Senator Woo Raises Alarm Over Bill C-70, Warns of Dangers to Diaspora Communities, and Potential Chilling Effect on Civic Participation

OTTAWA, ON – The Honourable Yuen Pau Woo, Senator for British Columbia, expressed deep concern today that the implementation of Bill C-70 – passed last night by the Senate of Canada — could have a chilling effect on civic engagement, particularly for diaspora communities in Canada.

“I am concerned that Canadians looking to contribute to Canadian democracy will be criminalized for their civic actions because of a bill that could tag them as having done so secretly or deceptively – on the grounds that they are deemed to be ‘in association with’ a foreign entity.  With the threat of a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for this offence, it is likely that many Canadians – especially new Canadians – will be discouraged from civic participation”.

In a Senate address on Wednesday night, Senator Woo introduced an amendment to remove the vague phrase “in association with” from the bill’s language. He argued that this change would offer some protection to individual liberties, including freedom of expression and association, and mitigate the potential stigmatization of Canadians who could be unfairly targeted by overly broad terminology.  The amendment was defeated 54-17.

The new criminal provisions around ‘Political Interference for a Foreign Entity’ cover a wide range of activities, including political, legislative, policy, and governance processes at all levels of government, including educational institutions.  These are the very institutions of Canadians democracy that immigrants to Canada should be encouraged to immerse themselves in.  C-70, however, could make them vulnerable to political and criminal victimization, especially when it comes to issues of international relations that pertain to the countries where they came from.

“It pains me to raise the alarm for Canadians to be extremely careful about their involvement in political and governmental processes if they have any risk of being found to be ‘in association with’ a foreign entity.  Until and unless the yet-to-be-appointed Commissioner of the Foreign Influence Transparency Registry clarifies how they will interpret the criteria for registration, including the term ‘in association with’, the best course of action is prudence. How ironic that a law to counter foreign interference in our democracy could end up suppressing that very democracy”.

Senator Woo lamented the rushed passage of Bill C-70, in just four sitting days, without sufficient time for thorough debate or analysis.

“The Senate must closely monitor the implementation of C-70 and not hesitate to voice its concerns about overreach and the violation of fundamental rights. But our failure to fix the bill when we had the chance to do so means a greater burden will now fall on civil society organizations and rights defenders to stand up for Canadian liberties”. 

  • Yuen Pau Woo is an independent senator representing British Columbia. You can read more of his articles on his website.

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