C-51, Canada’s Own Excessive Anti-Terrorism Bill

Michael Policy

Canada has upped the ante on their anti-terrorism program. This month the anti-terror bill C-51 was passed through parliament and given royal assent. It was introduced as a conservative bill but gained liberal support as well from the New Democratic Party- although they called for amendments to the bill.

C-51, officially known as the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act, will make ISPs and search engines store e-mail, telephone and internet communications in order to disclose this information to governments, no warrant necessary.

What is Canada’s C-51 Anti-Terrorism Bill About, eh?

The new law is not unlike other bills passed by developed countries. Loose vernacular riddled with loopholes brings Australia’s new anit-piracy law and the USA PATRIOT and Protect America Act in the US to mind. What C-51 does at the basic level is lowers the standard for Canada to deem an individual or group a threat.

First, promoting or encouraging terrorism is now an offense punishable by jail time. Perpetrators that are found to aid “the commission of terrorism offences in general,” can find themselves in jail for up to 5 years.

This is true even if the act is not carried out. This definition is open for interpretation and may end up encompassing a wide range of ‘terrorist’ activities. Suppose a person organizes or promotes a rally that then turns violent or causes property damage. Can they then be prosecuted for promoting terrorism?

Secondly, there will be a crackdown on people simply sharing online and physical copies of ‘terrorist propaganda.’ A section of C-51 provides for the issuance of arrest warrants for those suspected of sharing physical copies of what a judge deems to be ‘terrorist propaganda.’

For online dissemination, the judge can order copies of the propaganda from the ISP, order for it to be taken down and deleted, and force the ISP to identify the individual. The broad definition here, again, leaves wiggle room for interpretation; “the writing, sign, visible representation or audio recording that advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general.”

It seems that legislation like C-51 are battling a non-existent problem. Or at least one that can not be fully doused by any amount of new laws. All that legislation like this will do is stifle free speech. If one wants to access any type of content via the web they will always be ways to do so. You only have to visit the dark web once to see that this is true.

Third, the new law opens the door to arresting without warrants. It gives power to police to arrest individuals who may carry out a terrorist act- as opposed to the previous statute that law enforcement must believe a terrorist act will be carried out.

C-51 also paves the way for the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) to disrupt terrorist plots. Initially, the CSIS was created to only gather intelligence. New powers given to the CSIS allow the agency to disrupt travel plans, block bank transactions, as well as interfere with websites and social media accounts of suspected terrorists. This changes the entire principle with which the CSIS currently operates.

A fourth worrisome endeavor of C-51 is the sharing among seventeen agencies. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)- the equivalent to the US’s IRS- is now able to share information with Canada Border Services and Health Canada (and fourteen other agencies). This may seem excessive to you. Because it is. It poses the question as to why this is necessary. With such broad standards of terrorism encompassed in this bill, it seems that this may lead to discrimination- or at least unnecessary sharing of information- of individuals.

Opponents to C-51, eh

There were several activists groups that have put up a long fight against the bill. Not the least of which is the hacktivist group Anonymous. The day before the bill passed into law, Anonymous hacked an impressive list of Canadian government websites with a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack including: Canada’s justice department, CSIS, Senate of Canada, and canada.ca.

Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attack in response to:

A bill which is a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as removing our legal protections enshrined in the Magna Carta for 800 years

The attack was not limited to government websites. Anonymous also reportedly leaked e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and partial credit card numbers of municipal and provincial government employees.

Where’s This Headed, eh?

Could Canadians in the future be prosecuted for sharing information about hacktivist groups like Anonymous? Canada has, of course, condemned the attack. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said on Wednesday at a news conference, “We are living in a democracy, and there are many ways you can express your views in the country… There are no excuse[s] to justify attack[s] to public property, and those who have committed those attack will be prosecuted and will have to face the full force of the law.”

Maybe, in the not so distant future, this very post would be deemed ‘terrorist propaganda’ by a Canadian judge who finds it, “…promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general.”

With the new C-51 law, how close is Canada to declaring Anonymous’ hacks terrorism? If they do they will be able to imprison those who share Anonymous’ actions and block the content from Canadians. I hate to use the cliche ‘slippery slope’ but not many other words describe this situation more clearly.

feature image courtesy of JMacpherson via flickr


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