While Europe comes to its senses and resoundingly rejects measures that allow governments to spy on its citizens, Canada has moved in the opposite direction. The federal government's controversial new anti-terrorism bill won the approval of the House of Commons yesterday and will be in effect very shortly.
The latest news marks a trend in Canada to go backwards when the world moves forward. In addition to the sweeping new spy powers granted to the military and law enforcement, the country has also recently started imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences and stopped parole of many types of inmates. The moves see the country, once a progressive world leader, follow the failed policies of the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Anti-Terrorism Act passed on partisan lines thanks to the Conservative government's majority which short-circuited any dialog and compromise on the radical legislation.
The legislation gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Canadian version of the NSA, more power to spy on citizens by permitting broad exchange of federal security information.
While neatly titled 'information sharing', the measures are actually just warrant-less wiretapping. The bill allows for CSIS to conduct mass, dragnet spying, and then allows law enforcement, who have traditionally been held in check by courts and the rule of law, to no longer be subject to court oversight.
A national day of action against the government's proposed Bill C-51 was held in March but little could be done given the governments majority position.
A range of interests — civil libertarians, environmental groups and the federal privacy commissioner — have expressed grave concerns about the information-sharing provisions, saying they will open the door to abuses.
Prior to the vote, the Opposition New Democrats voted noisily — and in vain — in favor of proposed amendments that they say would have added a level of oversight and stronger privacy protections, among other things.
The new powers will also permit CSIS to thwart travel plans, cancel bank transactions and covertly interfere with media using so-called 'psychological operations'.
Given the bill requires no oversight of CSIS, it will be unknown to the public just how often and to what extent these measures are used against Canadian citizens.