Bill C-51’s vague definitions might make terrorists of more people than it means to
When work began on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on Burnaby Mountain, protesters were there to try to stop them. The result was a typical line of protesters matched against a line of police. Things were mostly peaceful – several arrests were made and charges for civil contempt were laid, but thrown out later.
What worries me is the incident that came months before the most recent protests, when, according to a Sept. 18, 2014 article by the CBC, 71-year-old Lesslie Askin was paid a visit by someone looking after the interests of Canada’s national security. The cause for concern from the RCMP’s national security division (which includes members from CSIS)? Askin was seen photographing Kinder Morgan’s storage tanks at Burnaby Mountain and apparently deemed a threat to national security. The CBC reported that Kinder Morgan had called her “evasive,” but she refutes that.
A visit from national security police is nothing to scoff at, especially not in today’s hypersensitive threat-laden atmosphere, where a dumb joke, or your name appearing on a list, can not only get you kicked off your flight, but held until you’re deemed not to be a threat.
Putting this heightened sensitivity into perspective, consider the reaction to the 2008 pipeline bombings near Dawson’s Creek. EnCana’a sour-gas pipelines were deliberately targeted with explosives on two occasions, according to an Oct. 16, 2008 article by CBC.
Considering Askin’s act of mere photography brought the gaze of national eyes, surely the 2008 bombings were also considered terror threats? In fact, explicitly, they were not. In a statement by RCMP spokesman Tim Shields, it was stated that “We don’t want to characterize this as terrorism,” and that “there was no intent to hurt people,” according to the same article by the CBC. The act was called mere vandalism, despite its political motivations.
Considering the RCMP reaction to the 2008 event, it’s worrying that soon the police might be less inclined to use this kind of discretion. Bill C-51, Canada’s so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, contains language that try to make the above cases a lot more cut and dry. At issue is “activity that undermines the security of Canada,” and what exactly that means. One of the definitions provided within the bill reads, “interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.” That’s the first part of the definition. The fourth part is simply “terrorism,” as if the two are held equal.
Opposition to the bill, specifically the NDP at the federal level, cited five major problems in its motion to dump the new legislation. Among the five issues is that the bill “contains definitions that are broad, vague and threaten to lump legitimate dissent together with terrorism,” along with claims that it was created without consultation and that it gives CSIS too much power without sufficient oversight.
The above examples seem to illustrate the NDP’s point, but perhaps there are even more examples. What about two recent attacks on Canadians? Not threats, not politically-motivated bombings that don’t target people – what about actual attacks?
In his Oct. 29, 2014 column in the Toronto Star, Thomas Walkom points to Justin Bourque, the shooter in Moncton who killed three RCMP officers; Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the shooter in Ottawa; and Martin Couture-Rouleau, the man who committed the hit-and-run murder of Patrice Vincent in Quebec. Walkom says that while Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau were called terrorists, Bourque was not, and Walkom points to politics to explain why.
“Terrorism is – as it always has been – a political construct,” he wrote.
If terrorism is a term as malleable as Walkom claims, C-51 might be the skeleton key that government agencies need to unlock doors they have no business going through.