What is Bill C-51?

Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act

June 16, 2015 by Benjamin Tabesh, CPP, PSP and Rob Bayley, PSP

Bill C-51, is “an act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.”

This bill basically reinforces the rights of the Canadian federal government to conduct investigations through CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service), and is contained in approximately 60 pages of documentation. Just like any official regulation, the contents are a heavy read, but some of the most important points can be interpreted quite easily as briefly outlined below.

What does Bill C-51 change?

In its broadest terms, Bill C-51 will make it easier for CSIS officers and basically all law enforcement officers in Canada to conduct surveillance or monitor any Canadian’s activity and arrest individuals who pose potential threats.  This new law allows officials to conduct a thorough inspection of anyone seeking to leave the country. According to Steve Banley, Minister of Public Safety Canada, Bill C-51 is properly in line with the government’s commitments to protect Canadian from any possible terrorism activity.

While terrorism certainly makes the headline, the bill is not only focused on this issue. The most fundamental change that the bill brings is that police authorities now have greater powers to target any activity which possibly undermine the security of the country including anything that is considered detrimental to Canada’s interest. Thanks to the bill, security officials are granted the permission to conduct surveillance on any Canadian for a wider variety of reasons.

How does Bill C-51 affect Canadians?

Based on the bill, federal institutions are now allowed to access any information about any Canadian, even when the information was previously designated as confidential. For example, tax information is held and accessible only by the Canada Revenue Agency, but this protected information will now be made available to any government security official under the bill.  It allows the government to identify literally all potential threats, even the minor ones, more easily than ever. From the perspective of national security, this method of investigation makes sure that nothing or no one can hide from the government. However, the bill also makes sweeping changes to the privacy of Canadians.

The definition of what is considered “private information” will change as the bill becomes an active law. For many broad reasons – one of them is the terrorism issue – Canadians’ confidential information can be shared between security institutions for the sake of national security. Bill C-51 allows not only security institutions, but actually quite a number of federal institutions to use, distribute, and receive this information under the law. CSE (Communication Security Establishment), one of Canada’s intelligence agencies, is also given access.

When did the bill pass and when will changes take effect?

By a vote of 44 to 28, Bill C-51 passed through the Senate on Tuesday June 9, 2015. The bill is now on the final process of becoming a law, awaiting royal assent from the Governor General.

Who will be affected by the law and what has been the public reaction?

The law is applicable to just about every Canadian and everyone else who is currently in Canada. Based on the vote result last Tuesday, most Liberal senators and all independent senators voted against the bill. All the Conservative senators and 2 Liberal senators voted for Bill C-51.

Canadians are reacting differently, but there is a massive opposition of hundreds of thousands of Canadians. One of the most notable reactions comes from one of the largest security-oriented organizations in the world, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). The organization suggests that the anti-terrorism bill actually violates at least two Canada-ratified declarations including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What are the most noticeable impacts on Canadians’ everyday lives?

There are several aspects of Canadians’ everyday lives that will be affected by the bill, and most of them are concerning privacy. In term of security, however, Bill C-51 promises better controls over any activity which may lead to terrorism. At least three ordinary activities will be affected, including:

  • Restricted travel: because the bill also reinforces the Passenger Protect Program, the government can now add anyone to the already existing no-fly list. In case the government finds any deemed-suspicious personal information, it is possible to add someone to the list. People who are added to the list may not easily acquire boarding passes and can be subject to more in-detail investigations.
  • Strict online censor: ISP and telecom providers are required to remove any content that can be considered terrorism propaganda. This also includes the contents that slightly indicates or relates to terrorist propaganda. Anonymity, as one of the advantages of the Internet, is simply no longer guaranteed. The government allows for greater online surveillance so anyone can be located and identified.
  • Material possessions: under the bill, Canadian customs officers are granted greater power to search and seize anything that they consider related to terrorist propaganda. Anything means everything including signs, audio recording, pictures, photos, and even written notes. Phone and computer searches are also allowed.

How can Bill C-51 help us?

In the past few months in Canada, threats of terrorism have increased, indicated by at least two incidents, including the killing of two Canadian soldiers and the highly concerning forcible entry to Parliament Hill in which Canada’s federal politicians were at serious risk of harm.

From the perspective of security, Bill C-51 addresses any possibility of terrorism threats very seriously.  In other parts of the world, many anti-terror measures have not been authorized specifically, and Canada is one of the first countries to implement the anti-terrorism act. For the vast majority of Canadians, Bill C-51 endeavours to ensure everything is under control, and reduce the threat of terrorism lower than ever before.

With the government and other law enforcement institutions in the country taking part in the bill, any potential threat can be more easily identified and prevented.


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