Bill C-51 - What's at Stake and What You Can Do

by GEM Magazine / Mar 09, 2016 / Comments

Bill C-51 is officially called the Anti-Terrorism Act, but in reality it has less to do with protecting Canadians, and more to do with restricting our rights and freedoms. The Bill was passed in June 2015.

Although promises were made to engage Canadians in broad public consultation, this has yet to be implemented, along with amending any aspect of the bill or providing a concrete timeline for the review.

There are a multitude of issues with Bill C-51, but I will cover three important rights and freedoms that this Bill puts at risk. They include our right to:

1. Protest

What’s at stake:
A democratic society rests on the rights for individuals and groups to exercise political actions such as protests and civil disobedience.

Bill C-51 opens the door for government security agencies to target environmental and indigenous activists, community organizers, and peaceful protesters. It expands their ability to engage in surveillance and gives CSIS licences to engage disruption techniques including in break-ins, computer hacking, draining bank accounts, ripping up passports, and smear campaigns. It restricts the fundamental right to peacefully protest, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, chilling free speech and potentially silencing voices of dissent.

Why it is of concern:
Government security agencies already repeatedly overstep their bounds and this bill only further shields agencies, who already lack adequate oversight, from accountability. The proposed Liberal amendments do not adequately protect protest and dissent.

2. Travel

What’s at stake:
The freedom of movement is a constitutional right and freedom for everyone in Canada.

Bill C-51 secretly places individuals on a No-Fly List that is only disclosed when people arrive at the airport and are barred from boarding a plane. In addition, Bill C-51 changes make entry into or exit out of Canada more difficult for migrants.

Why it is of concern:
Those who share the name with someone on the list will have repeated, intrusive security checks and long delays. There is little to no recourse for those mistakenly or unfairly targeted.

3. Privacy

What’s at stake:
The protection of your privacy ensures that your personal information is only collected, used and disclosed with your knowledge, in a way that keeps it secure, and used only for legitimate purposes.

Bill C-51 allows unfettered collection, use, and sharing of information between governmental agencies, internally and abroad. This means not only can agencies such as the Canada Revenue Agency share your personal information with Canada Border Services and Canadian Security Intelligence Services, but also Canada can share your information with foreign governments.

Why it is of concern:
This sort of practice among security and intelligence agencies has led to serious human rights abuses against Canadians. Notably, innocent citizens were detained and tortured based on deliberate smears and inaccurate intelligence reports that Canadian agencies shared with US officials.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. The bill also allows Canadians to be arrested on mere suspicion, creates a new speech crime, and radically and unnecessarily changes the nature of CSIS without proper oversight. The laws are misguided, ineffective and unconstitutional. They need to be repealed in full.

Who’s against it?

Over 200,000 Canadians participated in public demonstrations across Canada, phoned MPs and Senators or took actions against it online. 12 privacy commissioners from across Canada and 106 Canadian law professors have spoken out against Bill C-51, and the Canadian Bar Association urged Canadians to take to the streets in order to stop this reckless, dangerous bill. In addition, 22 eminent officials, including former Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Judges, Public Safety & Justice Ministers & others, 60 leading businesses, such as Mozilla Foundation, Tucows and Shopify, and over 100 civil society groups and experts, including Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, LeadNow, National Council of Canadian Muslims, and Amnesty International.

What can you do?

Ask Prime Minister Trudeau, our Public Safety Minister and all the Liberal MPs how they expect to build effective legislation from something so fundamentally flawed.

Email your local MP:

Use this online form to tell Prime Minister Trudeau that it's time to repeal all of Bill C-51:

Organize a demonstration in your own city across Canada. Or join the rally in Victoria, BC on March 12th, outside the Liberal federal convention.

By Laurel Collins and Sasha Kovalchuk

Laurel Collins has spent her life advocating for the environment, education, civil liberties and ending violence against women. She teaches Social Justice Studies and Political Sociology at the University of Victoria, and is an Interdisciplinary PhD candidate researching nonviolent practices in education and social justice work.


Sasha Kovalchuk is a MA candidate in Political Science at the University of Victoria. He is currently the Director of Finance of the UVic Graduate Student Society and is a community organizer with the group Refugees Welcome Victoria.

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