Wiertz Sebastien - Privacy by Sebastien Wiertz (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/ahk6nh
From Obama Birthers to Anti-Immigration Activists: Who the Government Turned to for Bill C-51 Support During Committee Hearings
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security completed its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-51 yesterday with a hearing that Green Party leader Elizabeth May described as the “most offensive she has experienced.” In all, the government rejected 61 Green Party amendments, 28 NDP amendments, and 13 Liberal amendments. Yesterday I posted a “by the numbers” review of the committee hearings on Bill C-51 noting that Conservative MPs rarely asked substantive questions about provisions in the bill and that important voices such as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada were blocked from appearing altogether.
One of the most striking aspects of the hearings was how difficult it was for the government to find expert supporters of the bill. There were certainly some – police associations, Robert Morrison, Peter Neumann, Garth Davies, Christian Leuprecht among them – but the line-up of supporting organizations also included:
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security will hold its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism bill, this morning. The government is expected to introduce several modest amendments that experts note do little to address some of the core concerns with the bill. While there is some tinkering with the information sharing provisions, the law will still allow for widespread sharing without effective oversight from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Moreover, key concerns with respect to the CSIS Act (warrants that can violate Charter rights) and broader oversight and accountability remains untouched.
None of this comes as a surprise. Earlier in the committee hearings, Green Party leader Elizabeth May lamented that “the hearing process is a sham. They’re not listening to witnesses.” Now that the hearings have concluded, the data bears this out. Witnesses from across the political spectrum called for changes to the information sharing rules, to oversight, to the CSIS powers, and to the advocating or promoting terrorism provision, yet Conservative MPs never bothered to listen.
Few legislative issues are as important as the security and privacy of Canadians, but the entire hearings were structured to avoid hearing from experts, to asking irrelevant questions, or to bringing in witnesses with scant knowledge of the proposed bill. Just how bad was it? The Bill C-51 hearings by the numbers:
Yesterday, I had the honour of participating in a terrific panel at the University of Ottawa on Bill C-51 alongside colleagues Dean Nathalie Des Rosiers and Joanne St. Lewis (the panel was moderated by the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles and organized by Carissima Mathen). My remarks focused on the privacy implications of Bill C-51, drawing on a recent column on the issue (Toronto Star version, homepage version). My opening comments are posted below.
A Conversation About Bill C-51
Thanks to Carissima Mathen for organizing this panel. It’s a great idea and given that this week looks like the final week for committee hearings, very timely.
It is hard to know where to start with Bill C-51. So I’m not going to start with the bill at all. In fact, I’d like to share my context for reviewing the bill and provide a far more personal take than is typical. There is good reason for doing so – if you have followed the rather limited committee hearings to date, you know that government MPs have made deeply personal comments, raising questions about the loyalty to Canada of some witnesses and whether critics of the bill believe terrorism is a threat.
Why The Anti-Terrorism Bill is Really an Anti-Privacy Bill: Bill C-51′s Evisceration of Privacy Protection
“The first and main concern is the privacy issue…since the information is to be shared by different levels of government and different governmental bodies. There is a risk that privacy can be compromised. The more information is transferred and shared, the greater the risk of security of the information.“
Nearly twenty years ago, that was Stephen Harper, then a Reform Party MP warning against the privacy implications of an electronic voter registry and the fear that information sharing within government raised significant privacy concerns. Today, there is a very different Stephen Harper, who as Prime Minister is fast-tracking a bill that eviscerates privacy protections within the public sector. Much of the focus on Bill C-51 has related to oversight: the government implausibly claims that it increases oversight (it does not), the Liberals say they support the bill but would like better oversight, and much of the NDP criticism has also centered on oversight. Yet with respect to privacy and Bill C-51, lack of oversight is only a part of the problem.