Bill C-59, the Liberals’ new national security legislation, is a cleaned up continuation of the Tories’ infamous and draconian Bill C-51, which the Liberals promised to significantly amend if elected in 2015. In fact they voted for C-51 despite mass country-wide protests against the Bill before and during the election. Their promises to amend it were widely understood to mean they would rewrite it to expunge the dangerously authoritarian, repressive and anti-democratic core of the legislation. Two years later, the Liberals have produced C-59, the twin brother of C-51, cleaned-up, but no less dangerous to Canadians’ civil, labour and democratic rights.
Much attention in this Bill is given to oversight, and with good reason. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), were set up in 1984 following on the recommendations of the McDonald Commission Report into RCMP wrong-doing, to separate policing and law enforcement (RCMP) from intelligence gathering (CSIS), and to establish oversight (SIRC). This separation of law enforcement from intelligence gathering and oversight was specifically intended to keep the RCMP law-abiding and end its long list of illegal and reprehensible activities which included extensive spying and ‘dirty tricks’ aimed at the labour and democratic movements across Canada and in Quebec, and left wing political parties and individuals including the Communist Party of Canada. The dirty tricks included break-ins, forgeries, a barn-burning in Quebec, wiretaps, widespread snooping, and many other illegal acts. This was the RCMP’s modus operandi.
Bill C-59 has combined national security oversight into one conglomerate organization, so that the spies and spooks will now be virtually self-regulating under a new “super-SIRC”. This includes oversight of CSIS, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA). It also recombines law enforcement with intelligence gathering, which the MacDonald Commission strongly opposed. Stream-lined, it is. But very dangerous to democracy at home and abroad. Furthermore, much hinges on the political views of the government of the day, since the Minister responsible has the power to approve all of the agency’s activities. A Tory government would say “yes” to whole lot of things that most people in Canada would find unacceptable. What would the Liberals do? We’re getting a taste of that now.
With the Liberals’ new foreign and defence policies of actively participating in US and NATO wars of aggression around the globe, and increasing defence spending by 70% to pay for it, it’s clear the government’s policy is not peace-keeping, but direct involvement in the overthrow of foreign governments, also known as ‘regime change’. This is illegal under the UN charter, but that hasn’t stopped the US or its NATO allies. Including Canada.
Bill C-59 also makes clear that the government’s domestic policy is to pick up where the RCMP left off in the 1970s, and for the same reasons: protest by the labour and democratic movements are seen as a threat to corporate profits, and to the policies of the governments that serve them. Opposition to the Liberals’ pipeline policies, to their austerity policies, and to legislation like Bill C-51 are recent examples. But the Liberals will do the job of tightening up Canada’s security state with a bit more finesse and a nicer veil of justification than the Harper government could ever produce.
Bill C-59 defines activity that undermines the security of Canada as “any activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada …. (including) interference with the capability of the government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations or public safety.” This includes: “significant or widespread interference with critical infrastructure; significant or widespread interference with the global information infrastructure as defined in … the National Defence Act; and conduct that takes place in Canada and that undermines the security of another state.” And this: “For the purposes of this Act, advocacy, protest, dissent or artistic expression is not an activity that undermines the security of Canada unless carried on in conjunction with an activity that undermines the security of Canada.”
So much for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the right to protest and dissent in Canada. C-51 allowed for arbitrary arrest and detention on suspicion of future wrong-doing. C-59 also allows for preventative arrest and detention, but requires a bit better explanation regarding the likelihood of future wrong-doing.
C-59 also allows for widespread disruption inside and outside Canada, including intercepting and interference with communications, financial transactions, and the movement of individuals. It allows for widespread spying and covert activity aimed at information gathering and sharing with other government agencies. (Revenue Canada? Health Canada?) It can also share this information with other states, and use it to interfere or disrupt at the international level. This is part of Canada’s new defence policy, or so it appears.
C-59 continues to allow unmediated access to information by special advocates (lawyers appointed by the Justice Ministry) in immigration security certificates. Lawyers representing permanent residents and refugees in Canada, and their clients, will continue to be prevented from accessing, or having any knowledge of the alleged ‘evidence’ against their clients, or from attending the hearings where the ‘evidence’ is heard and decisions are rendered. This is a massive miscarriage of justice and contrary to the most basic concept of justice, that the accused has the right to respond to their accuser and to the accusations.
