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The secret policeman's bill

John Bell

February 21, 2015

Okay, let’s play a game I like to call Getting Myself Arrested. The rules are simple: all you have to do is think different ideas from Stephen Harper, and say or write them clearly and directly. Here we go!
I believe that exploitation of the tar sands is incredibly destructive to the immediately surrounding environment and to the planet as a whole. I am in favour of shutting it down as quickly as possible. Furthermore I oppose building pipelines to carry this dangerous bitumen to markets, whether to the west via Northern Gateway or Kinder Morgan projects, to the south via the Keystone XL, or to the east via the retrofitted pipelines of Energy East. I am in full solidarity with First Nations people whose lives and territories are too often on the front lines of these destructive projects, and encourage, advocate and support mass civil disobedience to shut them down.
Such opinions are not uncommon among Canadians who are environmentally concerned. And according to Stephen Harper’s Bill C-51, that could make us all terrorists.
Bill C-51
This new legislation now being fast-tracked through Parliament without full debate or discussion could make writing or uttering that paragraph illegal. I say “could” because the wording of the bill is so vague that police and politicians can apply it to whomever they please: “Every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general—other than an offence under this section—while knowing that any of those offences will be committed or being reckless as to whether any of those offences may be committed, as a result of such communication, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.” 
Bill C-51 will erase your right to privacy. Think I’m exaggerating? Here is what Daniel Therrien, Tory-appointed Privacy Commissioner of Canada is worried about: “At this early stage, I can say that I am concerned with the breadth of the new authorities to be conferred by the proposed new Security of Canada Information Sharing Act.  This Act would seemingly allow departments and agencies to share the personal information of all individuals, including ordinary Canadians who may not be suspected of terrorist activities, for the purpose of detecting and identifying new security threats.”
Independent civilian oversight of CSIS, the RCMP and provincial and local police forces is already woefully inadequate. Remember that CSIS was established in 1984 because of revelation about RCMP illegal activities and violation of civil rights. Its own activities were to be scrutinized by the Office of the Inspector General, part of the portfolio of the Ministry of Public Safety. The Office of the Inspector General was disbanded by the Harper government in 2012. 
Tories argue that the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which reports to Parliamentary committee, is sufficient. In fact SIRC is a joke, a dumping ground for patronage appointments. Past heads of SIRC include former Reform Party/Tory MP Chuck Strahl and accused fraudster Arthur Porter. Strahl was forced to resign as chair of SIRC when it was revealed he was also a registered lobbyist in the employ of Enbridge on behalf of its Northern Gateway project. Porter is currently being extradited from prison in Panama where he had fled to escape charges of fraud and money laundering while an executive of SNC Lavalin. The current chair of SIRC is another patronage appointment, former Reform Party/Tory stalwart Deb Grey.
Suggestions that expanding the power of secret police and intelligence forces should be accompanied by expanding independent oversight was dismissed by Harper’s minions. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney says that SIRC is sufficient and that any other oversight would be “redundant”. His Parliamentary Secretary Roxanne James put it plainly: “We are not interested in creating needless red tape.” So worrisome is the lack of democratic scrutiny that five former prime ministers–four Liberals, one Tory and zero previously known civil liberty activists–have signed an open letter condemning Bill C-51’s lack of transparency.
But even with additional oversight, Bill C-51 would remain a travesty due to the vague way it defines “terrorist”. A terrorist can be anyone who interferes with the operation of the government or the economy. That takes in a lot of territory. It is explicit in its vagueness, naming as sacrosanct “intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada.”
Which brings us back to my treasonous beginning, calling for the shut down of tar sands development. Harper says they are essential to the economy and a matter of nation building. Remember in 2012, then Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver called Northern Gateway opponents dangerous “radicals”, and accused us of being funded by “foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest.” I’m still waiting for my cheque.
Small wonder that the secret police, as revealed in a leaked RCMP document, consider environmentalists a greater threat to Canada than terrorists. Environmentalist are re-defined as the “anti-Canada petroleum movement”. Climate change is just a “claim”. Concerned young activists are “impressionable” dupes. And sources such as Sun News columnists and reports from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers are treated as gospel.
Combine the pre-existing pro-petroleum consensus in government and secret police with a new law redefining opponents as “terrorists”. Suddenly people peacefully protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline in BC, or blockading attempts to frack for shale gas in New Brunswick face a greater danger for doing what they know is right.
French philosopher Voltaire wrote: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.” If Bill C-51 passes, Canadians will discover what he meant.

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