A leaked RCMP report reveals who terrorist laws really target

by Gregory Beatty

Illustration by Paul Klassen

nation2The way the Conservatives are steaming ahead with The Anti-Terrorism Act it’s hard to know what stage Bill C-51 will be at when you read this. It won’t be law yet — that’s not forecast to happen until June. But it’s received second reading in Parliament after shortened debate, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has urged the committee on public safety and security to fast-track its review.

The threat posed to Canada by terrorists, after all, is very real. Why, just last month an RCMP report surfaced that described in breathless terms the “growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement” that consists of “peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists.”

Just who are these villains? Well, Greenpeace was named. Tides Canada and Sierra Club Canada were too.

“I’m hurt that a lifetime devotion to raising important issues so that Canadians can make important choices somehow puts me in the category of a criminal,” says Sierra Club director John Bennett.

“The report’s titled ‘Criminal Threat to Petroleum Infrastructure’. Yet there’s no evidence we’ve ever done, or threatened to do, anything illegal,” he adds.

“It was just incompetent work. But hook that up with what’s happening with Bill C-51, and it could end up with a person like me being jailed for seven days without charge because a police officer believes I may be going to commit a crime.”

When the Chretien Liberals introduced the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act after 9-11, the government moved cautiously and invited wide public input. That resulted in relatively solid legislation that avoided mistakes the U.S. and Britain both made with their more kneejerk responses to terrorism.

Harper, though, is having none of that. He’s got an electorate to face in October, and with the resource sector struggling, and his government increasingly appearing old and tired, he needs a wedge issue. And he figures security and terrorism is it.

The Liberals have signaled their willingness to support Bill C-51, but promise to amend it once elected to provide greater oversight for CSIS. The Green Party and NDP, meanwhile, oppose it, and they’ve been joined by thousands of legal scholars, civil libertarians and others who warn the bill threatens free speech and democracy.

“The bill is written way too loose,” says Bennett. “There’s only one explanation, and it has to be that they intend to go after more than terrorists. They want to redefine what a terrorist is so that they can define their enemies as terrorists.”

Alarmist? Not judging by the RCMP report, it isn’t.

Relying on quotes and “research” from sources such as Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canada West Foundation (a right-wing think tank), the Financial Post and the Toronto Sun, the report lauds the oil and gas sector’s value to the economy, and disparages “claims” by environmentalists that climate change is a serious issue and that burning fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases.

In addition to traditional terrorist acts, Bill C-51 targets anything that interferes with Canada’s territorial integrity, critical infrastructure, and economic and financial stability. As well, simply promoting a “terrorist” cause is deemed criminal with no evidence of violent intent required to detain someone.

Lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression are supposedly protected. But given the Harper government’s dismal track record on respecting democratic freedoms with its omnibus bills, curtailed Parliamentary debates, repeated passage of legislation ruled unconstitutional by courts, and general antagonism toward anyone it regards as a political opponent, there’s plenty of cause for concern.

“Back in the 1960s, it was understood by all three major parties (Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and NDP) that civil society organizations were an important function of democracy,” says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives national director Bruce Campbell.

“That’s when governments really began to fund them to advocate for an array of issues. This government has taken the silencing of that diversity to an unprecedented degree in its penchant for control of the message and information.”

That might make for good politics but long-term, it’s endangering our country’s future in so many ways. We’re been at war in Afghanistan and now the Middle East for 14 years, and Harper’s fealty to Israel and disdain for the United Nations and other international forums are huge problems there. Our environmental record has made us a global pariah. Income inequality is at an all-time high. And relations with First Nations are at a boiling point.

So what does the Harper government do? It kneecaps organizations working in social justice, international development, anti-poverty, gender equality, peace and other areas by cutting funding. It’s also gagged government scientists from speaking about their research, and destroyed Stats Canada’s ability to collect accurate data on the country.

Oh yeah, it’s also sicced Canada Revenue Agency on over a thousand progressive charities to ensure they’re not violating tax law by devoting more than 10 per cent of their money and resources to “political activities.”

The CCPA has been under scrutiny by CRA auditors for three years, says Campbell.

“In the think-tank world, going west to east, you’ve got the Fraser Institute, Canada West Foundation, Frontier Centre, MacDonald-Laurier Institute, C.D. Howe Institute, Montreal Economic Institute and Atlantic Institute of Market Studies. Of all those, we’re the only one on the progressive side. And we’re the only one being audited.

“We know we can’t be politically partisan,” says Campbell. “We can’t be seen to be advocating the overthrow of a government or urging people to vote for a specific party. But we’ve never done that. We don’t see ourselves as activists that way. We see ourselves as an intellectual resource for the progressive social movement. Even media come to us. They know the quality of the work we produce and they cover our analysis.”

Ultimately, it comes down to what makes good policy. Is it blind allegiance to ideology and pursuit of crass political goals at the behest of corporate lobbyists and other back-room powerbrokers? Or is it fact-gathering through empirical research and statistical analysis, so that when decisions are made they’re smart ones?

“[The government] seems to like to give bills titles that mean the opposite of what they actually do,” says Bennett of Bill C-51. “Mr. Orwell wasn’t that far off, and it’s really scary to see it happening in Canada and people are quietly saying take away my liberties because I’m afraid something might happen. But that’s the price of liberty, and we should all be cherishing our liberty.”