Anti-terror bill powers ‘excessive,’ Canada’s Privacy Commissioner says

6 03 2015
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien, seen in 2014, says Bill C-51 provides great power to federal agencies with little oversight. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The government’s anti-terrorism bill provides excessive powers to federal agencies to monitor and profile ordinary Canadians as part of the war on terror, the Privacy Commissioner is arguing.

“All Canadians – not only terrorism suspects – will be caught in this web,” Daniel Therrien said in an open-letter published in The Globe and Mail. “Bill C-51 opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians in order to find the virtual needle in the haystack. To my mind, that goes too far.”

The government’s hand-picked watchdog has put together a full critique of the legislation, which he will release Friday morning and discuss in front of the committee that will start studying the legislation next week.

“While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive,” Mr. Therrien said.

He added that Canadians have an expectation of privacy when they provide information to the government, and that the legislation fails to strike an appropriate balance between safety and privacy.

“The end result is that national security agencies would potentially be aware of all interactions that all Canadians have with their government. That would include, for example, a person’s tax information and details about a person’s business and vacation travel,” Mr. Therrien said.

Bill C-51 would beef up the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, criminalize the promotion of terrorism and provide the RCMP with new powers of preventative arrest. But the Privacy Commissioner is decrying the fact that 14 of the 17 federal agencies that are receiving “limitless” powers under C-51 are “not subject to independent oversight.”

The criticism comes as the RCMP will release on Friday a video that was made by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau before his attack against the National War Memorial and Parliament on Oct. 22. Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau made comments of a political and religious nature in his video, according to the RCMP.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a number of references to Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau when he unveiled the proposed Anti-terrorism Act in January, using the attack as an example of the “stark reality” of jihadi terrorism on Canadian soil.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said the Prime Minister is engaged in “inflated wording” when he uses the example to justify the introduction of new legislation.

“His act was an act of terrorism. Was he a terrorist? That’s an open question that will be determined [at the hearing],” Mr. Easter said of Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau.

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