EspañolThousands of Canadians took to the streets in 70 cities across the country on Saturday, March 12, to protest the anti-terrorism bill C-51. Protesters warn that the proposal opens the door for government restrictions on public demonstrations.
The Conservative government introduced the bill on January 30, but the Canadian Parliament has yet to vote on the legislation.
A major concern for opponents of the initiative is the expansion of powers for Canada’s intelligence agency and broader discretion for police to arrest alleged terrorist suspects.
Groups like Leadnow, Open Media, and Amnesty International, among others, organized the protest on Saturday, and have warned against the implications of the legislation spearheaded by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
L’ultime responsabilité de notre gov. – de tout gov. can. – est d’assurer la sécurité des Canadiens et de notre pays. pic.twitter.com/hMbPNUdX5f
— Stephen Harper (@stephenharperFR) January 30, 2015
“The ultimate responsibility of our government — all governments — is to ensure the safety of Canadians and our country.”
Motives behind Bill C-51
Bill C-51’s stated goal is to preserve the “sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity of Canada.” The government argues the bill will make Canadians “safer” and give law enforcement “the necessary tools to fight against terrorist threats.”
According to its text, the purpose is to prevent acts of terrorism, the “proliferation of nuclear, chemical, radiological or biological espionage, sabotage or covert foreign-influenced activities; an activity that takes place in Canada and undermines the security of another state.”
The Canadian government will also target those who “interfere with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defense, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada.”
Jeremy Laurin, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, told CBC News that the government “rejects the argument that every time we talk about security, our freedoms are threatened.”
“Canadians understand that their freedom and security go hand in hand [and] expect us to protect both, and there are safeguards in this legislation to do exactly that,” said Laurin.
Threats to Freedom
Leadnow, an NGO that advocates for an open democracy, has said that the proposal grants government agents special powers to spy on Canadian citizens. They warn that the bill would allow the police to arrest people over a mere suspicion, “even those who have committed no crime.”
Above all, Leadnow says the bill poses a great threat to freedom of expression in Canada. The group says C-51’s language is “really vague” and could be used to target minority groups.
“This legislation is reckless, irresponsible, and ineffective,” says the NGO.
“C-51 is a bill that could seriously endanger our right to protest peacefully, to stand up against a government or an infrastructure or an economic policy,” said the New Democratic Party legislator Thomas Mulclair in Montreal.
“Mr. Harper has never been able to give a single example of why this bill is necessary,” said the opposition leader.
Stuart Basden, an activist from Toronto, likewise expressed concern over the potential consequences of the legislation. “Freedom to speak out against the government is probably [in] jeopardy … even if you’re just posting stuff online you could be targeted, so it’s a really terrifying bill.”
OpenMedia Executive Director Steve Anderson told Yahoo! News that the number of Canadians worried about the bill are rising.
“We’re just hoping to make that more clear to the government and educate more Canadians, because … the real kind of challenge for those of us who understand the dangers of the bill is to educate [other] Canadians,” he said.
Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.