New anti-terror laws a threat to Canadian civil liberties

In the aftermath of the two terror attacks that happened on Canadian soil, both leaving soldiers dead, the federal government is now proposing new anti-terror laws to address security concerns.

The bill, called the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, would increase the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), to share intelligence and function globally.

But government ministers want to go further. Some have discussed lowering the amount of evidence needed to put surveillance on terror suspects, which would permit officials to monitor them even if they don’t have enough evidence to charge them.

The law could also make it illegal to write online statements in support of terror groups and expand powers for “preventative arrest,” or arrest without a charge. If passed, these laws are likely to infringe the civil liberties of Canadians, encroaching on the right to freedom of expression and the right to due process under the law.

By criminalizing the celebration of terrorist acts online, and making it legal to arrest people for writing statements online, it could discourage members of terror networks to show who and where they are, which would make it difficult for CSIS to track them down.

The new law may also open up the possibility to legislating what people on the Internet can or cannot say, setting a dangerous precedent when it comes to free speech rights. As for the new preventative arrest measures, Canada’s current privacy watchdog has made it clear the current powers held by the agency are already enough.

“I think already many tools were provided to the police, including preventative arrests,” said Daniel Therrien, the federal Privacy Commissioner to the Toronto Star. “I think when you look at the 2001 (anti-terrorism legislation) and the amendments made by C-44 (to expand CSIS powers), I think police and national security agencies have a wide range of tools to address these important problems.”

Whenever governments try to impose a new law on citizens, it should be asked whether the law is more of a threat than a protection. Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks otherwise. In a recent issue of the Toronto Star, he said.

“I do not think we should start from the assumption that everything our police and security agencies do are somehow a threat to the rights of Canadians,” Harper said, in a recent issue of the Star. “More often than not, security and rights find themselves on the same side of the ledger and Canadians do not have effective rights unless we can ensure their security. And that is what we intend to do.”

But how can this statement be taken seriously after 9/11, when laws were put in place by exploiting citizens’ fears over tragedies to scale back civil liberties and gain more control over their everyday lives in the name of protecting them?

Governments did this over the last decade through mass surveillance programs that spied on innocent citizens and breached their privacy, as well as forbid them to confront their accusers in court, both of which the new bill is advocating for.

When the government intends to pass new laws, we should always proceed with caution and a logical approach, not out of pure emotion or blind patriotism. Instead, our country needs a stronger comprehension of the security and intelligence breakdowns that led to the terror attacks. If the federal government is not efficiently exercising the powers it already has, more powers won’t do much to prevent further attacks from happening.