Opposition to stampeding Bill C-70 through Parliament grows

Few people have even heard of Bill C-70, yet the Liberals and opposition parties are hoping to ram it through without debate

By John Price

If passed, Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act, could give Canada’s spy agency more power, potentially threatening freedom of expression and freedom of association, undermining due process in courts through the use of secret evidence. Photo from iStock.

The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the BC Gurdwaras Council are among 14 groups voicing opposition to an attempt to stampede Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act, through both houses of Parliament by the end of June.

In a recent public letter, the coalition warned that Bill C-70 “will have significant impacts on the lives and fundamental rights of people in Canada, including risks of increased surveillance, diminished privacy, limits on freedom of expression and freedom of association, undermining due process in courts through the use of secret evidence, and racial, religious and political profiling.”

Few people have even heard of Bill C-70, yet the Liberal government and opposition parties are hoping to ram the bill through with no debate.

Urging the government to extend committee hearings, the joint letter warned: “Rushing the parliamentary process supported by a state of suspicion and ardent calls to protect national security, can lead to serious, negative and long-lasting consequences.”

Anaïs Bussières McNicol of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association stated: “Proposed amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act would significantly broaden the ability of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to collect, analyze and disclose sensitive information to third parties.” She explained that CSIS “could disclose information obtained in the performance of its duties and functions to “any person or entity.”

“This proposed expansion of the Service’s power must be subjected to stricter limits to protect privacy rights,” she cautioned.

Among the controversial provisions are section 20 (1) “Every person commits an offence who, at the direction of, for the benefit of or in association with, a foreign entity or a terrorist group, induces or attempts to induce, by intimidation, threat or violence, any person to do anything or to cause anything to be done (a) that is for the purpose of increasing the capacity of a foreign entity or a terrorist group to harm Canadian interests; or (b) that is reasonably likely to harm Canadian interests.”

Language in the provision, such as being “in association with” or “foreign entity” are so broad they could be easily abused. What might be considered a “foreign entity” is also up for grabs.

The punishment for the above is drastic: “Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.”

Testifying before the House Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security last Monday, Tim McSorley of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group warned that “Bill C-70 also grants CSIS significant new production order and warrant powers. It comes after years of courts admonishing CSIS for misleading them in their warrant applications.”

McSorley urged the committee to take the time necessary to study “this very consequential bill.”

If passed, Bill C-70 will amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Act, the Security of Information Act, the Criminal Code, the Canadian Evidence Act, and introduces a new act, the Foreign Influence Transparency and Accountability Act.

Behind the rush to pass C-70 is an attempt by the Liberal Party to get ahead of the opposition parties on national security issues.

The Liberal government recently announced new research restrictions that severely limit international research collaboration, a move that Canadian Association of University Teachers Executive Director David Robinson has warned “raises serious concerns about racial profiling, academic freedom, and international scientific collaboration.”

“Academics and students of Chinese origin are already being targeted and that is creating a chill on academic research and partnerships,” he stated.

The 14 signatories of the public letter include:

  1. Amnesty International Canadian Section (English speaking);
  2. BC Civil Liberties Association;
  3. British Columbia Gurdwaras Council;
  4. Canadian Association of University Teachers;
  5. Canadian Civil Liberties Association;
  6. Canadian Federation of Students;
  7. Canadian Muslim Lawyers’ Association;
  8. Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council;
  9. Centre for Free Expression;
  10. International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group;
  11. Ligue des droits et libertés;
  12. National Council of Canadian Muslims;
  13. OpenMedia;
  14. Ontario Gurdwaras Committee.
  • John Price is professor emeritus of history at the University of Victoria and on the advisory board of Canada-China Focus.
  • The article was first published by Canadian Dimension.

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