SUMMARY OF BILL C-51 AND AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S CONCERNS WITH THE PROPOSED LAW
Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, was tabled at the House of Commons in January 2015. The Bill contains the most comprehensive reforms to Canada’s national security laws since 2001. In our detailed legal brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Amnesty International highlighted a number of troubling changes introduced by Bill C-51, including:
Unprecedented new powers granted to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officers to act to reduce security threats
These powers are based on an existing and overly-broad definition of “threats to the security of Canada” extending far beyond the definition of terrorist activities under Canadian law. Bill C-51 provides no description of the particular measures that officers would be allowed to take to reduce threats, nor does it limit the scope of their power to undertake these actions beyond specific restrictions with respect to murder, assault causing bodily harm, violations of sexual integrity and perverting the course of justice. The Bill further authorizes Federal Court judges to issue warrants approving CSIS activity that violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) and permitting CSIS agents to act in disregard to local law in countries where they are operating. These powers are entrusted to security and intelligence officials who do not have the training, command structures, accountability, or public transparency required of law enforcement agencies.
New criminal offence of advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences “in general”
This vague and undefined offence has the potential to both violate and cast a chill on freedom of expression, and has not been demonstrated to be necessary over and above existing offences or directly inciting, threatening, counselling or conspiring to commit terrorist activities.
Expanded powers to detain a person on the basis of a recognizance with conditions
Bill C-51 significantly lowers the threshold of suspicion and increases the maximum time for holding an individual in police custody without charge.
Expansive information-sharing across government departments and agencies in the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act
Bill C-51 permits information-sharing based on the most far-reaching and vague definition and enumeration of acts that “undermine the security of Canada” ever adopted in Canadian law. It also lacks clear safeguards to address well-documented examples of serious human rights violations, including torture and other ill-treatment, that have been caused or facilitated by Canadian law enforcement and security officials sharing unreliable, inaccurate, or inflammatory information domestically and internationally.
New procedures in the Secure Air Travel Act for individuals placed on “no fly” lists
Bill C-51 introduces appeal procedures which apply the minimal standard of review of “reasonableness” before a Federal Court judge and do not ensure that a listed individual has meaningful access to the full information and accusations against him or her which would make it possible to mount an effective challenge.
No review or oversight
Moreover, Bill C-51 drastically expands the powers of Canadian security and intelligence agencies without providing for an acceptable increase in oversight and review of their actions. This is despite calls for integrated, expert, and independent review mechanisms in Justice Dennis O’Connor’s Arar Inquiry report a decade ago.
In our brief, Amnesty International stressed that it is essential that laws, policies, and actions taken to counter terrorism comply with international human rights standards. Amnesty International has, throughout its history, documented the extensive and deeply troubling ways that governments of all political stripes, economic wealth, and military power have ignored, undermined, and directly violated human rights while responding to perceived or actual security threats, including terrorism. In the end, both security and human rights suffer as a result of such measures. Amnesty International recommended that the provisions of concern highlighted in our brief be withdrawn and only reintroduced in a form that conforms with international human rights requirements.
ORAL SUBMISSIONS BEFORE THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
After great pressure from civil society organizations to schedule extensive hearings and include the voices of experts in the study of Bill C-51, Amnesty International was invited to provide oral submissions to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on our human rights concerns.
However, despite being present to provide their human rights concerns about Bill C-51, civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, were ignored and in some cases attacked by Committee members in a process that fell far short of the real, substantive, and serious debate Bill C-51 warranted.
For more, see “Canadian human rights organizations urgently call for Bill C-51 to be withdrawn” (30 March 2015)
STATUS OF BILL
Bill C-51 was passed and received Royal Assent in June 2015 with few amendments to its original text despite widespread protests from civil society and national security experts across Canada. The opposition Liberal Party voted in favour of Bill C-51, but indicated they would make revisions if elected to government in the October 2015 federal election. The new Liberal government launched public consultations with respect to Canada’s national security framework in September, 2016.
Amnesty International’s Legal Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Insecurity and Human Rights: Concerns and Recommendations with Respect to Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 (March 2015)
Final text of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015
See Joint Press Release, “Canadian human rights organizations: Bill C-51 has passed but serious human rights concerns have not gone away” (29 June 2015)
See also, “Bill C-51 and the rush to insecurity for human rights” (30 April 2015)