David Christopher, communications manager of OpenMedia, says this legislation is one of the most extreme pieces of legislation approved by Canadian lawmakers
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The Canadian government’s controversial antiterrorism bill, also known as Bill C-51, passed in the Senate on Tuesday, despite opposition from hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Civil liberties advocates are concerned about the increased power that it gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the criminalization of dissent, and the encroachment on privacy rights. Joining me now from Vancouver is David Christopher. He is the communications manager of OpenMedia. Thank you so much for joining us, David. DAVID CHRISTOPHER, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, OPENMEDIA: Thank you so much for having me. PERIES: So, David, briefly speak about the bill, how it’ll affect Canadian civil liberties, to get started with. CHRISTOPHER: Sure. Unfortunately, this legislation, Bill C-51, is really one of the most extreme proposals ever put before a Canadian parliament in terms of the impact it will have on Canadians’ civil liberties, their rights and freedoms, and, I think, the fabric of Canadian democracy as a whole. You know, this is a bill that’s going to affect all Canadians, including law-abiding Canadians are going to see their private information systematically collected and stored by the government, potentially handed over to spy agencies, and even disclosed to foreign governments, potentially the U.S. NSA. So it’s an enormously far-reaching bill. And that’s why so many Canadians are very worried about the consequences. PERIES: Now, this is a long, drawnout fight, and very public one, with lots of demonstrations and so on. Why do you think it was–the people lost? Why did to Bill C-51 pass? CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, Bill C-51 finally passed the Senate earlier this week. It passed the House of Commons a few weeks ago. You know, in Canada we have a slightly different form of parliamentary democracy, and the government here does have large majorities in both houses. So we always knew it was going to be an uphill fight to beat back this legislation at this stage. It always looked like the government would succeed in using its majority to ram it through Parliament, despite the opposition from Canadians. But the good news is we’re certainly not giving up this campaign. We’ve got a federal election just three or four months away, and we have two of the top four parties here, the NDP and the Greens, are already pledged to completely repeal Bill C-51 if they take power. So I think the result of Tuesday’s Senate vote has really been to focus minds now very much on the election, very much on encouraging the leaders of all the main political parties in Ottawa to listen to Canadians and to promise to completely overturn this bill if they get elected in October. PERIES: Now, the federal government announced just after all of this that $137 million is going to be allocated to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and $41 million a year afterwards. With this announcement and with the bill, C-51, just about to take effect, can you tell us more about the concerted effort of the Canadian security agency and how these monies will be applied and used? CHRISTOPHER: Sure. It’s really one of the aspects of this bill that have got people to most concerned is the way it dramatically expands the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. They are basically Canada’s domestic spy agency. Just over a year ago, they were actually caught spying on a wide range of completely peaceful environmental groups out here on the West Coast as part of a pipeline controversy. So they’re already abusing the powers they do have. Bill C-51 will result in a great expansion of those powers. We’ve had The Globe and Mail, which is Canada’s most read daily newspaper, actually editorialize that this amounts to creating a secret police force here. I can give one specific example is that under Bill C-51, CSIS could actually apply for a warrant in a secret hearing with only the government represented, would explicitly permit them to break Canadians’ Charter rights, the Charter being Canada’s equivalent, basically, of the U.S. Bill of Rights. So CSIS could actually get a warrant to explicitly break the most fundamental rights and freedoms that Canadians enjoy. This extra funding from the government would of course go toward that. And this is all in a context where the oversight bodies for CSIS have been systematically starved of funding. They don’t have the resources they need to do their job effectively, and nor do they have the powers that they need to do their job effectively. So while the government is, on the one hand, starving the oversight agencies, on the other hand, they are dramatically increasing both the resources and the powers of CSIS. And as I say, that’s really got Canadians, including people from right across the political spectrum, very concerned about where this is going. PERIES: Now, several petitions have been signed opposing Bill C-51, and NDP member of parliament Peggy Nash just posted on her Facebook page today that one response she has received from the government thus far to rationalize the bill is that international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada and Canadians are being targeted by jihadist terrorists simply because