On March 14, hundreds of Winnipeggers participated in a Canada-wide Day of Action by marching and protesting against Bill C-51. Apparently I am not the only Canadian who finds the Harper Government’s proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill to be alarming and Orwellian. If you aren’t alarmed already, here is why you should be.
It isn’t about protecting Canadians from terrorism - it is an attack on civil liberties. It is about suppressing opposition and muzzling the rights and freedoms of Canadians. Governments who enact these types of laws do not have your best interest in mind.
So, why should Winnipeggers be concerned? Bill C-51 would give more power to police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and allow them to potentially violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill would give the government broader decision making power when it comes to deciding what national security is, or to define which groups and individuals are threats to security.
“What it means is more unnecessary policing of Canadians and a return to a McCarthy-like era where dissent is criminalized,” Damon Nasser Bath, one of the protest organizers, says. “If you look at our government’s recent history with legislation passed as well as the actual “Committee hearings” themselves for this bill, it’s an attempt to grip on power and criminalize opposition.”
For example, peaceful protesters voicing opinions that are in opposition to those of the current government could be targeted for further investigation by the police if the government simply decides that they are a threat to the economic stability or the national security of Canada.
Bill C-51 will also likely restrict freedom of speech and expression because people will be more afraid to speak out. This is because the bill provides a very loose definition of what or who could be a threat to national security, a definition which includes speech, words or actions that promote terrorism. The problem with this is that terrorism is very loosely and broadly defined within the context of Bill C-51. As a result, regular law-abiding people could be targeted by police. This is not something that goes hand-in-hand with democracy.
Other miscellaneous points contained within Bill C-51 include: detaining people who might perform a terrorist act in the future (at the discretion of police opinion), increasing the time that people can be detained without charge, sharing your health and financial information with the RCMP if you are seen as a security threat, the creation of a secret no-fly list and allowing CSIS to conduct more of its work in secret.
Erosion of civil liberties isn’t something to ignore because these are things that have happened in countries that experienced despotic nightmares. In the past, other countries have experienced their governments simply deciding which categories of the population are threats to security, and then arresting these people whether or not they are really threats, or just regular people.
I’m glad Winnipeggers protested Bill C-51 because it is so important to defend democracy, and politicians may consider the viewpoint of protesters if they think it will affect their approval rating in advance of the next election.
Carol Lindsey is a Public Relations student at the University of Winnipeg.