CIPPIC, OpenMedia, and over 40 other civil society groups and privacy experts wrote to the government today calling for a public consultation on the legacy of Bill C-51, the highly controversial and one-sided overhaul of Canada's security and investigative framework adopted by the previous government late last year. The letter notes with enthusiasm the government's commitment to address some of the pressing problems raised by Bill C-51, but urges that these fixes come only after public engagement on the issue has occurred. Bill C-51 was developed in an atmosphere and process that was often openly hostile to civil society input, and this is reflected in almost every facet of its multi-pronged expansion of security powers. It detrimentally impacted on several elements of Canadian society while exacerbating long-standing problems relating to Canada's flight-restriction mechanisms, information-sharing, intelligence oversight and due process. It is no surprise that over 300,000 Canadians have spoken out against Bill C-51, and in just the past week more than 10,000 have called on the government to publicly consult on how to address its legacy.

In spite of this controversy, the letter points out, neither this government nor the previous has ever made the case for any of Bill C-51's elements, and that doing so must be the first step to a reasoned debate around its various elements. Once this case has been made, in the form of a discussion paper, the letter calls for an online public consultation as well as an opportunity for stakeholders to comment on the measures and justifications underlying the changes to Canada's security framework that the government wishes to adopt or retain. In particular, there is concern that the adoption of parliamentary oversight for intelligence agencies - a mechanism that has proven useful, but not independently sufficient in many foreign jurisdictions including the United States and the United Kingdom - will be presented as a panacea to the excesses of Canada's security apparatus. The letter, as well as a joint media release that accompanied its delivery, can be read below and our Bill C-51 primer (with OpenMedia and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression) can be read here (PDF).

Civil Society Letter to the Government Calling for Reasoned Debate on Bill C-51's Legacy

Letter to the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, PC, Prime Minister of Canada, November 20, 2015 [PDF]

Joint Press Release

Civil society groups call on Trudeau to launch full public consultation before introducing C-51 reforms

Joint Media Release

November 20, 2015

Organizations and academic experts say that following last week’s tragic events in Paris, it’s especially important that the government consult Canadians before introducing its C-51 reform package

November 20, 2015 – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to listen to Canadians before bringing forward a reform package on Bill C-51. That’s the message set out in a joint letter from a broad range of civil society groups and privacy experts, who say Canadians need to be fully consulted if C-51 is to be effectively addressed. The letter also calls on Mr Trudeau to state whether there are parts of C-51 he wants to keep, his justification for doing so, and a clear articulation of how this will impact our rights and freedoms.

The groups say that in light of last week’s tragic events in Paris and Beirut, it’s more important than ever to strike the right balance between effective security legislation and upholding Canadian democratic values. Warning that Bill C-51 poses “ a direct and ongoing threat to Canadian innovation, political discourse, freedom of expression, privacy, and civil liberties,” the letter points out that Canadians have never been meaningfully consulted on the bill.

“Listen before you leap — that’s our message to Justin Trudeau,” explained OpenMedia’s digital rights specialist Laura Tribe. “The previous government did everything it could to sideline Canadians from the C-51 debate. It’s time to change that by giving every Canadian a say, and there’s no better place to start than by launching a full public consultation. C-51 is now the law of the land, undermining our rights each day that goes by. We don’t have a moment to lose.”

“We are happy that the new government has committed to both fix the problems in C-51 and to make its decisions based on evidence,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. “No real evidence was provided by the last government that Bill C-51’s rights-violating measures make us any safer, and numerous experts have made clear that the law makes it harder to protect the public. We are counting on the government to lead Canadians in taking a deep and serious look at how C-51 got it wrong and how national security law can be made right.”

Tamir Israel, Staff Lawyer with the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, said: “Given the sweeping breadth of former Bill C-51’s rights infringing impact, any attempt to properly and effectively prevent the harms it will inflict on Canadian society must be informed by a comprehensive public consultation. This is a must. Such a consultation can only hope to succeed, however, if the government first explains to the public what changes it is making to the provisions enacted by Bill C-51, what elements are being kept, and most importantly, why. The case for Bill C-51 has simply never been made to the public, and it must.”

To date, the government has indicated that it sees reforming Bill C-51 as a top priority, and potential reforms to the controversial legislation have already been floated in the media. However the government has given no indication as to whether or how it plans to consult Canadians on its proposals.

The letter sets out a suggested 3-step process for effective public consultation:

  • Government Position Statement: a public explanation of the government’s rationale for C-51, including an assessment of the impact on civil liberties and an explanation for why these are justified.
  • Public Consultations: a national online consultation process to ensure all Canadians can have their voices heard and acted on before new legislation is tabled.
  • Consultations with experts and stakeholders: a public consultation with civil society groups, academics, businesses, and other stakeholders on the basis of the Government’s position statement and plans to move forward.

In the last week, over 10,000 people have emailed Justin Trudeau asking him to meet with Canadians before introducing reforms. To date, over 300,000 people have signed a petition calling for Bill C-51 to be completely repealed.


Organizations signing the joint letter are:

B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Access and Privacy Association, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canadian Access and Privacy Association, Centre for Free Expression (Ryerson University), Centre for Law and Democracy, Canadian Institute of Access and Privacy Professionals, Council of Canadians, FACIL, Free Dominion, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), Keepers of the Water,, Ontario Civil Liberties Association, OpenMedia, Privacy and Access Council of Canada, Privacy International, The Student Coalition for Privacy, United Steelworkers, Voices-Voix, Youth Vote Canada.

Experts and academics signing the joint letter are:

Ann Cavoukian (Privacy and Big Data Institute, Ryerson University), Benjamin J. Muller (Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario), Dr. Christopher Parsons (Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project at Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs), Colin J. Bennett (Professor of Political Science, University of Victoria), David Murakami Wood, (Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies), Dr. Jennifer Barrigar (Privacy Research and Policy Analysis), Dr. Leslie Regan Shade (Associate Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto), Ken Rubin (Investigative researcher), Kevin McArthur (Security Researcher and Elected Director in Internet Governance), Stephanie Perrin (President, Digital Discretion), Andrew Clement (Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto), John Wunderlich (Privacy Researcher), Dr. Valerie Steeves (Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa).

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