Opinion: Government’s anti-terrorism bill goes too far

Before Bill C-51 goes any further, an independent review body needs to examine exactly what this Bill means and the extent of its reach.

Do we need Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act?

Imagine this. A group of young people, all different ethnic backgrounds, are sitting around the water cooler indulging in a friendly heated debate about, well, anything. It could be about a video game, a new music CD, girls, a by-law, a movie, or parent’s rules. In their enthusiasm, some lapse into their own language and the others laugh or toss out some derisive statement about a politician or someone in authority. Suddenly they find themselves confronted by an official who has decided to arrest and detain them while he investigates their comments further. He’s acting on some hazy sense that an arrest may likely prevent a terrorist attack because of something he thought someone said.

Really? What happened to innocent conversation, privacy and freedom of speech?

The abstract scenario might be a little excessive but it’s that kind of cause and effect that concerns a lot of people over the proposed tightened security laws contained in Bill C-51. It has launched questions and some profound problems.

The Bill had first reading in Parliament on January 30 and it’s created a furor ever since. This Bill gives government agencies carte blanche access to big data information-sharing that will pull all Canadians, by accident or design, into a bureaucratic web. In the quest to analyze massive amounts of personal data to profile trends, habits and behaviours, and in the process isolate those who stand apart from the “norm”, the level of collection will know no bounds. Information will be kept forever. No one will be able to know or find out how much of their personal information has been collected and shared.

That’s pushing the envelope.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the Bill would expand the powers of CSIS so that they could arrest Canadians on a suspicion that they might be involved in something criminal in the future.

Then there’s the Passenger Protect Program, aka the no-fly list, which identifies individuals who may pose a threat to aviation security The program prevents them from boarding an aircraft. So what if your name gets added in error (and it has happened in the past) and there is no mechanism to have that corrected?

But it’s the invasion of privacy, a right protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that worries many people. Who is squaring the circle between the right to privacy and the need for security? Section 8 of the Charter provides everyone in Canada with protection against unreasonable search and protects our privacy rights against unreasonable intrusion, including surveillance, from the state. To what level does Bill C-51 conflict with that?

After the Parliament shooting last October, 70 per cent of Canadians supported stiffer terrorism legislation according to a poll conducted by Forum Research. Today that number is down to 50 per cent.

The Bill launches us on a slippery slope, especially considering legitimate groups such as environmental organizations could be targeted for surveillance and the fact that there is no parliamentary oversight to monitor the activities of security services. That is setting the bar too low.

Before Bill C-51 goes any further, an independent review body needs to fully examine exactly what this Bill means and the full extent of its reach. We need to know whether and to what degree it is unconstitutional, the extent to which it erodes privacy and the degree to which government agencies can set their power limit. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how that could be abused. So who is minding the minders?

This piece of legislation is a bit too Orwellian. In its current state, we don’t need Bill C-51.