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.