Mr & Mrs Nice Get a Police State

Mr & Mrs Nice Get a Police State
Published: Mar 16, 2015
Human rights lawyer Paul Copeland was the defence attorney of security certificate detainee Mohamed Harkat* and he has seen what Canada's spy agency is capable of. Here, from a speech at one of many rallies across the country on Saturday, Copeland outlines some of the dangers of this type of legislation. Canada's example is one that all so-called 'free countries' might take heed of.

Outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, March 15, 2015 *

TORONTO — I have been given 5 minutes to explain why I oppose this legislation, so I’m going to run through some key points very briefly. In my view Bill C-51 — also known as the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act — is probably the most dangerous piece of legislation and government action in Canada since 400 people were arrested under the War Measures Act in 1970.

The Conservatives [the right-wing party in Canadian politics] are rushing this bill through Committee and they are not listening at all. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using this Bill as an election ploy. He is basically saying, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” That is a totally false claim.

Former prime ministers and Supreme Court Justices say the oversight of CSIS is inadequate.

The oversight issues of CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) in the legislation are totally inadequate. As a special advocate, I am appointed to participate in the closed secret hearings in the security certificate cases. I have Top Secret National Security clearance and therefore I was able to see the work of CSIS in the Harkat and Almrei cases. Some of the work done by CSIS was good, some of it was not so good, and a couple of parts of their work was awful. So far, four former [Canadian] prime ministers and a number of former Supreme Court Justices said very publicly that the oversight of CSIS is inadequate. There was no response from the Conservatives, except that they say the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) is sufficient oversight. Yet Deborah Gray, the acting chair of SIRC, and a former Reform and then Alliance MP (former Harper allies), says SIRC is short one member of the Committee and understaffed.

The Bill is 59 pages long. I’m pretty good at understanding these kinds of things and I find it very hard to follow.

The Bill covers five areas: 1) Security of Information; 2) The No Fly List; 3) Criminal Code amendments; 4) Amendments to the CSIS Act; 5) Amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

I will briefly touch on some of these.

Toronto City Hall, March 15, 2015. Photo by Whitney Smith.

The government information will now be shared over 17 departments. The Canadian Privacy Commissioner objects to parts of the information sharing, as well as other aspects of the Bill, but the Conservatives did not put him on the list of people to make submissions and he will not be permitted to attend.

There is no provision in the legislation to allow for a special advocate type of lawyer to participate in the appeals to test the government allegations. That means that when a judge is trying to review why a person is on the No Fly List, only the government will be able present information to the judge. The person seeking to get off the No Fly List will not even have a top secret cleared lawyer there advocating his side of the issue.

There are only eight special advocates who have worked on the security certificate cases. They prepared a brief and asked to make submissions to the Bill C-51 Committee, but these special advocates did not make the list to appear — nor did the Canadian Bar Association or the Canadian Civil Liberties Association get on the list.

Its definition could include groups like Idle No More (and anti-pipeline environmentalists.

The definition of threats to national security in the Bill is so wide that it can cover almost everything and everyone. For example, its definition could include groups like Idle No More (a Canadian grassroots movement among the Aboriginal peoples) and anti-pipeline environmentalists.

The Bill gives a disruption mandate to CSIS. We need to remember the disruption activities carried out by the predecessor of CSIS, the RCMP Security Service: the "SS". Their very extensive disruption abuses were documented in the McDonald Commission Report (a Federal inquiry, 1981) and in the Keable Inquiry (a Quebec inquiry, 1977). One of the many abuses documented was the theft of the membership lists of the Parti Quebecois, a lawful political party.

Unfortunately time does not permit me to elaborate more on the dangers of this Bill.



PAUL COPELAND co-founded the Law Union of Ontario in 1974 and was the Vice-President of the Criminal Lawyers Association from 1985-1991. For several years he was the co-President of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) and since 1988 has been active working with the democracy movement for Burma. In 2010 he received the Order of Canada.

In June 2006 Paul Copeland argued in the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of Mohamed Harkat that the security certificate procedure under the immigration and Refugee Protection Act violated the fundamental justice provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. In February 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed with that argument and held that the procedure violated fundamental justice.


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