Everything you need to know about Bill C-51

New roles for CSIS, expanded surveillance and troubling new definitions of national security.

CSIS, Harper government, Ottawa shootings
Stephen Harper with York Regional police.

Background

Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed Bill C-51 to "counter threats to national security" in January. Bill C-51 in its current form provides law enforcement authorities and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) greater powers to arrest citizens suspected of being a ‘security threat’ for up to seven days, and allows for some court proceedings to be closed to public scrutiny.

The state will be given the authority to expand the list of people prevented from flying out of the country. Federal authorities will be given powers to share personal information of suspects or block their finances. The CSIS will be permitted to disrupt radical websites and Twitter whether in Canada or elsewhere, and can apply for a court order to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet.

Bill C-51 introduces two new laws, the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, and also proposes amendments to the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and several other laws. The House of Commons public safety committee will hear more than 50 witnesses on the bill starting tomorrow.

The bill was proposed in response to the shootings on Parliament Hill on October 22 last year. Prime Minister Harper views violent jihad as “an act of war” that threatens Canadians. His critics blame him for overstating the terrorism threat, using fear to justify the withdrawal of constitutionally protected rights for all Canadian citizens.

Where parties stand on Bill C-51

The Liberal party has supported the bill, but is calling for amendments that provide greater oversight of CSIS. The New Democratic Party (NDP) has opposed the bill stating that it is "dangerous, vague, ineffective" and does not address the terrorism threat responsibly. The Green Party fears it could lead to the creation of a secret police.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark expressed concern that Bill C-51 may diminish individual rights. "I would hate to see any changes that are going to mean that we start to water down freedoms we have fought for," she said in a recent interview with CBC's Evan Solomon on Power and Politics.

"We will regret that forever. When you give up personal freedoms, it's very hard to get them back. A balance must be found,” said Clark.

Around 82 per cent adult Canadians surveyed online support the bill, but 69 per cent want additional oversight to ensure law enforcement’s powers aren’t abused, according to a survey of 1,509 Canadians conducted by the Angus Reid Institute.

Several civil rights groups, environmental organizations, First Nations and minority groups are concerned that the Bill could result in targeting of dissenters and lacks measures to ensure accountability. Critics have organized protests across the country on March 14.

Controversy

1. Broad definition of 'undermining national security'

Bill C-51 encompasses not just terrorism but “activities that undermine the security of Canada,” which the government can interpret liberally to clamp down on illegal protests or advocacy groups. The Federal government has been targeting charitable organizations through audits and may use Bill C-51 to further harass them.

The RCMP labelled the clean energy movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, increasing concerns that environmentalists and First Nations opposing resource extraction projects (such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline) may face increased surveillance, or harassment.

2. Expanded powers for CSIS

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