Public consultation on Bill C-51 looks like an elaborate PR stunt
By Kyle Curlew
November 20, 2016
National security surveillance in Canada is an absolute mess. Bill C-51
is just the most recent manifestation of its problematic elements.
Without measures to hold the RCMP, CSE and CSIS accountable to the
public, they end up conducting surveillance in dangerous, and sometimes
illegal, ways that target vulnerable groups and threaten our Charter rights.
The Liberal party is holding strong to a rhetoric of amendments and have
implemented a public consultation process that is fronted by a guiding
document titled the Green Papers. This document has been criticized for
being a public relations stunt to sell unfettered surveillance powers
for our national security agencies.
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director at the British Columbia Civil Liberties
Association (BCCLA) has been critical of the Liberal government's
national security consultation process. In a recent email conversation,
Vonn informed me that the government's five city tour to hold Town Hall
meetings were poorly advertised and not sufficiently attended.
And it's uncertain how exactly they will go about reading the data and
integrating the results with expert advice from legal scholars and
policy analysts. Vonn notes, "The overall sense is that there is so much
to try to address that the exercise ends up being about everything and
Though this process is inherently a good thing, it allows for democratic
participation in some of the most cryptic and opaque arms of the state,
it may just be a public relations stunt. After all, the Liberal party
has been known for their fluffy and photo savvy PR events. There is a
real risk that such practices will accomplish little, while making folks
feel like a lot has been done. Besides, the Liberal government are not
held accountable to the fruits of the public consultation. We can't even
be certain if any of this data will actually be used to inform real
There is also the potential global influence from other governments in
the Five Eyes surveillance alliance. The British government has just
passed through a series of terrifying surveillance laws called the
Investigatory Powers Act. And recent U.S. election is about to give the
surveillance military complex of the U.S. to a man who has been
routinely criticized as a white supremacist. Considering the tone of the
Green Papers, our government is in danger of escalating the surveillance
state and may be encouraged by international pressure and the "War on
Terror" to ignore public calls for meaningful amendments.
In a talk Edward Snowden gave at Queen's University last November he
spoke to the Bill C-51 and the dangerous powers it would bring the
government. Snowden told the packed room, "terrorism is often the public
justification, but it's not the actual motivation" for the bill. He
continued to say that if you strip the bill of the word "terrorism", you
can see the extent to which the bill makes fundamental changes that
affect civil rights. "The true danger of mass surveillance is not just
being powerless -- it's the fact that it means perfect protection of the
"Any political effort can be smothered." Surveillance bills only serve
to dismantle our ability to challenge the state. Snowden continued,
"Once the precedent is set it's very difficult to take away." The longer
we draw out the process of addressing the Anti-terrorism Act, the more
it becomes entrenched in both the culture of national security policing
and the public imagination. The longer we wait, the more unlikely it is
that we will be able to change it.
The recent leaks of Project Sitka, a collaborative intelligence project
that explicitly targeted Indigenous activists and groups, is a key
example of why we need to act. The consultation process is likely to
lead a mess of data that won't amount to any reasonable action. And the
liberal amendments are unlikely to critically engage with the
"problematic elements" of the Anti-terrorism Act (2015).
By all means, we need to fill out the online public consultation -- but
we can't stop there.
Our national security apparatus needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. It is
no good to bandage an already broken piece of legislation. The system
was unaccountable and corrupt before Bill C-51 was introduced, and it
will be the same after the amendments are complete. We need to repeal
the Anti-terrorism Act.
However, this is not on the Liberal party bucket list. What is needed is
a collaboration between critical legal scholars and activists to
participate in direct action, rallies, and political lobbying. We must
act now before we provide our police force with enough unfettered power
to dodge our privacy and human rights permanently.
[The above is part 3 of 3.
Part 2 can be found at
Part 1 can be found at
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