Canadian Activists Launch New Campaign to Demand Debate over Anti-Terror Law

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Canadian Activists Launch New Campaign to Demand Debate over Anti-Terror Law

"It was a big issue that got a lot of attention before the election and since the election hasn’t seen much action from the government. Canadians are not going to let this one slide."

Canadians protest Bill C-51. (Photo: Getty)

Civil liberties activists in Canada are demanding the new administration hold a public debate over a controversial surveillance law set to go into effect later this year.

The legislation, a so-called "anti-terror bill" known as C-51, passed in June 2015 despite widespread outcry from opponents who said it would give police excessive powers and codify racial profiling into law. An alliance of civil society groups, legal scholars, and labor unions are now launching a campaign to demand Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet hear public voices criticize the law they say threatens privacy, freedom of speech and religion, and other constitutional rights.

"We know very little about the government’s plans for C-51, so our hope is they are going to listen to the huge number of Canadians who expressed deep, deep concerns about this bill when it was passed," Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, told the Guardian on Wednesday. "They need to be very clear on what their intentions are before actually doing anything."

In an interview with the Canadian Press last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said, "The subject matter [of the bill] is large, it’s complex, the solutions aren’t particularly easy to achieve. But our whole point in having consultations is to listen to what we hear. And if the messages indicate that something more needs to be done, obviously we would try to pursue that."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he would establish an all-party oversight committee on national security, which is expected to happen within six months—but the Liberal administration has remained reticent on the bill itself, despite campaign promises to repeal its "problematic elements."

As Common Dreams has previously reported, C-51 would:

give up to 17 government agencies access to Canadian citizens' private information, including their financial status, medical history, and religious and political beliefs. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service would also be given the power to spy on Canadians and foreign nationals living in the country, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be granted increased powers of preventive arrest.

Under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's administration, Canada's intelligence agencies operated under the "weakest oversight" in the Western world, as national security whistleblower Edward Snowden warned last March.

As Canadians look to Trudeau's new cabinet to implement a litany of new reforms, the campaigners want to make C-51 a priority.

"At this point there just needs to be some direction from the government about whether there is going to be a consultation and how deeply they are going to reach into bill C-51," said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto professor and outspoken opponent of the law.

Laura Tribe of OpenMedia, a Vancouver-based advocacy group, added, "It was a big issue that got a lot of attention before the election and since the election hasn’t seen much action from the government. Canadians are not going to let this one slide."

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