Ottawa has even more reason to fix security law

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
April 17, 2017.   Editorial

The government has run out of reasons for delay on Bill C-51. It should move as quickly as possible to fix this bad law.

So it turns out that this country’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), may not actually need the additional powers the Harper Conservatives gave it back in 2015.

That’s the gist of an eye-opening report from Ottawa by the Star’s Alex Boutilier and Tonda McCharles.

They report that CSIS has suspended use of the most controversial powers to disrupt threats of terrorism that were contained in the Conservatives’ Anti-Terrorism Act, also known as Bill C-51.

The law granted CSIS the authority to take direct action to disrupt threats to national security, rather than simply gathering information about the threats. It is allowed to violate a person’s Charter rights as long as it obtains a warrant from a federal court judge authorizing the action. CSIS may take nearly any action to stop a threat as long as it does not cause death or bodily harm, violate a person’s sexual integrity, or obstruct justice.

The new powers extended the agency’s authority in dramatic fashion. Now, however, CSIS has apparently decided not to pursue such activities given that the Trudeau government is moving towards amending the law to remove its so-called “problematic elements.”

This could be simple political caution. But it has some security experts wondering whether CSIS truly needed the controversial powers in the first place. It may be able to carry out its mission of preventing threats to national security without having to go to a judge for authorization to take exceptional measures.

If so, it makes it all the more urgent for the government to finally fulfill its campaign promise to change Bill C-51. Seventeen months after the Liberals took office, they still haven’t acted.

Instead, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale took the cautious route and ordered a public consultation on security issues last fall. That effectively delayed action on eliminating the worst aspects of Bill C-51. But last month Goodale promised to introduce legislation this spring to fix the Conservative law.

The fact that CSIS has already effectively shelved some of the powers it was granted in C-51 is in itself a powerful argument to do away with them altogether when the law is revamped.

And indeed, allowing CSIS to violate Charter rights as long as it obtains a judge’s warrant is among the parts of C-51 that the Liberals singled out as unacceptable during the 2015 election campaign. They vowed that all CSIS warrants “would respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The Liberals also promised to protect free speech and the rights of protesters by amending vague language in C-51 that criminalizes “terrorism propaganda” and “promoting” terrorism.

And they pledged to require CSIS to obtain a warrant before it engages in surveillance of Canadians.

The Liberals were right in 2015 to identify these measures as unacceptable, and to promise to get them out of the law.

Nothing has happened since then to justify maintaining these threats to Canadians’ civil liberties. And CSIS’s own actions undermine whatever logic there was for keeping them. The government has run out of reasons for delay. It should move as quickly as possible to fix this bad law.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/04/17/ottawa-has-even-more-reason-to-fix-security-law-editorial.html

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