Brief regarding public consultation on national security by the SECU committee

Oct. 28, 2016

To: The Standing Committee on Public Safety & National Security

From: The Voices-Voix Coalition

Submission of brief regarding public consultation on national security

The Voices-Voix Coalition has drafted these remarks as part of the committee’s public consultation on national security (adapted from the remarks delivered at the in-person committee hearing in Montreal on Oct. 18, 2016).

The Voices-Voix coalition joins many others in expressing our concern over the balancing of civil liberties with Canada’s national security legislation and frameworks, including the changes brought about by the adoption of Bill C-51 in summer 2015.

Our coalition is focused on dissent, free expression and the right to protest, so our comments will be focused on that area.

We have four main points we would like to touch on:

First, we are concerned that the broad definition of terrorist activity as laid out in section 83.01(1)(b) of the Criminal Code, leaves open the potential for the criminalization of dissent. Although there is a provision that acts of dissent are excluded from this section of the criminal code, this is still not enough, given that the terms are open to interpretation & politicization. It is entirely possible for us to imagine a Canadian government which does not see an act of protest as being legitimate dissent, but rather an act of terrorism – especially given the broad definition of terrorism that has been adopted.

Second, that the new crime of promoting terrorism (section 83.221) is overly broad and vague and leaves open the very real potential that it could be used against individuals expressing dissent, among others. As we are sure the committee is aware, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach have written extensively on this, including in the Globe and Mail. There are clear cases where such a law could be used again journalists, analysts, political activists and everyday Canadians.

Third, the fact that such laws are not properly vetted by the justice department for charter compliance is in and of itself problematic, particularly with regards to safeguarding Canadians' rights and freedoms. All federal opposition parties at the time expressed concern that Bill C-51 was not vetted for its charter compliance. And we have documented ourselves how budget cuts at the Department of Justice, as signaled by former DoJ lawyer Edgar Schmidt, have raised concerns about the resources to vet legislation.

​Finally, we are concerned about the bloated powers given to CSIS to intervene actively in order to “disrupt” terrorist activities abroad. It is impossible to not analyze this provision in the light of the historical record of the RCMP, the FBI, MI5 and others. In the past, all these agencies have engaged in illegal disruptive behaviors against dissidents. Bill C-51 simply makes it legal for Canadian agencies to do so now. We have seen the history of RCMP “dirty tricks” campaigns and how they are more effective at sewing public distrust that in increasing security, and we just saw the courts overturn a terrorism conviction based on the RCMP’s entrapment. Allowing for more “disruptive” or subversive powers at the hands of security agencies raises grave concerns.

Given all these concerns, the Voices-Voix Coalition joins others in calling for:

  • The complete repeal of the provisions established by Bill C-51;
  • A thorough review Canada's national security legislation & overall framework for their compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a commitment to ensure that future legislation will be properly reviewed for Charter compliance;
  • The establishment of greater oversight mechanisms for Canada’s national security agencies, beyond what is being presented in Bill C-22, including an independent, Super-SIRC type body that is provided with adequate funding & staffing to carry out its mandate.

Should you have any questions, we would be happy to discuss this with you further. Please contact the Voices-Voix Coordinator, Tim McSorley, at communications@voices-voix.ca. For more on Voices-Voix, please visit www.voices-voix.ca.