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Federal Politics

Privacy Commissioner Slams Bill C-51

Canadians are 'concerned with the issue of government surveillance,' Therrien says.

Jeremy Nuttall 6 Mar

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here. 

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Daniel Therrien says anti-terrorism bill will allow authorities to harass protesters. Photo:

Canada's privacy commissioner says the country's proposed anti-terror legislation is excessive and provides no judicial recourse for those who are victims of improper use of parts of the legislation by authorities.

Daniel Therrien's submission to the House of Commons public safety committee regarding Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, was made public Friday morning. In it, Therrien said the bill is not clear on a number of points, particularly in relation to activities that "undermine" the security of Canada.

Therrien said the bill does not strike a balance between security and safety which is something Canadians "want and expect" from such legislation.

"I have repeatedly heard that Canadians understand the need to share their information with the government, but that they have concerns about how this information is going to be used," he writes in his conclusion. "They are particularly concerned with the issue of government surveillance.

"Bill C-51 does nothing to assuage those fears."

Concern that Bill C-51 would give the go ahead for law enforcement to harass legitimate protesters has been at the forefront of the controversy over the legislation.

Among other examples, the bill defines "activity that undermines the security of Canada" as interference with the economic or financial stability of the country or with "critical infrastructure."

That has lead to fears the legislation could be used to disrupt or prevent people from protesting or participating in other legal activities.

The bill points out that its definition of what undermines security does not include lawful advocacy or protest, but critics have argued that the bill does not provide strong enough protection of Canadians' right to protest.

Though he did not address protests directly, Therrien said the bill enables law enforcement authorities to gather information on anyone, not just suspected terrorists.

"It is not clear why new activities are included and how they all relate to genuine security threats," he writes in reference to activities that undermine security.

More power to CSIS

If passed, the bill would also give CSIS powers beyond its current ability to gather information and pass it along to law enforcement. They include the ability to "disrupt" potential threats, but the government has yet to give a firm definition of what that means.

The privacy commissioner also expressed concern that the bill permits various government departments, approximately 17, to share information about Canadians, based simply on "relevance" rather than necessity.

As an example, he writes, tax information that has traditionally been highly protected could be widely shared with other government departments.

And, if it turns out that sharing such information was inappropriate, there's no recourse for Canadians.

"All they have right to is a report of non-binding recommendations by my Office with no further enforcement mechanism and no possibility for remedy," Therrien said.

"It is reasonable, in the context of this Bill which so widely extends the scale of information sharing between departments and agencies, to give Canadians effective legal remedies in order to pursue their complaints beyond the issuance of my report."

He also pointed out only three of the 17 departments that would be sharing the personal information of Canadians are subject to independent oversight.

Therrien said he would welcome the opportunity to appear before the committee examining the bill to discuss possible amendments.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Federal Politics

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