Ed Broadbent is chair of the Broadbent Institute and former president of Rights and Democracy. Roy Romanow is former premier of Saskatchewan and previously served as a member of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee.
We are writing to add our voices to the rising chorus of opposition to Bill C-51, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's draft legislation extending the powers of Canada's intelligence agency.
This bill should be withdrawn, or defeated in Parliament.
Terrorism is designed to provoke governments into making damaging mistakes. It is conducted through brutality and rooted in the belief that killing ordinary citizens will cause nations to abandon their most basic commitments.
Terrorism demands a sustained and effective response. Resources must be allocated to enable police and intelligence agencies to find its perpetrators and to discover potential terrorists. Those who are guilty of offences must then be brought to justice.
Canada already has mechanisms, practices and laws necessary for dealing with terrorism. These include surveillance, immigration controls, preventative detention and incarceration for criminal activity.
As we have recently seen, our system of national security is not perfect. But this is not due to inadequacies in our security legislation. It is the result of overworked and underfunded police and security services.
The Harper government has been effective in piling up our security anxieties. But actual material and strategic support for pursuing security needs have not been this government's priority.
Instead of a considered statement in Parliament and a new and better plan, the Prime Minister spoke at what can only be described as a political rally to announce new threats to the rights and liberties of Canadians.
The government subsequently presented us with Bill C-51, an intemperate terrorism bill that will remove reasonable restraints on Canadian security authorities but give them no new resources or strategies to more effectively do their real work.
The bill attacks the civil rights of all Canadians, and places the protections guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the shadow of wider powers to interfere with lawful and legitimate conduct.
The general tenor of the bill is to expand the definition of threats to national security and add to the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Any interference with financial or economic stability could now be considered to violate national security. Such activities are a daily occurrence and in truth could include just about anything.
Other new national security offences include influencing any government in Canada by unlawful means or "interfering with infrastructure." Neither of these is a rare practice. Neither is necessarily connected to terrorism.
And now persons can be held in custody as a preventative matter if officers believe that a terrorist activity "may" occur. This makes detention a matter for the purely subjective views of security officials.
CSIS has now been given powers to engage in the active disruption of activities that it believes threaten the security of Canada, a power that was once illegally exercised by the RCMP and which led to the creation of CSIS with the mandate to focus exclusively on intelligence gathering – not to engage in activities that often would otherwise be illegal. As the recent unfortunate history of intelligence agencies in the United States and Britain shows, we should be wary of this expanded mandate for our country's intelligence arm.
The exercise of security powers must be made subject to review by an open, publicly observed review process. The work of the current oversight agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, while valuable when properly staffed, takes place below the radar of public knowledge. The new bill is defective in not establishing a public process for assessing whether the exercise of these powers respects the entrenched rights of Canadians and is safe for Canadians.
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world, including Canada. We cannot adopt a passive attitude toward it. We must invest in discovering terrorist threats and in stopping them. But national security also means defending our democracy, and that depends on holding the loyalty of citizens and maintaining their confidence in a just and stable government. This requires tolerance for diverse opinions, respect for personal integrity and timely and effective accountability for governmental conduct, including security operations. Shortchanging these will only weaken our strength as a nation – and our security.
The Prime Minister should withdraw this bill. If it is not withdrawn, Parliament should vote it down. Possibly, then, a more limited and focused statute would be worth debating.
Security agencies may feel that their present powers constrain their ability to protect Canada. But let us have an open discussion of this claim within Parliament and its committees before rushing to impose politically motivated "solutions." Our rights as citizens are at stake.