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'Excessive and Unprecedented': Privacy Commissioner Sounds Alarm on Sweeping Anti-Terrorism Legislation

'In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security and other government agencies to determine the limits of their own powers.'—Daniel Therrien

Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  (Photo:  Paolo Ferrarini/flickr/cc)

Canada's Privacy Commissioner has criticized proposed anti-terrorism legislation for affording government "excessive" powers to sweep up information from all Canadians with neither due oversight nor the necessary privacy safeguards.

The legislation, Bill C-51, was introduced in January and has been met with fierce criticism by those who say it was introduced through fear-mongering, threatens to chill legitimate political speech and will face limited debate.

In his op-ed published Friday, Commissioner Daniel Therrien writes the the bill "does not strike the right balance" between privacy and security.

"The scale of information sharing between government departments and agencies being proposed in this bill is unprecedented. The new powers that would be created are excessive and the privacy safeguards being proposed are seriously deficient," he writes.

"The Bill would provide 17 federal government agencies with almost limitless powers to monitor and profile ordinary Canadians," 14 of which face no independent oversight.

He adds that "history has shown us that serious human rights abuses can occur in the name of national security," citing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations as well as a commission that found "national security information sharing led to the torture of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar."

"Significant changes" are needed to the bill, Therrien writes, including the creation of review bodies "to ensure appropriate oversight" and judicial recourse for those who feel their information was obtained or used improperly.

"In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security and other government agencies to determine the limits of their own powers," he adds.

Therrien's op-ed comes the same week as Snowden said that Canada's intelligence agencies were subjected to the "weakest oversight" in the Western world.

Opponents of the legislation are holding a day of action on March 14 to highlight what they say is a "reckless, dangerous, and ineffective" bill.


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