Saint John native helps launch Charter challenge against C-51

Canada's new anti-terror legislation is the biggest threat to charter rights in the country's recent memory, says Saint John native Tom Henheffer, head of one of the groups behind a charter challenge against Bill C-51.

Bill C-51 a 'threat to charter rights' says Tom Henheffer of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Canada's new anti-terror legislation is the biggest threat to charter rights in the country's recent memory, says Saint John native Tom Henheffer, head of one of the groups behind a new Charter challenge against Bill C-51.

Henheffer's organization, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) filed the application in Ontario's Superior Court on Tuesday.

"It's dangerous, it's overbroad … This is plain and simple bad legislation that violates the Charter rights of every Canadian in this country," he said.

The omnibus Bill C-51 gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more power to thwart suspected terrorist plots — not just gather information about them.

It also increases the exchange of federal security information, broadens no-fly list powers and creates a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorist attack.

The bill also makes it easier for the RCMP to obtain a peace bond to restrict the movements of suspects and extend the amount of time they can be kept in preventative detention.

"Under one of the clauses in [the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015] it's a crime to promote terrorism in general. That's a Charter violation in and of itself because it's so broad," said Henheffer. "Laws in Canada have to be specific.

"What it means, as a journalist, is it's a crime to publish videos or quotes from terrorists organizations. You could be quoting the Ottawa shooter, you could be posting video from ISIS, even decrying these things, and there's no public interest defence," he said.

A range of interests, including environmental groups and the federal privacy commissioner, have previously expressed grave concerns about the information-sharing provisions, saying they could open the door to abuses.

"There is no accountability. And when you have this kind of situation it's not a question of whether there will be abuse, it's a question of when and how much," Henheffer said.

There is no evidence to suggest broad digital surveillance has stopped imminent terrorist threats in the United States, he said.

"It's traditional methods, confidential informants, community engagement so you get tips — that's what stops terrorism. Not violating the rights of every Canadian."

The 21 page application contends various parts of the law violate sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms pertaining to legal rights, mobility rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Anti-terrorism Act, previously known as Bill C-51, became law in June, but generated controversy almost immediately after it was introduced in January.