The New Brunswick Anti Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA), a coalition of grassroots organizations in the province opposed to shale gas development, is concerned that Canada’s proposed new anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, goes far beyond targeting what most people may think of as terrorism. They fear it will target opponents of the fossil fuel economy and opponents of government policies in general.
“We’re the target of the day. It’s no secret that (the Harper government) has been frustrated by citizen opposition to things like shale gas … and now this Bill comes out that could easily be aimed at stopping dissent, including the kinds of things we do,” says group spokesperson Jim Emberger.
He stresses that the danger stretched beyond targeting environmentalists alone. “Once a tool like this is in the tool box, every government from here on out will be able to use it to serve their political interests.”
The vagueness of the language in C-51 worries Emberger. “It’s the things that are not there (that concerns us). Things are not defined.”
Bill C-51 is not just about “anti-terrorism,” but also targets activities that, in the Bill’s own language, “undermines the security of Canada,” including its “economic and financial stability,” through “interference with critical infrastructure.”
“Who gets to decide what’s a threat to economic interests?” says Emberger. “If I stand in front of a truck in a legitimate act of civil disobedience … that could be considered a threat to infrastructure.”
Roch Tassé, national coordinator of the the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), a coalition of 41 national organizations, echoes these concerns. He explains that Bill C-51 uses a “broadened definition of what constitutes a threat to national security … Protesters blocking a pipeline or an aboriginal group blocking a railway would be captured by the interpretation.”
Tassé emphasizes that while civil disobedience may be unlawful, such actions are not criminal offences, let alone serious criminal offences within the scope of terrorism. “So far in Canada civil disobedience is not criminalized. You could be fined for blocking a road or interfering, but it’s not (a criminal offence). Now we’re criminalizing them in the context of an anti-terrorism act, and the consequences would be quite serious.”
Bill C-51 would also grant new powers to Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). The powers include actions to “reduce” threats to the security of Canada. Thus far, CSIS has only been a spy agency, but the new powers would give them the ability to take disruptive action.
“Essentially, it gives security forces carte blanche to do things like infiltrate groups and thwart activities that they’re doing,” adds Emberger.
The new powers will also include violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which would be allowed upon a obtaining a judicial warrant. “Judges are usually appointed to protect the Constitution, to protect the Charter of Rights, and now we’re going to ask judges to authorize CSIS to violate the Charter … this is quite dramatic in terms of the fundamentals of a democracy,” says Tassé.
“In “reducing threats,” CSIS will be allowed to do anything short of inflicting inflicting deadly force, committing sexual assault or causing significant bodily harm. “Almost any other kind of action that violates the (Charter) would be allowed … it could be forced interviews, psychological harassment … and they could rough you up so long as there are no marks on your body.”
NBASGA’s reasons for seeing themselves targeted through Bill C-51 are enhanced by a recently leaked RCMP Report from 2014, “The Critical Infrastructure Assessment Report: Criminal Threats to the Canadian Petroleum Industry.” The report not only names the “anti-petroleum movement” as a serious threat to Canadian interests, but specifically names protests in New Brunswick as a concern.
“Having the two of these (The Bill and the leaked document) appear at about the same time was alarming,” says Emberger. “The fact that this is a working document (and not a proposed Bill), it’s even scarier than Bill C-51.”
Tassé sees the language in the RCMP report and Bill C-561 as part of a deliberate process of associating certain activities with terrorism.
“RCMP, CSIS, public safety reports … policy statements on what is their anti-terrorism policy, they all refer now to Canadian extremists … they’ve couched the language to slowly associate environmental groups with extremism and … to associate civil disobedience in environmental defence with terrorism,” says Tassé.
Bill C-51 is not yet approved, but is only scheduled for limited study by the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. This is despite calls by people and organizations for a deeper review by experts from affected groups.
NBASGA is calling for Bill C-51 to be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada to assess its constitutionality.