Resistance Mounts to Stephen Harper’s Secret Police Bill
Public support plummeting for Bill C-51 after National Day of Action and widespread criticism by public figures in Canada
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER, TRNN PRODUCER: Last fall, on the day after a lone gunman shot and killed a young soldier on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, Prime Minister Stephen Harper seized the opportunity to set the stage for the Conservative government’s anti-terrorism bill, C-51. There had been another attack two days before near Montreal by a self-proclaimed jihadist.
CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: For the second time this week there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated. In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts, and those of our national security agencies, to take all necessary steps and keep Canada safe here at home.
MAITLAND-CARTER: Some had a prescient response to the Prime Minister’s post-shooting statement.
GLENN GREENWALD: I think we’ve become much more susceptible to the kind of fear-mongering that the Canadian government is already engaged in, that Western governments uniformly engage in, to manipulate our emotions, to get us to acquiesce to things like what Prime Minister Harper calls greater police powers of surveillance, detention, and arrest.
MAITLAND-CARTER: The days and months passed, and more was learned about the Ottawa gunman. That although he was a recent convert to Islam, he also suffered from mental health and drug addiction issues, that he acted alone and had no affiliation with any radical Islamist groups in or outside the country. On January 30th, 2015, Prime Minister Harper unveiled his new anti-terrorism bill, C-51, which in many respects resembles the so-called anti-terrorism legislation passed by the U.S. government after 9/11.
HARPER: Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality. Violent jihadism is not just a danger somewhere else, it seeks to harm us here in Canada, in our cities, and in our neighborhoods. Through horrific acts like deliberately driving a car at a defenseless man, or shooting a soldier in the back as he stands on guard at a war memorial.
MAITLAND-CARTER: Critics, including four former prime ministers, legal, security, and intelligence experts have gone on record to say that among the other concerns of granting Canadian spy agencies broad new powers, the lack of oversight in the proposed bill is especially alarming.
EDWARD SNOWDEN, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY WHISTLEBLOWER: Canadian intelligence has one of the weakest oversight frameworks of any Western intelligence agency in the world. And when they’re trying to expand their powers, you know, it’s pretty amazing. But I would say we should always be extraordinarily cautious when we see governments trying to set up a new secret police within their own countries. When they’re asking for intelligence authorities, intelligence powers, which is to say extraordinary powers, to be used in new means … particularly related to political ideologies, radicalization, influence on governments. And how people develop their politics, which governments refer to nowadays as radicalization. We need to be very careful about this.
MAITLAND-CARTER: March 14th was designated a national day of action, with reported seventy actions taking place across the country, from St. John’s, Newfoundland; to Winnipeg, Manitoba; to Victoria, British Columbia. The largest gathering took place in Toronto, with thousands of people gathered to protest the pending Bill C-51.
PAMELA PALMATER, MI’KMAQ LAWYER, PROFESSOR: Bill C-51 is very complicated, but it’s also very simple. Any activity, any activity, by anyone in this country, that purports to threaten economic stability, territorial integrity, diplomatic relations, even, will now be a terrorist act. Every one of us will be a terrorist. But it’s on every single one of us to stop this from happening.
They have failed to obtain our free, informed, and prior consent, which is a violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s also a violation of Section 35 of our constitution, which protects our Aboriginal treaty rights, and which requires the free information, consultation, accommodation, and consent by First Nations on any legislation that will impact us, and they simply didn’t do that, so it’s starting off as an illegal document before it even gets to Parliament.
MAITLAND-CARTER: There are concerns about the different ways in which Bill C-51 would criminalize civil liberties.
PAUL COPELAND, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER, ORDER OF CANADA: In my view it’s probably the most dangerous government piece of legislation enaction since four hundred people were arrested under the War Measures Act in 1970.
LUNA LELOUP, RALLY ORGANIZER: Journalists, as well, are going to be heavily impacted by this. Anybody that criticizes any involvement that Canada has anywhere else in the world. Dissent is basically becoming illegal, if this bill passes.
