The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, known as Bill C-24, which was enacted last month, contains a series of clauses granting Ottawa broad new powers to disclose information. What information? To whom? Chris Alexander, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, needs to explain.
To start with, we don’t yet know to whom such information will be disclosed – apart from one clause that specifies disclosure to provincial governments and within the federal government itself.
There’s also the possibility of sharing with foreign governments. At first blush, it hardly sounds sinister. Canada may reasonably want to check that, for example, applicants for citizenship are who they say they are. The government of their home country may be a good source.
But what if that government is tyrannical, or caught up in a civil war? The Canadian “disclosure of information” may amount to an invitation to the foreign government to defame the would-be Canadian citizen as a terrorist or criminal. In the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, to pick just one example, that is not hard to imagine.
The case of Maher Arar is extreme, but it illustrates the point. Mr. Arar is a Canadian citizen born in Syria who was deported by the United States back to Syria on the basis of an insubstantial suspicion communicated by the RCMP. He was then imprisoned and tortured by Syria.
One of the clauses in Bill C-24 specifies disclosure of information “for the purposes of national security, the defence of Canada or the conduct of international affairs,” including international agreements.
The whole issue is sensitive enough that Mr. Alexander and the government need to reassure the public about the intention and impact of the law. As things stand, it’s all about as clear as mud. We also need to hear from the new Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien. He understands the file, having previously worked on the perimeter-security agreement with the United States. And before bringing in regulations fleshing out Bill C-24, there should be a full debate – inside and outside Parliament.