On January 30, 2015 the Conservative government introduced Bill C-51, an omnibus bill (a single Bill that will impact many laws and policies) that the media refers to as Canada’s “anti-terrorism” act. It has provoked widespread opposition, even from unusual suspects like billionaire media mogul Conrad Black, and right wing talking head Rex Murphy who usually support Prime Minister Harper. Their main concern is that the Bill would increase the power of Canada’s spy agency CSIS to surveil “ordinary Canadians” in their quest for what the Bill calls “total information awareness.” But what is an “ordinary Canadian” and who does this Bill actually target?
The primary targets of Canada’s new anti-terrorism act may not be the “ordinary Canadians” that its well-heeled opponents are posturing to defend, but the communities and organizations that reject and are working to overturn Canadian colonial and capitalist rule. It also increases and justifies Canada’s increasing war-fighting role against opponents of US and Canadian power in the Middle East. If Rex Murphy and Conrad Black win some soft amendments to the Bill, it will not change the fundamental character of the new “Anti-Terror Act” as the criminalization of our dissent.
What is Bill C-51?
Acting upon its newfound “total information awareness,” the Bill would empower CSIS to take action against people in Canada. With something new called “Disruption Warrants,” the Bill would significantly increase the power and policing role of CSIS to “enter any place or open or obtain access to any thing,” in order to interrupt anything a judge agrees might “undermine the security of Canada.” The Bill defines “undermining” Canadian security as “unlawful” acts (which lawyers say could include protests without municipal permits) which interrupt “critical infrastructure,” or are threats to Canada’s “territorial integrity” or sovereignty. The language of Bill C-51 would increase the power of Canadian policing organizations to target, surveil, secretly sabotage, and arrest or detain people who oppose resource development or seek to fundamentally challenge the Canadian political and economic system.
It also criminalizes opposition to Canada’s global power position. The Bill would make “promoting terrorism” with any writing or signs a criminal act. For example, Bill C-51 could criminalize publishing statements of solidarity with the Palestinian right to resist military occupation (like similar Bills have already done in Germany), while supporting Israel’s military occupation.
“Ordinary Canadians” and others
It seems every major political party wants to protect “ordinary Canadians” from terrorism as well as from opposing political parties. In 2008, when passing the “anti-terror” immigration bill that allows Canada to deport non-citizens for being accused of association with “terror” groups, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk asserted greater government powers were needed because “everyday ordinary Canadians also have rights to live free from fear.” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair wrote an Op-Ed for the National Post that protested the surveillance powers of Bill C-51. He worried it would “lump legal dissent and protest together with actual terrorism.” The Conservatives responded that “legal” protests would not be targeted but research done by a Montreal newspaper found it does target those who “go beyond peaceful actions” to “employ direct action tactics.” As everyone who has organized against systemic violence and injustice knows, there is a great distance between “legal” protest and the guerrilla military actions that all the major political parties in Canada refer to as “terrorism.”
Canada’s last “Anti-Terrorism Act” was passed in the wake of the September 11th 2001 attacks in the United States. It was also an omnibus Bill that increased policing powers and led to the creation of the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSET). The first known action of INSET was a surveillance campaign against the Indigenous sovereigntist West Coast Warriors Society, which ended with a dramatic police operation raiding Warrior Society members in a car on Burrard Street Bridge in June 2005, and led to the eventual disbanding of the Warrior Society. In a statement about their disbanding, the Warriors Society said that Canada’s “unfair branding of Indigenous activists as terrorists” criminalized their organization.
In November 2013 journalists revealed that the RCMP’s Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team spied on anti-pipelines activist groups in the lead-up to the Northern Gateway hearings. Informants and agents planted in the groups worked to disrupt group capacity to intervene in the hearings. Sarah Killey of the National Energy Board said these measures were necessary to “ensure the safety of our NEB staff and NEB members and we would extend that to participants in the hearings.” Like Bill C-51, the National Energy Board hearings and the RCMP sought to protect “ordinary Canadians” who participate in the legal processes controlled by government and business power against those who oppose and threaten that power.
Canada’s proposed anti-terror act does indeed threaten the privacy rights of most people in Canada. But more worrying are its criminalization of dissent, enforcement of Canada’s growing imperial global project, and stigmatizing of non-legal resistance as “terrorism.”