Anti-terrorism bill's powers could ensnare protesters, MP fears

A brief exchange between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May did nothing to allay concerns about the broad powers proposed for Canada's spies in the government's anti-terrorism bill, May said Tuesday.

Elizabeth May raises new concerns about expanded powers for Canadian spies proposed in Bill C-51

Anti-petroleum radicals?

7 years ago
Duration 2:42
Leaked RCMP documents refer to some environmentalists as a threat to Canada's security

A brief exchange between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May did nothing to allay concerns about the broad powers proposed for Canada's spies in the government's anti-terrorism bill, May said Tuesday.

In question period in the House of Commons, May asked how Bill C-51 could be applied to peaceful political protests that fall outside the law.

"Under Bill C-51, the new secret police powers are broad and extensive, but have been said to limit those areas of lawful protest and advocacy," May said to a chorus of heckling by some MPs.

"My question is about those activities that are by definition not lawful but are peaceful, such as when Conservative MPs refuse to fill out the long-gun registry, or when Green Party members blockade Kinder Morgan pipelines. Will non-violent, peaceful activities be exempted from this act?"

Harper responded that the proposed measures are "designed to deal with the promotion and actual execution of terrorist activities, and not other lawful activities."

May said she has a number of concerns with the proposed legislation and wants it scrapped entirely. She's preparing a series of amendments to bring to committee.

"I don't believe that C-51 is even primarily addressing terrorism. The list of activities that might undermine the security of Canada is an unlimited list," May said.

'Very weak limitation'

The bill's definition of activity that undermines the security of Canada ranges from influencing a government in Canada by "unlawful means" to interfering with the country's "financial stability."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May fears environmentalists protesting peacefully - but unlawfully - could be covered by the government's proposed anti-terrorism bill, which would give broad powers to Canada's spies. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
May has asked Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, Justice Minister Peter MacKay and now the prime minister about peaceful but unlawful protests, and says she's gotten "non-answers" each time.

"I think they don't want to address the question of non-violent and illegal civil disobedience. Civil disobedience of all kinds is wide open to falling under this act unless it's amended," said May, who is a lawyer.

University of Ottawa professor Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, a professor at the University of Toronto, have raised a number of concerns about Bill C-51. The exemption for lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression, they say, is a "very weak limitation" on the bill's scope.

"Everything hinges on the concept of 'lawful,'" Forcese and Roach wrote in a backgrounder posted online.

"Unlawful conduct does, of course, include blockades. It also reaches workplace strikes inconsistent with labour law and street protests lacking the proper regulatory permits. Put another way, unlawful does not mean criminal. It just means without lawful authority."

Mounties on unlawful environmental protests

May's question came amid reports the RCMP has its eye on a "highly organized and well-financed anti-Canadian petroleum movement."

The RCMP report prepared a year ago, which was obtained by Greenpeace, notes the movement "consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society's reliance on fossil fuels." 

The report also says the groups will use violence to stop the use of fossil fuels and have "aligned themselves with violent aboriginal extremists."

The RCMP report warns about "violent environmental extremists" engaging in "unlawful activity."

"It jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment," the report says. 

"As the petroleum industry expands its operations across Canada, criminal activity associated to the anti-petroleum movement will increase nationally."

With files from Margo McDiarmid


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