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Letter: Bill C-51 — more than a chill on back of neck

This young protester was part of the 150-plus people who marched in Nelson Saturday at part of the Canada-wide protest against Bill C-51. — Submitted photo

To the Editor:

Got that chill running down the back of your neck? It could already be Bill C-51.

Bill C-51, the so-called “secret police act” could already be putting a serious chill on public debate and democracy in Canada.

Here in Nelson, BC, I went to a protest of the bill on (Saturday) March 14th with over 150 other people. I had to because C-51 has already affected me, and many others.

People have suggested I am one of the people targeted by the bill because I am an anti-pipeline activist. 

I oppose bitumen pipelines because I am one of those “anti-petroleum” people identified by the RCMP.

I am anti-petroleum because climate change is a grave threat, and like Stephen Lewis, Elizabeth May, the World Bank CEO, and so many scientists and others, I know we have to leave the tar sands in the ground.  For the sake of our children, we can’t put it into our atmosphere.

The RCMP report dug out recently by Greenpeace says:

“There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed, anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels.” (1.)

I am NOT anti-Canada, but I do wish we were well-organized and financed.  We’ve got $400 in the credit union, does that count?

Here in the Kootenays we have held a quite a number of educational and anti-pipeline protests. We even had a “critical mass” Bikes Not Pipes ride around Nelson that brought out well over 100 people.

That probably has already put me on the CSIS “watch” list. They may be filtering all my email and monitoring our Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free BC facebook page. 

That’s probably illegal and a violation of our privacy and constitutional rights, but I don’t care all that much.

But with Bill C-51 CSIS could, any day, show up at my door and throw me in jail without charges.  If construction began on a bitumen pipeline and we made plans to protest and sit in front of the bulldozers, Bill C-51 would allow CSIS legally to “preventatively detain” me.

Under the law I could be classified a terrorist. As lawyer Clayton Ruby points out it will:

“. . . allow Canadians to be arrested on mere suspicion of future criminal activity, allow the Minister of Public Safety to add Canadians to a “no-fly list” with illusory rights of judicial review, and, perhaps most alarmingly, create a new speech-related criminal offence of “promoting” or “advocating” terrorism.”  (2)

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow made this all clear in the Globe and Mail:

“Other new national security offences include influencing any government in Canada by unlawful means or “interfering with infrastructure.” Neither of these is a rare practice. Neither is necessarily connected to terrorism.

“And now persons can be held in custody as a preventative matter if officers believe that a terrorist activity “may” occur. This makes detention a matter for the purely subjective views of security officials.” (3)

In the extreme, terrorism could be as innocuous as a sit-in, or a march down a street, both of which could be called an “unlawful means”.

The fact that I could be locked away before I did anything certainly makes me think twice about protesting. But detention may not be CSIS’s first choice. I rather hope that if I were tossed in a cell that my family and friends would notice.  And raise a ruckus.  A bit.

So C-51 allows for more, much more.

I could be put on the international “no-fly” list even though I would hardly be flying around BC to protest pipelines.  Under C-51, there is little I could do about getting banned from planes.

Perhaps most likely of all is the power the Bill gives to CSIS to “disrupt” my activities. As Clayton Ruby explains, the law is:

" . . . giving CSIS virtually unfettered authority to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interest of Canadian security. The definitions are so broad that they could apply to almost anything, including measures to disrupt or interfere with non-violent civil disobedience.” (2)

That could mean hacking my email account, or my facebook, or my internet access in general. My identity could be vulnerable.

Is my bank account safe? 

For CSIS, disabling or “infecting” my email, my phone, or my hard drive, could be almost untraceable and pretty darn effective.

The “chill” is real for many ordinary Canadians who might want to take a stand on climate change or other concerns, such as involvement in a war, weapons development, or privatizing medicare, all conceivably covered under C-51.

The threat is devastating, as four former Canadian prime ministers (Turner, Clark, Chretien and Martin) pointed out:

“Given the secrecy around national security activities, abuses can go undetected and without remedy. This results not only in devastating personal consequences for the individuals, but a profoundly negative impact on Canada’s reputation as a rights-respecting nation.” (4.)

If you are paying attention to the public discussion on C-51 you will hear many experts pointing these things out. They also say our current laws are quite adequate to counteract terrorist plots and they say C-51 would not do much to increase our ability to prevent real terrorist acts.

Maybe that’s why the Globe and Mail concluded in an editorial that:

“On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may” – not “will” – occur.” (5.)

This law could absolutely have a devastating effect on me, and so many other Canadians. It’s not surprising thousands are out protesting this un-Canadian legislation. C-51 is an extremely disturbing and chilling Bill being pushed through our Parliament.

Keith Wiley, Nelson, BC

1. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/anti-petroleum-movement-a-growing-security-threat-to-canada-rcmp-say/article23019252/
2. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/monitor-march-2015
3. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/parliament-must-reject-the-anti-terror-bill/article22932072/   Broadbent
4. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/a-close-eye-on-security-makes-canadians-safer/article23069152/
5. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/anti-terrorism-bill-will-unleash-csis-on-a-lot-more-than-terrorists/article22821691/