This week the Harper government rammed the anti-terrorism bill through Parliament with its third and final reading. All that remains is a short stop in the Senate and on to royal ascent.
Bill C-51 is a legislative drift net that has a reach far beyond its immediate target of radical Islamic terrorism.
It has the potential to scoop up environmentalists, aboriginal rights activists, union members and anyone who is seen to stand in the way of national security.
Is that assessment over the top? I don’t think so.
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First Nations are on a collision course with federal and provincial governments, as well as with pipeline and resource companies as they encroach on traditional lands, particularly in British Columbia.
The act’s interpretation states that it applies to any activity that “undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada.”
This includes the following: “Interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada.”
This is casting a pretty wide net. Assembly of First Nations National Chief PerryBellegarde has expressed his organization’s opposition to the bill.
Under this legislation, Mohawk protesters who blocked the 401 would be branded as terrorists.
The First Nations elders and family members who set up a barricade of lawn chairs on the CPR main line in British Columbia could be considered terrorists. Oka, of course, would be a terrorist act.
The confrontation between the RCMP and Mi’kmaq protesters in 2013 at Elsipogtog, N.B., led to more than 40 arrests and the destruction of police vehicles. Under Bill C-51, this could be considered a terrorist act.
In British Columbia, a group of First Nations activists in the Tsilhqot’interritory have established the Unist’ot’en Camp, which is built in the proposed right of way for the Gateway Pipeline. If that pipeline ever gets approval, will these people be branded as terrorists and subject to the arrest and overreach of Bill C-51?
Repressive legislation serves as pressure cooker
As each year rolls by, there is growing awareness and increased activism in Indian country. Repressive legislation will only serve to act as a pressure cooker and both create and define more activists.
Under this legislation, police forces will have the power to detain people they suspect of planning to break the law. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service will have new powers of arrest as well, effectively making it the equivalent of a secret police force.
In the past, CSIS was an intelligence-gathering agency that shared information with the RCMP, which carried out the arrest of individuals and seizure of evidence.
The government maintains that the legislation is aimed at Islamic jihadists, which Harper portrays as hiding behind every tree in Canada. To combat this perceived threat, the government created Bill C-51, which opens CSIS up to a whole new ball game.
Language of bill questioned
Nobody is going to argue that we don’t need to defend ourselves against terrorists, but the language of this bill is so broad the definition of “terrorist” is watered down to individuals that practise their legal right to dissent.
There are numerous simmering disputes all across Indian country, and if demonstrations occur in the future, how will they be treated under this legislation?
One thing starts to emerge as we look at this ominous bill. The government is preparing an arsenal of legislation to counteract future action by First Nations people to protect our land, resource and environmental rights.
‘The government needs to slow things down and dial back the panic.’– Doug Cuthand
This legislation has been opposed by academics, lawyers, human rights advocates and a large segment of the public, and yet they insist on forging ahead with few revisions and a minimum of debate.
The government needs to slow things down and dial back the panic. We have legislation to deal with those who break the law and commit acts of terrorism.
This legislation is far too broad and needs to undergo a serious rewrite with the input of all the public and opposition parties.
But I guess that is just so much wishful thinking. Bill C-51 is part of Harper’s campaign of fear to get re-elected.
Sadly, that fear has the potential to be spread to First Nations, environmentalists and any other group that can be used to create wedge issues and bring votes their way.