CCLA finds promise and peril in C-59—the new anti-terror bill

June 20, 2017

On June 20, 2017 the federal government released Bill C-59, An Act Respecting National Security Matters, which includes major proposed changes to many aspects of Canadian national security law.

The 150-page bill addresses some of the problems CCLA identified in our legal challenge to provisions of former Bill C-51 (the existing Anti-terrorism Act, 2015) that violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The provisions introduced under Bill C-51 in 2015 represented a fundamental threat to civil liberties in Canada. Today’s Bill C-59 introduces a number of amendments that respond to longstanding calls from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the civil society community, for reform. That said, a great many of CCLA’s proposals for change do not appear to be included, and concerns for people’s rights and freedoms remain.

The most welcome changes in today’s bill include the creation of an integrated review body for intelligence agencies, along with a new Intelligence Commissioner to provide oversight for some activities of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Enhanced and integrated accountability was sorely needed. CCLA will continue to examine the bill to determine whether the new review body’s statutory powers are sufficient. A question remains as to whether it will have adequate powers and adequate resources.

Another important step is the elimination of the criminal offence of “advocating or promoting terrorism offences in general” which is replaced by the less vague, less over-broad “counselling the commission of a terrorism offence.”

In the coming days and weeks, we will be undertaking a detailed review and analysis of Bill C-59. Of particular concern:

  • CSIS’s ability to ask for warrants that limit Charter rights;
  • Lack of special advocates who can ensure the protection of people’s rights in specific cases;
  • Safeguards for ensuring accuracy and reliability have been added to the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, but most of the problems it created remain unresolved;
  • Despite certain limited improvements, processes surrounding the no-fly list are still secret and individuals are not entitled to a special advocate to defend their rights when they want to appeal being placed on the list;
  • New provisions regarding the collection and treatment of datasets by intelligence agencies without a judge’s supervision in some cases raise privacy concerns;
  • CCLA continues to have serious concerns about Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) “disruption powers”;
  • C-59 also introduces some new issues into the conversation. In particular, the bill appears to significantly expand the mandate of Canada’s signals intelligence agency, including creating a framework for “active cyber operations” or hacking of foreign individuals or states.

CCLA will continue a detailed examination of Bill C-59, and will continue with our public engagement and advocacy work to demand that Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies operate in a fully Charter-compliant manner.