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Despite Civil Liberties Uproar, Canada Set to Ram Through Mass Surveillance Bill

'This is about the soul of the country and a question of whether we understand what Canada stands for.'

Activists opposing C51 gather outside of Parliament in Ontario on March 16, 2015. (Photo: Leadnow Canada/flickr/cc)

Canada's House of Commons on Tuesday is poised to pass Bill C-51, a so-called "anti-terror" law, despite widespread outcry from civil liberties advocates who say the legislation would allow law enforcement to spy on civilians and violate Canadians' constitutional rights with little or no accountability.

The bill, introduced by the Conservative Party and backed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 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 authorized to spy on Canadians and foreign nationals living in the country, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be granted increased power to make preventive arrests.

Opponents of the bill have rallied for months under the banners #StopC51 and #RejectFear. According to digital policy advocacy group OpenMedia, the bill "disproportionately targets Indigenous communities, environmental activists, dissidents, and Muslims, many of whom are already subjected to questionable and overreaching powers by security officials, [and] will make it easier and ostensibly lawful for government to continue infringing upon the rights of peaceful people."

OpenMedia communications director David Christopher wrote in an op-ed for Rabble published Monday, "This government has left Canadians with a stark privacy deficit, and we'll all need to work together to address it. We need a co-ordinated plan to roll back mass surveillance, and restore our traditional privacy and democratic rights."

"The verdict from Canadians is clear—Bill C-51 will recklessly endanger our rights and our privacy, while making us less safe."
—David Christopher, OpenMedia

"The verdict from Canadians is clear—Bill C-51 will recklessly endanger our rights and our privacy, while making us less safe," Christopher said in a separate statement on Monday. "The top privacy and security experts in the land are warning about the damage this extreme legislation will lead to in terms of the reckless disclosure of the sensitive information of innocent Canadians.

"It's incredibly irresponsible for this government to defy Canadians by ramming this unpopular legislation through. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, as the election comes into focus Canadians will remember which MPs endorsed this reckless and dangerous piece of legislation."

As the Guardian points out, "The campaign to stop Bill C-51 grew to include virtually every civil-rights group, law professor, retired judge, author, editorialist and public intellectual in Canada."

Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, warned in a statement in March, "The scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient."

Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay have defended the bill as being "reasonable and proportionate."

On the House of Commons floor last week, Green Party leader Elizabeth May urged other Members of Parliament to also consider the ideological ramifications of the bill. "This is not an ordinary bill and this is not about politics anymore," May said. "This is about the soul of the country and a question of whether we understand what Canada stands for—for ourselves and what we represent around the world."

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