Bill C-51 received Royal Assent and was signed into law yesterday. I could go on a long rant about this terrible, anti-democratic legislation, but I wouldn’t be saying anything different than I’ve already said before, and (more than once) so I’ll spare you any more repetition… although you should definitely read the post on C-51 that Michael Harris put out last night, because he says it better than I do.
I was checking my Facebook messages before bed last night, and a friend had sent me across an article from the CBC titled C-51, controversial anti-terrorism bill, is now law. So, what changes? It includes a video interview with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, who is quite enthusiastic about the new legislation as a way to “keep Canadians safe.” This is the same Steven Blaney who, just three days earlier, accused the NDP and Liberal parties of siding with terrorists when they questioned the government on the Voices-Voix report on the Harper Government’s campaign of harassing and silencing charities, NGOs and the civil service.
Well, so what? It’s just the same old partisan rhetoric, right?
As of yesterday afternoon “encouraging or promoting the commission of terrorism offenses in general” is a crime that can get you jailed… and one which has no clear legal definition within Bill C-51. The Public Safety Minister (and there’s an Orwellian job title) made comments in the House of Commons which signals the Harper Government’s willingness to threaten the opposition — or anyone else — with Bill C-51 if it suits their purposes.
Which brings me back to the other thing I found in my message feed last night: An invitation to an activist training workshop in preparation for the protests against the Pan Am Economic & Climate Summits being held at the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto next month. The call to action states that protesters will, starting at about 6:30am, “swarm the Royal York Hotel, and disrupt those entering the Pan Am Climate and Economic Summits” before an early march up Bay Street and then a free lunch at City Hall. Despite organizers’ assurances that their goal is “a joyful protest” with “zero arrests” it’s going to be a raucous and noisy demonstration right at the center of Toronto’s transportation network during a Wednesday morning rush hour, with all the turmoil, disruption and police presence that implies.
And if I were ten years younger, I’d be right in the middle of it.
Under Bill C-51, “interfering with the ability of the Canadian government to maintain economic or fiscal stability” and “interference with critical infrastructure” are both terrorist acts. Every organizer of this event, every workshop trainer, every street medic, every activist, every person who attends planning sessions or training workshops, or even links to the Facebook page, could be found guilty of “encouraging or promoting the commission of terrorism offenses in general” on the mere whim of CSIS, the RCMP or the Harper Government.
And that, right there, should scare the hell out of all of us. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, we should be extremely wary of a government which has created an extrajudicial State Security agency lacking with little or no civilian oversight, especially a government which has been signalling its willingness to stifle dissent.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with Bill C-51. I hope that the Supreme Court will overturn it as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I hope that the NDP will win this autumn’s election and keep their promise to repeal it. I hope the democratic values which Canadians treasure, which they’ve fought and even died for, come through.
But this morning I look at the protest planning around the Pan-Am Climate & Economic Summit — no different than the planning for any of a dozen similar protests I was involved with during my twenties — and I wonder if it’s even going to happen. I’m afraid, genuinely afraid, that instead of a boisterous street demonstration we’ll see preventative detentions, CSIS “disrupting” activist organizations, organizers being arrested and jailed without warrant or trial under the provisions of C-51. I’m worried that people I know, ordinary Canadians, will be subjected to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which are permitted so long as they do no “serious or permanent bodily damage.”
It’s a fine, cool summer morning. The sun is shining, I’m drinking coffee in front of my computer, and I’m contemplating — without any hyperbole whatsoever — whether or not my government is going to waterboard citizen activists this summer.
What has happened to my country?