As a Muslim, and more importantly as a Canadian, I am terrified to even imagine the kind of society we will live in if Bill C-51 is passed.
The anti-terrorism bill, which is over 60 pages long, proposes radical changes to Canadian law and national security in ways that would do little to actually improve public safety. The worst part, though, is that it will seriously endanger the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
On March 14, thousands of Canadians held protests across the country in opposition to the proposed legislation and this past week a small group of Ryerson students asked passersby to sign a petition. This gives me hope, but at the same time, I wonder why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government isn’t taking the views of the public seriously.
Harper has identified the bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons in February, as essential to his war against terrorism. This legislation would give police increased powers to detain suspected terrorists, and would also give Canada’s spy agency more authority.
The reality is that this sort of legislation creates an environment that increases tension between marginalized groups and those with privilege. It is a reflection of the United States strategy post-9/11, where they introduced laws restricting civil liberties, all in the name of protecting the public.
At the heart of these laws is a hidden motive, one of instilling fear to advance political goals, and the process has little to do with safety. In advancing this legislation and the dialogue behind it, the government only succeeds in one thing: Limiting our freedoms.
Even experts on Canadian law are unsure of what activities may be considered threats to national security. The legislation that the government is defending in the name of security erodes our fundamental right to express ourselves, to point out the flaws in our society, to create positive change.
This counterproductive legislation will increase Islamophobia. It will push stereotypes associated with this group to the front and expose Muslims to harassment, alienation and even violence.
Bill C-51 leaves it up to the government’s discretion to identify a diverse range of activities that might be considered potential security threats.
It allows them to choose which individuals and groups they want to target, and gives these individuals and groups very little room to escape their scrutiny.
In 1960s and 1970s the RCMP committed serious rights abuses under the mandate of “security intelligence.”
This bill would also give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) the ability to collect security intelligence and conduct all its work secretly.
The Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, part of Bill C-51, would give government institutions, like Health Canada and Revenue Canada, the right to share information about you without a warrant. This information can then be used in investigations related to national security.
The legislation assumes that sharing large quantities of information will improve security. But that’s not how things work.
This would infringe on our elemental right to privacy, and the sheer quantity of information will make it harder to focus on real security threats.
If passed, this legislation would give police full rein to detain individuals without charge, and to arrest and detain innocent people just because they might pose a danger.
We live in a democratic society where some, if not all, of the representatives in government have been voted in by us. We live in a democratic society where we are constitutionally granted certain rights and freedoms. We live in a democratic society where the leaders we have chosen can propose and pass legislation that would take away our power, our very rights as citizens.
Bill C-51 creates room for there to be constant suspicion of and action against our fellow Canadians, our fellow human beings and maybe even ourselves.
This story first appeared in The Ryersonian on March 25, 2015.