In the four short months it took to rush Bill C-51 through Parliament, the hypocrisy of its proponents was brought into sharp focus. Trumpeted as the responsible progression of anti-terror laws, the bill was instead widely condemned by security experts, privacy law scholars, civil rights organizations, and former Supreme Court justices for expanding surveillance powers without restraint or any adequate justification.
Although civil liberty concerns seldom get in the way of the Harper government, with Bill C-51 it chose to muzzle them altogether. Canada's own Privacy Commissioner was blocked from testifying against the bill, and Parliamentary debate — the central feature of a vibrant democracy — was severely curtailed. It is this disdain for informed citizens, especially in the face of a bill that expands the legal limits of covert state activity, that should make every Canadian question in whose interest this bill was crafted.
The Communications Security Establishment, Canada's signals intelligence agency, is happy to see their mandate to collect communications expanded, now that their capabilities can be used by 16 other government agencies eager to gain access to personal information.
The CSE’s wielding of the global surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden has left no doubt that it prioritizes its intelligence collection abilities over law-abiding Canadians being secure in their communications. These powers should be reined in, not bolstered through the same information sharing policies that led to the torture of Canadians, as concluded by multiple independent commissions.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's other intelligence agency, also welcomed Bill C-51. It can now use CSE's arsenal of offensive hacking weapons against any groups that are perceived as being “threats to the security of Canada,” which by CSIS's doublespeak definition has historically included members of civil society like environmental and Aboriginal movements.
These reckless surveillance powers undermine the foundation of our liberal democracy and our right to privacy, the fundamental barrier between citizens and the state. This surveillance extends to broader societal impacts on the ability of citizens to freely express ideas, demand change and exercise their rights. To the likes of CSE and CSIS, Canadians are merely sources of information, stripped of their rights and humanity.
This is why a broad coalition of university students across Canada are coming together to call on the next Canadian government to put an end to disproportionate surveillance powers and repeal Bill C-51. As students, we understand that privacy is what enables social progress and creativity to flourish. When subjected to surveillance, we are not intellectually free to discuss controversial topics, test new ways of thinking, and organize politically without fear of our actions being used against us.
The Student Coalition for Privacy is in ongoing conversations with hundreds of candidates that support repealing Bill C-51 and is lobbying them to reject the status quo of Canadian mass surveillance if elected. On university campuses across Canada, our student members have pledged their vote to candidates who are committed to protecting civil liberties in the digital world.
At the same time, our network of student researchers are busy filing Access to Information Act requests to shed light on the secret policies of CSIS and CSE that violate our rights and escape public scrutiny.
This upcoming election is a crucial opportunity to change the direction of Canada's surveillance policy. To get involved in the movement or see which of your candidates want to end mass surveillance and Bill C-51, visit us at https://studentprivacy.ca.