CBA vs. Bill C-51: Lawyers wade in against anti-terrorism legislation

Russell Wangersky russell.wangersky@tc.tc
Published on March 24, 2015

Oh, yet another well-known radical fringe group is stepping into the fight against the Harper government’s Bill C-51.

Another group of long-hair environmental Lefties, some outfit that claims to know something about law. Who is it this time? The Canadian Bar Association (CBA), representing 36,000 Canadian lawyers of all political stripes.

Among the concerns? That the new law would allow the release of private information about Canadians to both foreign governments and to private businesses.

That the new law would allow judges to give CSIS the permission to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, something the CBA has said brings “the entire Charter into jeopardy, undermines the rule of law, and goes against the fundamental role of judges as the protectors of Canada's constitutional rights.” That CSIS will continue to operate with only the lightest oversight. That the new legislation will allow for the warrantless search of computers and phones. And that the bill is being rushed through Parliament without proper consideration.

And the CBA is concerned about C-51’s information sharing abilities, something a draft CBA submission says opens the door to abuse.

That clause alone is well worth looking at.

5. (1) “Subject to any provision of any other Act of Parliament, or of any regulation made under such an Act, that prohibits or restricts the disclosure of information, a Government of Canada institution may, on its own initiative or on request, disclose information to the head of a recipient Government of Canada institution whose title is listed in Schedule 3, or their delegate, if the information is relevant to the recipient institution’s jurisdiction or responsibilities under an Act of Parliament or another lawful authority in respect of activities that undermine the security of Canada, including in respect of their detection, identification, analysis, prevention, investigation or disruption.”

Stop and think about that: regardless of any other law or regulation restricting the use of information, one government agency can share whatever it has with another agency “if the information is relevant.” There are 17 different government agencies involved in the swap, everything from customs to income tax to the federal government’s other spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment. Are you confident that the information you put on your tax return won’t crop up in the federal cabinet’s hands, if you should become a thorn in the government’s side? Don’t be.

At the end of it all, Harper’s cabinet ministers are claiming the law won’t be used to target Canadians, saying, “Give us the powers, and trust us not to abuse them.”

No thanks.

And those pesky lawyers? Well, maybe some sort of institutional persuasion could be used to dissuade those freaky long-haired radicals.

Just like environmental groups and free speech organizations, maybe the good old CBA could suddenly be tangled up in a giant “completely random,” expensive, time-consuming Canadian Revenue Agency audit — the detailed results of which, post Bill C-51, could be shared with the completely-non-political ministers of Finance, Citizenship and Immigration, Foreign Affairs, Health, National Defence, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Transport.

Because, well, trust us.

I wouldn’t trust that crew to watch my drink while I went to the bathroom.

 

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc; his column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in TC Media’s daily papers.