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Security certificates are the pilot project for Bill C-51

Jessica Squires

March 21, 2015

Under the current (pre-C51) so-called “Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act” the government can detain, without charge, for years on end, non-citizens, without giving them the right to know the “case” (if there is one) against them.
No crime need have been committed. The information upon which CSIS bases its allegation that the detained person “may” at some point in the future pose a threat to national security is kept largely secret. Only special advocates—court-appointed and security cleared lawyers—can see the secret information, and even they cannot see all of it; nor are they allowed to cross-examine the information’s human sources. Much of the original source information was destroyed, and although courts have ruled that illegal, they have still allowed CSIS to use that information in certificate cases.
There are currently three Muslim men detained under security certificates in Canada, none of whom have committed any crime anywhere in the world, and all of whose lives have been irrevocably changed for the worse. The security certificates are a deportation method, and all three face possible torture or death if returned to the country of origin—a practice banned in international law. Yet the government is seeking to do so anyway.
To summarize, the main features of security certificates are: arbitrary detention; deportation to torture; used primarily against Muslims; place huge powers in the hands of CSIS to control the process; and withholding of information.
Sound familiar? It should—these are among the main features of Bill C-51 as well; and C-51 will make all of these things worse. Arbitrary detention will continue. Deportation to torture—continues. Used against Muslims—just listen to the rhetoric. Powers in the hands of CSIS—under C51, almost nothing is not allowed; if a CSIS action would, in their opinion, breach the constitution, they can ask for a warrant; these actions can be done domestically or abroad. Withholding of information? Now even worse, and aspects of C-51 write over Supreme Court rulings about access to original information.
The threat now goes beyond non-citizens to affect all people living in the country calling itself Canada.
When the Liberals first passed the Anti-Terrorism Act after 9/11, we said it would be bad. It was not as bad as we thought when enacted, because we resisted it; but it was still bad. We’ve seen deportations, increased detentions of immigrants and refugees, drummed-up fears of Islam and Muslims and Arabs and other racialized people, increased surveillance of citizens and non-citizens, and groups ranging from Raging Grannies to Greenpeace to indigenous rights activists labelled possible threats to national security.
This bill is part of a pattern. It goes back before the Harper government by years and years. It’s about justifying foreign and domestic policy to attack unions, social justice activists, peace and environmental movements—and about justifying wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq.
History tells us that CSIS itself was created after the RCMP secret police undertook dirty tricks in Quebec and elsewhere. CSIS and the RCMP secret activities have always been about squashing dissent.
There is a metaphor—the boiling frog—which is overused, but very apt in this situation. The analogy is that a frog placed in a pot of water is fine. As the water is heated up it does not notice it is being cooked until it is too late. It’s time for people on this continent to jump out of the pot.
This government uses laws and the legal process to do whatever it wants. That means we also have to use the legal process to fight back. But it is incredibly limited, and increasingly so when the actions we might wish to challenge are not even subject to public scrutiny. The only thing that will work is action in the streets. C-51 may make us a threat to the state, but that does not make our actions illegitimate.
We must not succumb to division. Protest is legitimate. Islam is not the enemy. Take action. Do more than sign petitions. Keep attending rallies. Bring two friends to the next one. No matter how bad this law we must continue to exercise our rights.
If you like this article, register for Rage Against the System, a weekend conference of ideas to change the world, April 24-26 in Toronto. Sessions include “Stopping Harper’s agenda,” “Secularism, Islamophobia and the new racism,” and “Black lives matter: racism and police brutality.”

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