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LETTER: Join Castlegar and area in opposing C-51 - and here's why it matters so much:

To the Editor:

As an ex-South African who was affected by and had friends scarred and killed by “The Terrorism Act” and its spy network during the anti-Apartheid days, I’m so alarmed by the doors of abuse opened by Prime Minister Harper’s Bill C-51 that I’ve committed to co-organizing – with local childcare worker Michelle Davis -- Castlegar’s part in the nation-wide “Defend Our Freedom” rally this Saturday , March 14, at 1 pm in Spirit Square, 460 Columbia Avenue.

While everyone is invited to speak and ask questions, the scheduled speakers will include Castlegar United Church minister Greg Powell and local lawyer Ken Wyllie, probably Canada Post worker and labour activist Cindy McCallum-Miller, and maybe KRUNA and USCC leader JJ Verigin, who I’m told is very alarmed about this bill but hasn’t yet confirmed his availability.   Unfortunately our MP, NDP Alex Atamanenko who has voiced his deep concern in a recent column, has an out of town engagement.

Former Conservative, Liberal and other Supreme Court justices,  Human Rights lawyer Clayton Ruby, law professor and terrosim expert Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, the NDP and Green parties, and every mainstream media in the country as well as overseas critics agree :   Bill C-51 will do nothing more than our already-effective laws to reduce terrorist attacks, instead using the politics of fear to gain votes and to seriously undermine debate and creative expression, Canadian democracy, Academic Freedom, Freedom of the Press, peaceful protests including those by First Nations people trying to protect their lands and livelihoods,  and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Day of Action rallies -- initiated by OpenMedia and supported by a number of organizations including Amnesty International Canada, Lead Now, Youth Vote Canada – are for everyone to learn about and freely voice their thoughts on the attempt to ram through a "secret police" Bill C-51 that is:

1. Reckless: It turns CSIS into a ‘secret police’ force with little oversight or accountability.
2. Dangerous: It opens the door for violations of our Charter Rights including censorship of free expression online.
3. Ineffective: It will lead to dragnet surveillance and information sharing on innocent Canadians that even Stephen Harper has admitted is ineffective.

Security police make mistakes. You and I could easily be the victims.  Remember how CSIS sent Maher Arar to be tortured in a Syrian jail, because according to the NSA et al he was once in the home of someone who at another time had some or other vague connection with the 9-11 perpetrators? 

The proposed new powers for CSIS – without any oversight -- to “disrupt” so-called extremely vaguely-worded “threats” to our security, is scarey also for innocent citizens who can easily be swept up in the dragnet, be imprisoned without trial for up to 5 days without a warrant, have bank accounts frozen, be suddenly prevented from flying (NoFly lists), and have one’s email and other electronic communications suddenly blocked, without a judge ever being involved.

Even when CSIS would have to get a warrant, which is only when they want to do something to us that violates the Constitution, such as inflicting bodily harm on the accused, they would get it in a secret “court”.  i.e. a secret meeting with a judge, without the presence of the accused person or their lawyer to say “hey, you’ve made a mistake, I didn’t say that/ do that/write that/ mean that, and that wasn’t me who was where you think I was”.

To quote Conrad Black, our arch non-Leftie, CSIS would be granted “ unspecified and scarcely limited powers of arbitrary, warrantless detention.  As presented, Bill C-51 makes a Swiss cheese out of due process”

Aah but that wouldn’t happen in our kind and gentle Canada, and “oversight” would look after us, right?   Well, former Supreme Court Justice John Major -- appointed by Conservative PM Mulroney and one of the 18 Justices and former PM’s who signed the open letter to Harper – echoes my own South African experience, saying “When we speak of oversight, I don’t think any of us think the agencies are going to deliberately extend their reach. But the fact is they have a job to do, they think it’s important, they get over-enthusiastic when they think they’re hot on the trail of something, and it’s very easy to slip over the edge. We’ve seen it with police forces, we’ve seen it in the past with CSIS.”

For oversight, all we have is SIRC, the Security and Intelligence Review Committee.  Like its name says, it only reviews CSIS activities, after the fact, once per year, a single commissioner doing that work, and the current commissioner recently complained about delays in obtaining info from CSIS, and who is to know if CSIS doesn’t report everything they’ve been doing?  (And as the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair points out, a past SIRC commissioner, appointed by Harper, is now in a Panamanian jail due to fraud). 

A  National Post article http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/02/13/former-csis-officer-warns-new-federal-anti-terror-bill-will-lead-to-lawsuits-embarrassment/  quotes  Francois Lavigne, who went from the Mounties to CSIS and later worked overseeing spies in the solicitor general’s office, spending years effectively tracking dangerous radicals without the powers the government wants to give to CSIS.  He agreed with Law professor Mr. Forcese and Mr. Roach who said expanding CSIS’s powers without improving oversight is “breathtakingly irresponsible”.

Lavigne said CSIS “sanitizes its files” before handing them to SIRC. “To say that SIRC is any kind of oversight body is really misleading and the government knows that.”

In closing, a quote from Martin Niemoller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.  He wrote afterwards:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."