SYD RYAN, ONTARIO FEDERATION OF LABOR: The definition within this legislation of terrorism is interfering with the financial stability of the economy, or interfering with infrastructure. Well let me tell you, my friends, that’s the definition of illegal strike. And that’s the definition of the working class, what we used, [that was] what we used, my friends, to advance the well-being and the standard of living of all Canadians. And I can tell Stephen Harper, right from the labor movement in Ontario, that we’ll be damned if we stop striking in this province. I don’t care what piece of legislation you bring in, my friends, [inaud.] legal strikes.
ELIZABETH MAY, GREEN PARTY LEADER: This bill will make it much more dangerous for those of us who oppose pipelines, absolutely. The RCMP is referring to us as anti-petroleum idealogues. Yes, it’s a problem. Stephen Harper has conflated petroleum with patriotism. I think we know the difference. [inaud.] depends on getting all the [inaud.]
INTERVIEWER: Is your sign true?
WALTER DRAPER, RALLY PARTICIPANT: Oh yeah, no, it’s true. In 2001-2003, there was over sixty-one deaths by moose-related incidences, and really, like, I cannot, I can’t really think of one serious terrorist offense that has happened in Canada. There might have been the one at Parliament, so that’s one guy, right? So sixty-one to one. And that’s just, in, like, 2001-2003.
JOSEPHINE GREY, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Why don’t you look at the real threat to Canadian security? The real threat is climate change. Why don’t you talk to the Pentagon? They said the biggest threat is climate change. And who is the biggest climate change driver of all? Harper himself.
MAITLAND-CARTER: A poll published in February showed that eighty-two percent of Canadians supported Bill C-51, while another poll published last week suggests that public support for Stephen Harper’s anti-terrorism bill is dropping, with only forty-five percent of those surveyed saying they would support it, and sixty-one percent said they oppose allowing security services to infiltrate and track indigenous and environmental activists.
The bill may well become a wedge issue in the upcoming October federal election. While the New Democratic Party and the Green Party have spoken out against it, the Liberal Party, currently ahead in the polls, have come out in support of it.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, LEADER OF THE LIBERAL PARTY OF CANADA: Matters of national security should be beyond partisanship. We will take a constructive approach to improving this bill. Liberals welcome the measures that build on the powers of preventative arrests, make better use of no-fly lists, and allow for more coordinated information sharing by government departments and agencies.
LINDA JOY MCQUAIG, AUTHOR AND SOCIAL CRITIC: The Liberal position is that oh, they’ll do something with it later. That is just insufficient. I mean, we absolutely need to stand up and fight against it. This is about really basic, fundamental liberties.
RIAZ SAYANI-MULJI: Islamophobia is a growing problem in Canadian society, but the Conservative Party is not alone in ostracizing the Muslim community. Remember, it was also the Liberal Party who voted for Bill C-51.
PALMATER: On March 24th I’m going to be testifying before the Public Safety and National Security Committee, specifically on Bill C-51 and what my concerns are with it. And I’ll be presenting my legal concerns, the lack of oversight, overly broad, violates all of our charter rights. But also that it violates Aboriginal treaty rights, and that it will and has always targeted indigenous peoples, wrongfully so. The other issues I’m really going to bring up is the long history of the lack of oversight of state police forces and surveillance forces, and how indigenous peoples have suffered from that. We’ve died at the hands of police, and we also, and still are, monitored by the police. Wrongfully so. We’re clearly not terrorists. When people show up and dance and drum and sing to protect the environment, that’s no terrorist threat to anybody.
MCQUAIG: And you can see already that the Harper government is out to get what they call the anti-petroleum movement, which is really the movement to save the planet. And they’re already, they’ve already [inaud.] every progressive group, basically, in the country, but with a particular focus on the environmental ones. People concerned about climate change. And this is just giving them carte blanche. C-51 will just open the gates to far more interference and harassment on the part of the RCMP and CSIS. It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing.
LELOUP: The whole process has been completely undemocratic. You’ve see the Conservatives trying to push this through with very little debate and with very little concern for what academics and legal experts are saying about this bill. It’s a complete disregard. We’re not having this discussion, what’s happening is un-Canadian, and I just simply disagree with it. And we need to exercise our rights while we still have them, or else they’re just privileges.
MAITLAND-CARTER: This is Kathleen Maitland-Carter in Toronto, reporting for The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.