I am of the opinion that the passing of Bill C-51 threatens the privacy and freedom of Canadians.
It would authorize intra-governmental disclosure of information pertaining to Canadian security, limit air-travel abilities of persons suspected of posing a threat (domestically or abroad), criminalization of ‘terrorist speech’ (which seems hopelessly vague), the granting of disruptive power to CSIS – previously an information-collector – and suppression of information from representatives of detained persons. The federal Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Thierrien, stated that it “opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians”, including tax and travel information.
The bill has been justified as ‘necessary’ and characterized as striking a balance between protection of Canadians and preservation of their liberties; these, however, are not mutually exclusive or even oppositional. The legislation attracted support among the Conservative majority and Liberal party but faced opposition from the NDP and Greens.
My reading is that Bill C-51 centralizes information but in so doing diminishes the usefulness of that data; that it is not necessary, especially given the possibility of eroding fundamental freedoms; that CSIS’ mandate should not be expanded beyond observation, especially given a lack of oversight, and that limitations on expression – especially vague limits – are a misstep. While there may be a need for improvements to national security, the powers created by C-51 are excessive and perhaps ineffective.
According to Michael Geist, “the expansion on information sharing without addressing the oversight and safeguards of the Privacy Act should simply be a non-starter.” He names three privacy concerns: that the range of information-sharing is broad (and mostly unrelated to terrorism), that the scope of sharing is also overly broad (“17 government institutions with the prospect of cabinet expansion as well as further disclosure ‘to any person, for any purpose.'”) and oversight: “the notion that the law is equipped to deal with this massive expansion in sharing personal information is simply not credible.”
Are these worthy goals?
Sources and further reading:
Cover photo by Stephen Harper (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/eNh192