Bill C-51 has more to do with appearing tough on terror than actually making Canadians safe, columnist writes

Law authorities didn't need Bill C-51 to stop Aaron Driver's planned attack and they don't need the draconian law now, either, writes columnist Mersiha Gadzo. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Law authorities didn’t need Bill C-51 to stop Aaron Driver’s planned attack and they don’t need the draconian law now, either, writes columnist Mersiha Gadzo. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Published for CBC News on November 13, 2016

When Canada’s national police force is found guilty of fabricating terrorist attacks and its security intelligence has a reputation for complicity in the torture of innocent citizens, one would think the next logical step would be to hold those responsible to account.

Yet with the draconian Bill C-51, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been granted sweeping powers to act as a secret police force. Instead of only collecting intelligence, CSIS can now disrupt what they perceive to be a security threat, violating laws and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms if they find it necessary.

The anti-terrorism act is dangerous legislation because it legalizes misconduct and allows the violation of civil liberties while Canadians are not made any safer.

Plotting terrorist attacks

The B.C. Supreme Court overturned the terrorist convictions of John Nuttall and Amandy Korody last summer, ruling that the RCMP entrapped the couple, coaxing them into planning to blow up the B.C. legislature.

The RCMP spent nearly $1 million imagining different scenarios, involving 240 police officers to realize their fabrication.

On Canada Day in 2013, the RCMP and CSIS reportedly saved Canadians by disrupting their own fake plot and informed the media that Nuttall and Korody were self-radicalized, inspired by al-Qaeda.

Nuttall’s and Korody’s overturned convictions might have turned out differently if Bill C-51 had been implemented at the time with the offence of “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general” (regardless of whether you actually meant it or whether you were led on in an illegal sting operation).

This broad and vague speech crime is worrisome, since we’ve already seen individuals flagged simply for espousing views that differ from the government’s official narrative.

Anti-war activist Ken Stone caught the attention of CSIS after visiting Iran and writing a 2012 op-ed for the Hamilton Spectator titled “Harper is wrong in demonizing Iran.”

Stone said CSIS agents showed up at his house unannounced in an attempt to intimidate him.

In a Toronto Star op-ed, lawyer Faisal Kutty listed a sample of his clients and what they were flagged for, including “an engineering student searching, wait for this, engineering journals; hugging someone at an Eid gathering when this is part of the festive rituals; and attending lectures about rights.”

Canadians tortured in foreign prisons

The 2008 Iacobucci report found CSIS and the RCMP complicit in the torture of innocent Canadians in foreign prisons. Canadian authorities made up accusations that Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin were terrorists and provided questions to the interrogators. The confessions obtained under torture were used to justify search warrants.

the fifth estate obtained internal documents revealing Canadian authorities knew the men were being tortured and collaborated with Syrian officials in interrogations.

CSIS labelled Almalki a potential member of al-Qaeda, but after following him, an RCMP case officer admitted in a memo, “O Division Task Force are presently finding it difficult to establish anything on him other than the fact that he is an Arab running around.”

Authorities had no evidence he had done anything wrong, yet his name was still sent in a worldwide terrorist alert and upon arrival at the Damascus airport, instead of visiting his ailing grandmother, Almalki was taken to a prison and tortured for nearly two years.

He falsely confessed to being Bin Laden’s partner, but at that point in the torture, he would have admitted to being a duck if that’s what they wanted, Almalki said.

It’s hard to believe CSIS will act responsibly with its new powers given a record of targeting innocent people based on no evidence. More dragnet surveillance and information sharing about innocent Canadians is expected.

CSIS doesn’t need to present any evidence why an individual is suspect in order to obtain a warrant to violate charter rights. Under the new act, CSIS is shielded from lawsuits regarding its information sharing among government institutions and now has authority to even operate abroad, breaking laws of sovereign countries to disrupt perceived security threats.

Tough on terror

Additional anti-terrorism laws aren’t necessary to thwart terrorist attacks. In Aaron Driver’s case, the planned attack was thwarted after the RCMP received a tip from the FBI. Driver was already under a peace bond, a mechanism that has existed since 2001.

There is no evidence that this new, draconian legislation will make Canadians any safer.

“Our terrorism criminal law already sets the tripwire for terrorism crime very far from actual acts of violence,” Craig Forcese, a national security expert and University of Ottawa law professor, wrote in his blog. “None of the two dozen or so persons in prison for post-9/11 terrorism crimes got further than plotting before they were charged and convicted.”

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, believes Justin Trudeau’s support for the anti-terror law comes from fear of appearing soft on terror.

“A lot of what classifies as terrorism in the political context — individuals that the news calls terrorist — are really common criminals. But they do not constitute the kind of supercriminal threat that is represented by our terrorism legislation,” Snowden told a Toronto audience via video, the Guardian reported.

In the post-9/11 frenzy, which continues to this day, it’s also a trend in the U.S. to target vulnerable Muslims so state authorities can appear as the heroes of their own fabrications, as explained in Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept article “Why does the FBI have to manufacture its own plots if terrorism and ISIS are such grave threats?”

Given its history of participating in torture, misrepresenting facts to courts to obtain secret warrants, destroying evidence, surveillance of dissident protesters and other manipulation, granting CSIS sweeping powers to legally act as a secret police force without any reliable oversight defies logic.

As lawyer Kutty correctly noted, Canada’s national security framework requires a major overhaul.

Mersiha Gadzo is a multimedia journalist currently based in Sarajevo.

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