On Friday the Harper government introduced new anti-terror legislation C-51. The bill gives CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) more powers to disrupt threats, police the ability to preventatively detain suspects, and the Minister of Transport the ability to keep people on the no-fly list. It also presents new measures on fighting propaganda defined as promoting the instigation of attacks against Canada.
A couple of these clauses stray a little close to the line. Granting CSIS a few more powers is reasonable. In theory, if they gather knowledge of an impending attack then why not give them the ability to act on it? Then again the bill lowers the threshold on evidence. Judges potentially could sign off on any kind of warrant so long as the intelligence services say it’s preventing an attack against Canada. You have to think there’s a reason for a high bar for evidence; because the minute authorities get a warrant, they could be on the road to taking someone’s liberty (arresting them). That shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Preventative Detention is like something straight out of the movies. The measure again lowers the evidence barrier; the police don’t have to prove that a terrorist offense will be carried out, simply that it may be carried out. It gives police the power to detain people for up to 7 days. The positive here is that there is a sunset clause- this measure ceases in 2017.
Fighting Propaganda could bring up problems as it comes to the Freedom of Speech issue. It gives judges the ability to order the search, seizure, and deletion of propaganda from a computer system. This clause attempts to compromise by allowing the publisher to appear in court to learn why, and oppose the measure if they choose. But two questions remain here: For the sake of this legislation what is propaganda? Is it someone publishing a short-story that has a Muslim character who states anti-western beliefs? Because this could happen as some seek to test this clause in open court. Second question: How do you track down the origins? With re-tweeting, and sharing on social media it can be pretty difficult to track.
The powers with regards to the no-fly list are reasonable. The process gives people who are on it the right to appeal, and judges the power to hear evidence even if it isn’t admissible in court. Where there might be an issue is with the information-sharing. This section gives Immigration officials the right to share passport information with other ministries, and Public Works officials the right to pass on any info on people as it comes to the Controlled Goods Program. It’s good to share information, but bad to do it without oversight.
The difficulty is, as always to balance public safety with civil liberties. Bill C-51 is a good start but parts of it are pretty close to that line.