As the United Nations gears up for its first-in-a-decade review of Canada's human rights record, activists opposing a controversial "anti-terrorism" surveillance law are jumping at the chance to plead their case in front of the panel.
Opponents of Bill C-51, which passed the Canadian Parliament last month despite widespread condemnation from citizens and lawmakers, will enumerate their concerns with the law and other so-called "anti-terror" policies at the meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva this week.
"We want to ensure the human rights committee is aware of a fairly long list of serious, and we would say worsening, human rights concerns," Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada (AIC), one of the groups taking part in the review, said on Monday.
As Common Dreams has previously reported, C-51 will amend the Criminal Code to expand the mandate and power of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and allow police to detain and arrest people without charge if they are suspected as threats to national security.
It will also grant more than 100 law enforcement and intelligence agencies access to Canadians' personal information—including their financial status, medical history, and religious and political beliefs—and require airlines to help prevent alleged suspects from flying overseas, among other measures.
This will be the first time in 10 years that the UN will review Canada's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada is one of 168 countries that has signed the covenant—which guarantees, among other things, that no one "shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention" or "be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation."
But C-51 is far from the only concern of the AIC and other human rights groups taking part in the review.
"There's a bundle of issues related to national security, even before bill C-51 came along," Neve said.
That includes an immigration law that allows the Canadian government to revoke citizenship for any dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason, or spying charges.
Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), which is also taking part in the review, said in a statement on Monday, "This is an important process for Canada to either demonstrate or explain on the world stage, and before an expert body, its record on humans rights pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
"We are there to ensure the body questioning Canada, the Human Rights Committee, knows of our many concerns regarding civil liberties in Canada, including Bill C-51, equality rights, aboriginal persons, police and conducted energy weapons, as well as the treatment of refugees," Pillay added.
CCLA and other leading human rights organizations have previously called for C-51 to be withdrawn. "Too much is at stake," the groups said in a joint statement in June. "While Canada’s national security agencies are granted ever-increasing powers and scope, no effort has been made to provide for a system of robust and independent accountability, despite urgent calls for reform."
Following the review, which will also hear counterarguments from a Canadian government delegation, the UN panel will release non-binding findings on July 23.
Just a week after C-51 passed into law, a coalition of 700 organizations and individuals known as Voices-Voix released a report charging the Canadian government with turning civil society groups into the country's "Public Enemy #1" through tactics like stifling dissent, punishing whistleblowers, and undermining labor unions.
"[W]e feel neither secure nor valued," the group wrote in its report. "In a culture of pervasive scare tactics and punishment, it can be easy to become paralyzed with fear, to accept the advocacy chill and give way to self-censorship."