Canada Unveils New Anti-Terrorism Bill That Moves for 'Unprecedented Expansion of Powers'

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Canada Unveils New Anti-Terrorism Bill That Moves for 'Unprecedented Expansion of Powers'

"This radical expansion of national security powers is not sound security policy and presents a real danger to Canadians," says civil liberties advocate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who said Friday that "a great evil has been descending over our world." (Photo: Stephen Harper/flickr/cc)

Canada introduced on Friday new anti-terrorism legislation critics say gives spy agencies sweeping powers that threaten the public's civil liberties.

The legislation is the Anti-terrorism Act 2015, which Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod described as "the most dramatic package of new laws since the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001."

Among the provisions of the legislation are that it would expand the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)’s powers to "disrupt terrorism offenses and terrorist activity;" make it easier for law enforcement agencies to carry out preventive detentions, and allow them for longer time, make it easier to federal agencies to share information, and give law enforcement agencies power "to disrupt terrorism offenses and terrorist activity, according to a government fact sheet.

Defending the measures in Richmond Hill, Ontario on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "Over the last few years a great evil has been descending over our world."

"Canadians are targeted by these terrorists for no other reason than that we are Canadians," he said. "They want to harm us because they hate our society and our values. They hate pluralism, they hate tolerance and the freedom we enjoy."

Reuters reports that passage of the legislation "is assured because the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament."

Reacting to its introduction, Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, stated, "This radical expansion of national security powers is not sound security policy and presents a real danger to Canadians. Our national security agencies have shamefully inadequate oversight and are hostile to accountability. Canada has utterly failed to respond to the urgent need for national security oversight and instead, proposes an unprecedented expansion of powers that will harm innocent Canadians and not increase our public safety."

"Our national security agencies have shamefully inadequate oversight and are hostile to accountability."
—Michael Vonn, BC Civil Liberties Association
"This new law will impose a broad chill on legitimate political speech without enhancing public safety, and is likely unconstitutional," Vonn added.

Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien expressed concerns with the legislation as well. He said in a statement issued Friday, "This Act would seemingly allow departments and agencies to share the personal information of all individuals, including ordinary Canadians who may not be suspected of terrorist activities, for the purpose of detecting and identifying new security threats. It is not clear that this would be a proportional measure that respects the privacy rights of Canadians."

Echoing Vonn's concerns regarding inadequate oversight, Therrien expressed unease "that the proposed changes to information sharing authorities are not accompanied by measures to fill gaps in the national security oversight regime. Three national security agencies in Canada are subject to dedicated independent oversight of all of their activities. However, most of the organizations that would receive and use more personal information under the legislation introduced today are not," he stated.

Toronto-based journalist Steven Zhou made similar observations to Vonn, writing earlier this week at Ricochet, "A state apparatus that can pry into the lives of its atomized citizenry is indicative of totalitarian tendencies, threatening not just the quality of democratic practice, but, given the proliferation and importance of electronic communication, liberty itself," he wrote.

"It’s within this overall context that mass spying and policing powers will be expanded in Canada, in addition to many other countries, who have also, subsequent to incidents such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, fallen prey to the politics of fear," Zhou wrote.

Several European associations including PEN International, Open Rights Group and European Digital Rights addressed such expanding power in the wake of the Hebdo attack, issuing an open letter to world governments in which they wrote, "Moments like this need effective and considered responses and not unwise and restrictive increases in government and law enforcement powers."

They added that "more surveillance is not necessarily better surveillance, and increasing the scope and scale of government spying or interfering with freedom of expression is not the answer to all our security or societal problems;" rather, they continue, "we must hold strong to the values of the society that we want to live in, or we risk undermining those values in the name of saving them."

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