Defending Calgary's Civil Liberties After Bill C-51

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Defending Calgary's Civil Liberties After Bill C-51

Having recently passed the House of Commons by a huge margin, the innocuous-sounding Bill C-51 seems almost guaranteed to be voted into law, and the result could be the diminishment of privacy and civil liberties for everyone in Calgary and Canada at large.

For those who are unaware, Bill C-51 is new "anti-terrorism" legislation put forth by the majority Conservative party and also backed by the third party Liberals in the federal legislature, granting broad new powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that proponents say will help identify and thwart terror attacks and alleged terrorists, but that its many opponents—including a large proportion of the legal community—see as a significant breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that will criminalize speech and create a secret police force that is not open to public scrutiny or answerable to outside authorities.

Why Calgary Should Worry About Their Legal Rights

In concrete terms, Bill C-51 will allow the CSIS to detain suspects and impede their travel into, out of, and within the country with a much lower evidence threshold; to monitor communications without going through the same approval process as is required in other criminal investigations; and to consider "actions interfering with economic or financial stability" as terrorist actions. In addition, the bill allows the CSIS to carry out its domestic terror detection and detention activities with far less oversight and far greater secrecy than before.

Concerns about Bill C-51 and the new powers it grants the CSIS are far-reaching and varied. The increased ability to spy on Canadian citizens without going through the transparent processes required of law enforcement agencies such as the Calgary Police when investigating other alleged crimes is seen by many as a direct attack on civil liberties. Citizen oversight of law enforcement activities is central to the concept of a free and democratic criminal justice system, and this bill erodes those protections pretty much at the will of the CSIS.

The bill will also have the effect of making certain speech (including websites and printed materials as well as things spoken aloud in public and in ostensibly private communications) a criminal act in and of itself, which again hits at the very heart of a liberal society.

The "economic and financial stability" provision is another major cause for concern, as it could potentially be used to label environmental groups and other political activists as terrorists simply for holding peaceful protests that they are otherwise entitled to engage in according to the Charter. In sum, Bill C-51 brings Calgary and Canada that much closer to a police state, where expressing thoughts or taking otherwise legal actions that are deemed out of line by a secret law enforcement agency can result in your indefinite detention, and where "out of line" is defined by the law enforcers themselves.

This Calgary Defence Lawyer Stands Against Bill C-51

Everyone should be free to make up their own minds on any law passed in Calgary, Alberta, or Canada, and should be encouraged to engage in discussion about these laws. I encourage my readers, my clients, and my colleagues to examine Bill C-51 carefully and decide if it will help create the kind of Canada they want to leave for the next generation; it certainly doesn't align with my vision, and I believe it will stifle the robust debate, discussion, and freedom of expression that enables any democracy to prosper.