveillance, arrest, search, seizure and detainment and I was assured by every official I came in contact with, no matter how small the village, that I’d be watched.

In the US, the heightened security environment since 9/11 has resulted in trouble for thousands of innocent individuals. Suspicious Activity Reports are regularly turned over to employers who, not wanting trouble, fire or refuse to hire the “suspect.” Access to these reports in licensing and health agencies pose a much bigger problem.


People refusing to talk to the police without a lawyer have been told by interrogating officers, “I’ll submit your name to the Terrorism Liaison Officer so every time your license gets scanned, or you take a plane or use public transit you’ll be stopped. You’ll be on the FBI’s hit list.”


America’s reputation for human rights violations may soon compare to Sudan’s. According to Amnesty International, “(Sudan’s) human rights violations include excessive and sometimes lethal force when breaking up demonstrations, protests and rallies. The same force is used when raiding offices and confiscating documents.” Human rights defenders, students, activists, political opponents and journalists are harassed and detained without charges. NISS also executes arbitrary arrests and trumps up charges against ethnic and religious minorities. Sound familiar?


At its inception NISS was an organization with the same mandate as the Canadian Intelligence Service — that of national security, but NISS’s powers were extended in 2005 with the amendment of Article 151 of the National Securities Act, first passed in 1999. This bill allowed NISS to move from intelligence gathering and analyses to becoming a law enforcement agency. NISS no longer needs to follow international, regional or domestic law. It can arrest, detain, search, seize and use extensive interrogation methods (a.k.a. torture) without cause. NISS is also immune to civil or criminal liability as long as their acts were conducted in “good faith” and in the “line of duty,” that duty being the prevention of harm to the citizens of the country from terrorism.


Article 151. Bill C-51. The echo is coincidental but the purpose and content of the two pieces of legislation is the same.

Published in the Prince George Citizen, 2015.