C-59 will continue to gather names and other information on individuals to add them to the no-fly list, which arbitrarily prevents access to air transport. The very small improvement over C-51 is that this Bill allows the Minister to inform parents if their child is not on the no-fly list.
C-59 will accelerate collection of information on individuals and organizations who have committed no crimes but are ‘of interest’ to the security and intelligence forces. This information will be stored in new datasets of information which will be shared among intelligence agencies, and likely beyond that in practice.
Bill-C59 will facilitate the creation of ‘alternative facts’ by the security and intelligence agencies. This is already evident in the CSIS report released in February this year, that aims to frighten Parliamentarians and the public into believing that there is an immediate threat to Canada’s security posed by Islamic fundamentalism and the ‘radicalization’ of Islamic youth. An examination of the real facts show that this is not even remotely the case, though the Islamic community in Canada is facing a growing threat of violence and murder from right-wing fundamentalists and white supremacists.
Bill C-59 will bring us more of these ‘alternative facts’ that are intended to generate fear and distrust, and to allow the security state increasing powers – and budgets.
C-59 like Bill C-51, will continue to include references to threats to ‘critical infrastructure’, as a justification for spying, provoking, and otherwise interfering with the public’s right to protest the Alberta tar sands, mining company operations, hydro installations, etc. “Critical infrastructure” is corporate infrastructure.
This is the lived experience of environmentalists and Indigenous peoples protesting the Energy East, Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan pipelines, and other corporate interests in the super profitable resource extraction sector. The RCMP’s Project SITKA, secretly established in 2014 to spy on more than 300 Indigenous people peacefully protesting pipelines, was exposed by OPIRG in 2016. C-59 will continue to target Indigenous and environmental protesters, and anyone else who publicly criticizes or opposes policies which impact corporate profits and interests.
C-59 also gives broad protections to agents involved in spying and in disruption and other covert activities. While Bill C-59 says the security and intelligence forces must obey the law and the Charter, it then sets out the exceptions, which all fall under the heading of… national security.
C-51 allowed CSIS agents broad powers to act, but Bill C-59 gives them new powers to break the law. The Bill repeatedly and solemnly affirms that security forces, including CSIS, CSE, CBSA, and their agents must obey the law, and especially the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, before listing the exceptions, which are extensive. If someone’s life is in danger, or if time is an issue, the rules can be thrown out the window. In fact the rules can be thrown out the window almost anytime, if the higher ups agree. The only requirement to ignore the Charter rights of an individual or organization is to secure a secret warrant. The justification? National security. The agents involved will all be immune to prosecution for their illegal acts. In fact enabling many of the illegal acts that Canadians remain concerned about, is what this Bill is all about.
What is prohibited, without exception? Violating the sexual integrity of a person is not allowed. Torture is not allowed. Causing death or bodily harm intentionally or by negligence – not allowed. Obstructing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or democracy is also not allowed, though the Bill provides all of the tools and the protections needed to do exactly that. Given recent history, including the cases of Canadians Maher Arar and Omar Khadr whose rights disappeared when they were disappeared to torture centres frequented by Canadian CSIS agents, these prohibitions are not believable. Omar Khadr, a child soldier incarcerated and tortured for 10 years in Guantanamo, with the knowledge and approval of the Harper government and Canadian security and intelligence, is the real face of what Canadian security and intelligence “gathering” is really about. And how dangerous it is to civil and democratic rights.
Bill C-59 was introduced June 20 and has just passed first reading. Working people should take note that the Tories have panned the legislation as not going far enough, as being too soft. The corporate owned media says it’s just fine.
The Trudeau government has indicated it will seek public input – let’s give it to them loud and clear.
The Communist Party will oppose this legislation with all of the tools at hand, including public speaking, protests, articles, briefs, and a campaign to expose and defeat the Bill. We call on the labour and democratic movements to also take action to stop this Bill from becoming law. Opposition across the country that includes protests, petitions, demonstrations, letters to the editor, calls in to talk shows, motions and resolutions, are all ways to stop Bill C-59 in its tracks.
Stop it before it is used to attack civil, labour, and democratic rights in Canada.
Along with this, we demand the repeal of Bill C-51, should it survive this session of Parliament. We call for an end to legislation and political action by the Liberals and Tories that threatens peace and security of Canada and the world; that supports state terrorism and ‘regime change’ by NATO and the US; that aims to undermine democracy and civil, labour and democratic rights in Canada.
Central Executive Committee
Communist Party of Canada