The Conservative government is tabling a new anti-terror bill that could give more powers to the RCMP and Canada’s intelligence agency, which could potentially affect events like #ShutDownCanada on Feb. 13. But the bill must still pass through a reading at the senate level.
If it passes, however, Bill C-51 would give police excessive powers to make arrests based on fears of terror attacks that “may” happen (as opposed to attacks that “will” happen). This seemingly small change would essentially broaden the government’s leverage when it comes to classifying activities such as pipeline protests and blockades as ‘terror acts.’
It also expands the country’s spy agency’s powers – CSIS – so it can “disrupt” websites or social media pages it considers as promoting terrorism simply for calling for civil disobedience. Events like #ShutDownCanada and the Idle No More protests of 2012 would most likely fit the bill’s criteria.
Of course, it would be nothing new. Bill C-44 and Bill C-639 have already been targeting protestors.
In December, a VICE article reported that Federal Minister of Justice Peter MacKay had admitted that Bill C-639, originally intended to deal with people stealing wire from power companies, would leave it up to a judge to decide whether energy pipeline protestors should be locked up if they are caught damaging or blocking critical infrastructure. The bill called for minimum mandatory fines of $500 or $3,000, and maximum sentences of two or ten years, reported VICE, depending on whether it was deemed a summary or indictable offence.
Bill C-51 expands on that by piggy-backing on the anti-Muslim hysteria that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stirred since the October attacks in St-Jean-sur-Richeliea and on Parliament Hill a few days later.
Despite its enhanced spying and surveillance powers, over which civil rights organizations have expressed concern, the bill lacks any additional oversight, which Steven Blaney, Public Safety Minister, claimed is “needless red tape” in CTV’s Question Period. And though it doesn’t include a specific section on Indigenous peoples, it will expand on what has already been put in place.
“They’ve already been working with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and CSIS and the RCMP,” said Russell Diabo, an independent policy analyst, in an interview with the TRT. “Now it’s just a question of them using (the new powers) not only on what they consider radical Muslims, but on other groups including First Nations.”
The way definitions of terrorism can be interpreted are one main point of concern. In an APTN report, University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran said he’s as worried about the consequences of the vague wording as he is about the new prison terms. “Imprisonment of up to a year without a trial because the government thinks a person may do something wrong is what dictatorships do, not what’s done in any civilized country,” he said.
Diabo agreed. “If you look at the definition of a terrorist activity, it’s anybody that does political or religious activities which could impact the public. So far they haven’t drawn those linkages, but it could very well start to be applied,” he said.
Dan Wallace, one of #ShutDownCanada’s organizers, said they will be sifting through the bill and putting the information out there so that event-goers can educate themselves on the possible risks and “make their own decision” before the event.
“Some people are just going to meet up at a certain place and time to show support and solidarity and some want to block roads and other things, but again that is up to those that want to do something,” he wrote in a Facebook conversation. “We can’t predict what people are going to do but when and if arrests take place, we will start launching fundraisers if need be.”
Still, he said he’s personally not too worried about the bill affecting the Feb. 13 national day of action, as it hasn’t been made into law yet.
“This still has to go through the senate and it is going to create a huge opposition from grassroots.
“So we will be raising this as a serious issue as well on (Feb.) 13th,” he wrote.
Jeffrey Monaghan, an instructor at the institute of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Carleton, agreed Bill C-51 itself wouldn’t have any “direct” impact on #ShutDownCanada. But he clarified that the bill was very troubling and, if passed, would be a “massive boost for the security establishment” which has already been spying on indigenous peoples since 2007.
“(The) RCMP/CSIS already have more than enough powers to address the Feb. 13 (demonstrations). They have been using the category of ‘aboriginal extremist’ for many years as a justification for more intrusive surveillance,” he wrote in an email. “There are also broad powers under the mandate of ‘critical infrastructure protection’ to engage in surveillance and also arrest people for various property related crimes. (Bill C-51) will accelerate surveillance and labelling of indigenous peoples that is already taking place.”
So far, at least 5,000 people have joined the #ShutDownCanada Facebook event invitation. Various protests in front of city halls across the country, as well as possible railroad and highway blockades are some of the possible activities planned. A general goal as bold as shutting down the economy through blockades, even if it is for a day, could potentially see increased police presence and monitoring of protestors.
But there are also more direct, immediate goals which the organizers hope to see achieved, such as the empowerment of people and an “inquiry led by grandmothers from across all nations” into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, said Shannon Hecker, also a #ShutDownCanada organizer.
Diabo suggested protestors should think clearly about the actions they are going to take and “consider their legal options” if they’re going to get involved in blockades of any critical infrastructures such as highways or pipelines.
“Those are the things the state interprets as terrorist activities. If they do things like that, it’s likely the state will respond – usually by sending in the police,” he said. “With these new anti-terror laws coming into the mix, it’s going to depend on how much the state figures it can use them, because in the end it’s Harper’s toolbox, and he’s expanding it.”