they hate our society and values it represents. This smacks very much of the arguments used by the NSA in Canada. Can you comment on this response? CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, it’s really, I think, a pathetic line of argument from Canada’s government. They know this bill is really unpopular, so they’re resorting to these kind of ridiculous fear tactics. Clearly Canadians aren’t buying it, because when you look at the polls, they’re all moving in the direction of the people who are opposed to this legislation. It’s really a throwback, I think, to the kind of overheated rhetoric that we saw in the U.S. around the Patriot Act. If you cast your mind back, you know, ten years ago, those were the kind of flimsy rationales that the government in the U.S., the Bush administration, were using then. And it’s a real shame to see Canada’s government resort to that now. And I think the reason that they’re doing so is they simply haven’t built a strong case for this legislation. They know that all the top privacy experts, most of the top security experts in Canada are really sounding the alarm about this legislation. They say that the government has got the balance all wrong, that we need to go back to the drawing board, and the first step to that will be repealing this bill if we get a new government elected. PERIES: Now, many people are opposing this bill, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization. Now, are there any legal–well, their main argument is that this violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I should say. So is there any legal challenges being posed here to fight back this bill, C-51? CHRISTOPHER: Oh, I think almost certainly this bill will be constitutionally challenged in the courts here. I haven’t heard that a challenge has been announced yet, but it’s only really two or three days since this legislation has passed. I fully expect it to be challenged in the courts. It’ll likely end up before the Supreme Court. You know, I’m not a lawyer myself, but I’ve spoken to, really, some of the top legal experts in the country on this, and it’s really clear that Bill C-51 is unconstitutional. It breaches several provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And it certainly–I think when it does end up in the Supreme Court, which, of course, can take years, but I do expect that large parts of this bill will eventually, I guess, be struck down as unconstitutional. Of course, the pity here is it will–these kind of things do take some time. It’ll likely take years to get to that point. And in that intervening time, of course, people’s fundamental rights and freedoms are being trampled on. And that’s why our focus at OpenMedia with the new KillC51.ca campaign we launched this week is squarely to focus on the [incompr.] on getting party leaders in Ottawa to commit to listen to Canadians, commit to repealing this bill, before more damage is done and before, really, I guess, millions of taxpayer dollars are spent trying to fight a losing battle in the courts over it. PERIES: Now, one of the arguments also being used is that it violates the international covenant on civil and political rights. Can you give us some specific examples of how the bill does that? CHRISTOPHER: Certainly. It’s going to have a really negative impact on people’s right to freedom of expression. It has provisions in Bill C-51 that really amount to internet censorship, would empower the government to remove websites from the internet, remove messages from the internet. There’s very little due process there, there’s very little checks and balances, very little right of appeal for those affected. And, you know, we’ve had the top leaders in Canada’s growing tech sector, really big names like the people behind Slack and Hootsuite speaking out about the negative impact, the really worrying impact this will have on Canada’s digital economy. PERIES: David, if I may, we do this every day on the internet. We remove things and we add things and we edit Wikipedia pages and we edit our websites. What’s wrong with this? CHRISTOPHER: Oh, the fact that this would be the government that will be empowered to do this against the will of the person who posted it up. So if you’re running a blog, you’re the one who gets to decide what gets posted on that blog, you’re the one who gets to decide what goes up and what goes down. Now, of course, there are sensible limits on that. You can’t totally incite people to violence or to hatred against certain ethnic groups and things like that. There are sensible safeguards already in the law. But, unfortunately, Bill C-51 gives a much broader range of reasons by which the government can simply force websites off the internet. And that’s what’s got experts–I know the people at Canadian Journalists for Free Expression are being particularly outspoken about the impact that this will really have on the quality of the democratic discourse here in Canada. It will actually have a chilling effect. People are going to be less willing to speak out, perhaps less willing to criticize government policy, for fear that they would get caught, placed under the government microscope, and potentially affected by these censorship provisions. PERIES: Alright. Stephen, thank you so much for joining us today. CHRISTOPHER: Thank you very much again for having me. PERIES: All the best. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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