Thank you Stephen Harper. You did it.
For weeks, months actually, it seemed like you were a done deal. People had started focusing on who was the better choice to replace you. Was Justin really that much different? Could the NDP base actually move Mulcair enough to the left that they would be able to make real progress? Maybe we should just abandon all parties and form a new participatory democracy?
Then, like an obnoxious party guest no one invited but who still managed to crash on the couch, Harper wakes up, still drunk on his own power. Everyone else is having a serious, though contentious, discussion about the future and the different ways to make things better when Harper lets out an enormous belch, reminding everyone just who the biggest asshole in the room still is.
That smelly, loud belch, better known as Bill C-51, or the “Anti-Terrorism Act 2015” in Harperspeak, is a piece of legislation that would grant broad, sweeping powers to CSIS to prevent terrorism or the promotion of terrorism. The problem is, it doesn’t really define what terrorism is.
I know the image the Conservatives want people to associate with this bill: that of Ottawa shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in particular and radical Islam in general. But that’s not what the bill says. In fact, it doesn’t say much about what constitutes a terrorist. Seeing as people can get five years in prison for just “promoting” an undefined concept and have their websites shut down, too, I think a bit of clarity is in order.
Open to Interpretation
The bill does try to define what it hopes to prevent. As you can see in the screenshot to the left and by reading the actual document (PDF), it doesn’t really get the job done.
We get a list of things which, for the most part, are things that I think most people reading this would agree should be prevented, like proliferation of chemical weapons. However, there is one bullet point, Clause D, which simply says “terrorism” with no explanation.
Consider for a moment that over the past few years, the Harper Government has been busy trying to apply the terrorist label to environmental activists and Idle No More protesters alike. With this new law in place, what would stop them from also going after any journalist, blogger or supporter who may take up their cause?
Could it be the last point in this section? The one that says “it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression”? Well, what constitutes lawful advocacy? It’s not clear. This passage sounds nice, but it still depends on who is defining the terms.
Let’s look at point I: “an activity that takes place in Canada but undermines the security of another state.” I wonder what state they could be referring to? Could it be Israel? Now consider that the Harper definition of security includes economic security (point A), then couldn’t a blog post promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel be considered to be promoting undermining the economic security of another state and therefore promoting terrorism?
When you start sending activists and bloggers to jail for opinions that reflect a popular view that is at odds with that of the government, you are only slightly better than Saudi Arabia.
It’s Not Just the Left that Needs to Fight This
This goes beyond the left-right paradigm. Even if you’re not a fan of the environment, the first people to live in the place we now call Canada or those who are willing to fight for basic rights for the Palestinian people, you too should oppose this bill.
Think about it: Harper may lose the next election. If this bill becomes law before he does, then the next Prime Minister would be able to use it and interpret what constitutes terrorism however they like.
Let’s say you run a group calling for the dissolution of the CBC. You blog about it, you write Facebook posts about it. What if that Commie Mulcair (yes, I know Tom Mulcair is not a communist and to suggest so is offensive to actual communists, but I’m trying to appropriate some right-wing lingo) decides that trying to destroy the CBC is a threat to the economic security of Canada. What if pretty boy Trudeau says “just watch me” as he has your blog removed from the web and sends you to prison for five years?
If Bill C-51 becomes law, all bets are off. Once there are wide-sweeping powers in place that can be directed at anyone the government of the day decides is promoting terrorism, we’re all potential terrorists.
So thank you, Stephen Harper, for proving to everyone that you’re still the biggest asshole in the room. I can only hope we can all come together and make sure this bill does not become law.