"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin, Reply to the Governor (11 November 1755)
C-51 is the single most statist, freedom crushing piece of Canadian legislation passed by Parliament in my lifetime, which is saying quite a bit, given that I was alive during the only implementation of the War Measures Act in October, 1970.
The law is purportedly an anti-terrorist measure, but it actually says so much more than that. Things such as "disruption of the Canadian economy" are now classified as terrorist acts, which is overbroad and ripe for abuse. Groups on both the Left and the Right could be targeted under it.
Don't believe me? Let's see what a uniformed RCMP has to say about it.
Ironically, protesting C-51 is, in the eyes of the police, a terrorist act. Notice the phrase "When the demo's down, you become citizens again." That video was taken just three weeks ago.
Problematically, it is the police that will be granted extraordinary new powers to implement the law. And we saw just how restrained they were during the G20 Summit in Toronto five years ago.
C-51 essentially says the following;
1) The Constitution is no longer the supreme law of the land, the whims of our domestic spy agencies are.
This cannot be stressed enough. The law explicitly allows for spies to violate both the law and the Charter rights of a suspect, if granted a judicial warrant.
This is not how constitutional democracies have traditionally worked. Law enforcement and the judiciary have been answerable to the Constitution, not the other way around. I challenge anyone reading this to imagine a more dramatic expansion of the power of the state.
2) Terrorism is so important that C-51 shouldn't be overseen by our elected representatives in Parliament.
This is new for the Harper Conservatives, who have spent a full decade railing against the power of the unelected judiciary and bureaucracy over the will of Parliament. No longer.
Should the Conservative Party ever again find itself in opposition, it will be interesting to see their reaction to learning about the national security measures of the government from the newspaper, like the rest of us. That, of course, assumes that they (or we) ever do, given that so much of this will remain secret.
3) Free speech isn't as free as it used to be, particularly political speech.
Like it or not, terrorism is an inherently political act and often a paramilitary tactic. As has often been said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Indeed, a number of terrorist groups have political wings that are represented in national governments.
In that context, what does "advocacy" mean? Is the academic suggestion that, say, Hezbollah represents the aspirations of Lebanon's Shiite population now cause for imprisonment under the Criminal Code of Canada? If the peace accords in Northern Ireland fall apart, what then? I would be particularly careful of the neoconservative position that the MEK is an ideal instrument of regime change in Iran. Suicide bombing is a recognized terrorist tactic, but the Kurds have been known to employ it in fighting ISIS.
All of the above rely entirely on the views of the government at a given time, therefore they are highly selective. The long, hard battle over Section 13 of the Human Rights Code is quaint by comparison. You had to work pretty hard to actually go to jail under Section 13, which isn't true of C-51.
Support for C-51 seems to be predicated on the idea that Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party will be in power forever, which is a foolish and highly dangerous assumption. Future governments, particularly Left of centre governments, might take a very different view of what constitutes terrorism.
And who will interpret that? The same judiciary and bureaucracy that Conservative supporters proclaim to despise.
In fact, it's quite a bit worse than that. Criminal Code violations aren't often tried by federal prosecutors. That's usually handled by Crown attorneys appointed by and answerable to provincial governments. Would you like to gamble that the interpretations of Kathleen Wynne and Rachel Notley regarding "disruptions of the Canadian economy" line up with those of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney? Are you comfortable giving Justin Trudeau or Thomas Muclair these extraordinary powers? If you support C-51, you had better be.
Even though it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see how this law can be misused to violate fundamental Canadian freedoms, there has not been, to my knowledge, many prominent conservative commentators speaking out against the law. Even those who have spent the last two years railing against the "High River gun grab" have either been supportive of C-51 or studiously quiet about it.
Which is fine, I suppose, when it isn't their ox being gored. But someday it might be.
C-51 should be the primary ballot issue for anyone who says that they care about freedom. It is incredibly disappointing that, on the Right, it isn't.
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