Bill C-59: Another Threat to Democracy

Bill C-59, the Liberals’ new national security legislation, is a cleaned up continuation of the Tories’ infamous and draconian Bill C-51 – which the Liberals voted for despite mass country-wide protests. Their 2015 campaign promise to amend C-51 if elected were widely understood to mean they would rewrite it to expunge the dangerously authoritarian, repressive and anti-democratic core of the legislation. Two years later, the Liberals have produced C-59, the twin brother of C-51, cleaned-up, but no less dangerous to our civil, labour and democratic rights.

Much attention in this Bill is given to oversight, and with good reason. In 1984, following the McDonald Commission Report into RCMP wrong-doing, CSIS was set up to separate policing from intelligence gathering, and steps were taken to establish oversight to keep the RCMP law-abiding, and to end its extensive illegal activities, which included extensive spying and ‘dirty tricks’ aimed at the labour and democratic movements, political parties and movements in Quebec, and left-wing political parties and individuals (including the Communist Party). The dirty tricks included break-ins, forgeries, a barn-burning in Quebec, wiretaps, and many other illegal acts. This was the RCMP’s modus operandi.

The McDonald Commission concluded that oversight by a separate new organization was essential. That was to be the function of SIRC – the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

Bill C-59 combines national security and oversight into one conglomerate organization, so that the spies and spooks will now be self-regulating under a new “super-SIRC”. Stream-lined it is, but very dangerous to democracy at home and abroad. Furthermore, much hinges on the political views of the government of the day, since “the Minister” has the power to approve all of the agency’s activities. A Tory government would say “yes” to whole lot of things that Canadians would find unacceptable. What would the Liberals do? We’re getting a taste of that now.

With the new Liberal foreign and “defence” policies of actively participating in US and NATO wars of aggression around the globe, and increasing military spending by 70% to pay for it, it’s clear the government’s policy is not peace-keeping, but regime change. This is illegal under the UN charter, but that hasn’t stopped the US or its NATO allies, including Canada.

Bill C-59 also makes clear that the government’s domestic policy is to pick up where the RCMP left off in the 1970s, and for the same reasons: protests by the labour and democratic movements are seen as a threat to corporate profits, and to the policies of the governments that serve them. Opposition to resource extraction and pipeline projects, to austerity policies, and to legislation like Bill C-51 are recent examples.

But the Liberals will do the job of tightening up Canada’s security state with a bit more finesse, and a nicer veil of justification than the Harper government could ever produce.

This Bill defines activity that undermines the security of Canada as “any activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada …. (including) interference with the capability of the government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations or public safety.”

This includes: “significant or widespread interference with critical infrastructure; significant or widespread interference with the global information infrastructure as defined in … the National Defence Act; and conduct that takes place in Canada and that undermines the security of another state.”

And this: “For the purposes of this Act, advocacy, protest, dissent or artistic expression is not an activity that undermines the security of Canada unless carried on in conjunction with an activity that undermines the security of Canada.”

            So much for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the right to protest and dissent.

C-51 allowed for arbitrary arrest and detention on suspicion of future wrong-doing. C-59 also allows for preventative arrest and detention, but requires a bit better explanation regarding the likelihood of future wrong-doing.

The new Bill also allows for widespread disruption inside and outside Canada, including intercepting and interference with communications, financial transactions, and the movement of individuals. It allows for widespread spying and covert activity aimed at information gathering and sharing with other government agencies. (Revenue Canada? Health Canada?)

C-59 will continue to gather names and other information of individuals to add to the no-fly list, which arbitrarily prevents access to air transport; but does allows the Minister to inform parents if their child is not on the no-fly list.

C-51 allowed CSIS agents broad powers to act, but Bill C-59 gives them new powers to break the law. The Bill repeatedly and solemnly affirms that security forces, including CSIS, CSE, CBSA, and their agents must obey the law, and especially the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, before going on to explain extensive exceptions to the rule. If someone’s life is in danger, or if time is an issue, the rules can be thrown out the window almost anytime, if the higher ups agree. The only requirement to ignore the Charter rights of an individual or organization, is to secure a secret warrant from a judge. The justification? National security. The agents involved will all be immune to prosecution for their illegal acts. In fact, illegal acts is the name of the game.

What is prohibited, without exception? Violating the sexual integrity of a person is not allowed. Torture is not allowed. Causing death or bodily harm intentionally or by negligence – not allowed. Neither are obstructing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or democracy. (This last one is rich, and the first three are not believable given Canada’s role in Afghanistan and elsewhere.)

C-59 also gives broad protections to agents involved in spying, disruption, and other covert activities. While the Bill says the security and intelligence forces must obey the law and the Charter, they then set out the exceptions, which include … national security.

Bill C-59 was introduced June 20 and has just passed first reading. The Tories have panned the legislation as not going far enough. The corporate owned media says it’s just fine. The Trudeau government has indicated it will seek public input – let’s give it to them loud and clear.

The Communist Party will oppose this legislation with all of the tools at hand, including briefs, protests, public speaking, articles, and a campaign to expose and defeat the Bill. We call on the labour and democratic movements to also use all their tools to stop this Bill from becoming law. A mass opposition across the country, that includes protests, petitions, demonstrations, letters to the editor, calls to talk shows, motions and resolutions, are all ways to stop this Bill its tracks, before it is used to attack civil, social, labour, and democratic rights.

Along with this, we demand the repeal of Bill C-51, should it survive this session of Parliament. We call for an end to legislation and political action by the Liberals and Tories that threaten peace and security, including their support for state terrorism and regime change by NATO and the US, and their moves to undermine democracy and civil, labour and democratic rights in Canada.

The time to act is right now.

 



Elizabeth Rowley

Elizabeth Rowley is the leader of the Communist Party of Canada.


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