bill c-59: Get It right!

What is Bill C-59 and why is it so important?

This is a landmark moment for national security law in Canada. In June of 2017, the federal government introduced the most comprehensive overhaul of Canada’s national security laws in at least thirty years: Bill C-59. CCLA strongly believes in the need to keep Canada secure, but anti-terrorism and national security laws do not need to go overboard, must not go beyond what is required to keep us safe, and must provide strong protections for human rights. By avoiding laws based on fear, xenophobia, and the false premise that security requires us to sacrifice our democratic values, Canada can provide greater protections for both our safety, and our fundamental rights and freedoms.

Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters, was created in part to address the serious problems introduced by an earlier government in the infamous Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015. Bill C-59 is a long and complex piece of legislation, with far-reaching implications for all people in Canada. In addition, national security laws have a disproportionate impact on some communities as compared to others. It is an unfortunate reality that Muslim Canadians, racialized minorities, Indigenous communities and certain social and environmental activists are more frequently targeted for surveillance and scrutiny by intelligence agencies.

If Bill C-59 is passed, it will leave an indelible mark on our country – and many people in Canada – for decades to come. As such, CCLA has launched its C-59 campaign, and invites everyone from students to technologists to national security experts to read, share, inform yourselves and others, and take action. The introduction of Bill C-59 is a critical opportunity — and this time, the government has to get it right!

Where does Bill C-51 fit in?

The last change to national security law came through what was initially Bill C-51 (the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015), a piece of legislation so riddled with constitutional problems that CCLA initiated a court case challenging many aspects of the bill as soon as it came into force. We were not alone in speaking out about the bill’s flaws. As a result of the litigation and sustained activism from civil society organizations like CCLA, the government recognized that something had to change. Following a major public consultation on national security in the fall of 2016 in which CCLA participated the current government proposed Bill C-59.

Successes and Challenges

CCLA’s voice and the voices of others were heard and had a real impact on many of the provisions of Bill C-59. The Bill does, for example, address some of the more troubling aspects of C-51—including some provisions that made it into CCLA’s constitutional challenge. The bad news is that the new bill does not undo many of the harms done by Bill C-51, and fails to repair other longstanding problems in Canadian national security law. In some cases, it even makes matters worse.

CCLA’s Campaign

Over the coming months, we hope to make this page your one-stop shop for everything related to Bill C-59. CCLA — through our team of legal and privacy experts, and dedicated summer law students — has spent the summer analyzing the bill and its impact on rights and freedoms in Canada. Whether you’re an interested student, a journalist, a technologist, or a national security expert, these resources are aimed at providing you with better information to understand what the bill says, what it could change, where things stand in Parliament and before the Senate as the bill progresses, and what you can do to have your voice heard. Help us make sure that this time, Canada gets it right on national security.


Bill C-59 is currently before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence. CCLA appeared and provided oral and written submissions to the Committee on April 29, 2019.  

Support CCLA’s C-59: Get It Right! Campaign 


learn more ABOUT THE BILL

CCLA with civil society groups issue joint statement regarding Bill C-59

CCLA joined 20 other organizations and individuals to share major concerns about how Bill C-59, the proposed new National Security Act, will undermine our civil liberties. The press release can be found here. The letter can be found here in English and here in French

To add your voice and send this message to parliamentarians, click here

CCLA with civil society groups issue joint letter about Bill C-59 and national security law in Canada

40 organisations and individuals from across Canadian civil society issued a joint letter to the Hon. Minister Ralph Goodale, the Hon. Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and the Hon. Minister Ahmed Hussen that lays out overarching concerns with Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters.

The press release can be found here. The letter, which sets out issues on Bill C-59 in detail, can be found here in English and here in French.

Ten things you need to know about Bill C-59

There’s a lot to learn about Bill C-59, but we recommend you get started with a blog post we’ve written called Ten Things You Need to Know About Bill C-59. If you click through each section, you’ll find more detailed analysis and commentary on each issue.

Raise your “intelligence” about Bill C-59 and national security

National security is full of acronyms, jargon, and legal language—not to mention a ton of agencies with long and uninformative names. To help you figure it out, we wrote a list of key terms and organizations to help you make sense of Bill C-59. 

Read (or watch) our  submissions to the government committee studying Bill C-59

Transcript of our Oral Submission to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)

Written Submission to SECU

Check out CCLA’s past work on national security

CCLA has been fighting for the rights and freedoms of everyone in Canada since 1964, and we have a long history of working on national security issues. For example, you can learn about our public advocacy related to the 2016 National Security Consultation by reading our official submission to Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice Canada right here. You can also check out the four-part blog series we wrote summarizing some of the main issues below:

If you’d like to learn more about our work related to the former Bill C-51 (now the Anti Terrorism Act 2015), including information about the Charter challenge we launched with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, check out the campaign page right here.

Follow the news on Bill C-59

As Parliament goes back to work, Bill C-59 is sure to be all over the news. CCLA, and members of the wider CCLA community, will be providing analysis, commentary, and opinion as the issues develop over the coming weeks and months—we’ll include the highlights here. While we may or may not adopt or endorse all of the positions or opinions in the pieces below, we believe public debate about the bill is healthy and important for civil liberties in Canada.

  • In this iPolitics op-ed, Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association and Tim McSorley of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group wrote about what Canadians need to know about fixing national security
  • In this Toronto Star oped, Dr. Brenda McPhail, Director of CCLA’s Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project and Lex Gill, CCLA’s National Security Advocate wrote about five critical questions Parliamentarians and the public should be asking on Bill C-59. 
  • In this CBC News article by Jim Bronskill, dozens of leading civil society voices are calling for changes to the Liberal governments’s national security bill to protect privacy and freedoms. The parties, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, outlined concerns in a letter made public to the ministers of public safety, justice and immigration.
  • In this Globe and Mail article by Bill Curry, CCLA’s concerns about Bill C-59 are mentioned.
  • In this Ottawa Citizen op-ed, Dr. Brenda McPhail, Director of CCLA’s Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project writes about the problems that still linger with the anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. 
  • In this Law Times article by Dale Smith, Anil Kapoor of Kapoor Barristers (who is both a CCLA board member and a member of our C-51 Charter challenge legal team) is quoted on the no-fly list and the need for a more comprehensive system of special advocates.
  • In this CBC News article by Matthew Braga, Dr. Brenda McPhail, the Director of CCLA’s Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project, is quoted talking about the importance of transparency in the Communications Security Establishment’s approach to handling of software vulnerabilities. 
  • In this Policy Options article by Professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, two of Canada’s foremost national security experts give their initial assessment on Bill C-59, right after it was tabled.

For media inquiries to CCLA, please contact media [at] ccla [dot] org or call 416-363-0321 ext. 225.


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