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Anti-terrorism bill faces opposition

“The law always needs to strike the proper balance between liberty and security”

OTTAWA, ON—A new federal bill aimed at combating terrorism is drawing widespread criticism from the people it aims to protect. Many claim Bill C-51, unveiled earlier this year, will give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) too much leeway, and could limit Canadians’ Charter rights surrounding the freedom of speech and expression.

Among other things, Bill C-51 increases the powers given to CSIS “to address threats to the security of Canada,” allows police to detain or restrict terror suspects, and allows the public safety minister to add names to Canada’s “no-fly list.”

However, says Steve Plenert, Peace Programs Coordinator of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba, “Terrorism is problematic because it’s so easy to take advantage of. The marketing of fear is politically profitable.”

Plenert points to the time of Jesus as an example. During the Roman occupation, there was a strong resistance movement that often resorted to violence. The common name for members of this resistance was “zealot.”

“One of the ‘zealots’ was an apostle,” says Plenert. “Jesus also included a ‘collaborator’ in his inner circle—a tax collector. If Jesus was about bringing radically opposed people together for ministry, it seems that we need to be careful and nuanced about labeling people too quickly.”

In an open letter to Parliament, signed by more than 100 Canadian professors of law and related disciplines, the writers state: “Quite simply, Bill C-51 continues the government’s resolute refusal to respond to 10 years of calls for adequate and integrated review of intelligence and related security-state activities.”

More than 100,000 Canadians signed a petition against the bill, concerned that privacy rights could be breached. A key concern involves security agencies monitoring websites (and possibly removing them) as well as accessing personal devices.

“The government, with this legislation, is casting a chill over people who seek to engage people who are considering radicalized thoughts or actions,” says Plenert. “As Christians, we are called to ‘radical’ discipleship at times. For some this means reaching out to marginalized people.”

Plenert says many who are marginalized face incredible challenges and may be thinking of taking dramatic action. “Should we refuse to engage them for fear of this legislation? That would seem to be going against the gospel call to bring good news and freedom to the oppressed.”

David Koyzis, a Political Science professor and chair of the Political Science department at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, says that any bill that widens government surveillance activities is cause for concern, though, at the same time, the government needs the authority to address security issues.

“The law always needs to strike the proper balance between liberty and security,” says Koyzis. “Does C-51 do this? Probably not perfectly, no. Adequately? Time will tell.”

Koyzis says the bill could have a large impact on Canada’s Muslim communities.

“This will affect, not only those sympathetic with jihadist groups, but those who are peaceful and abide by our laws,” he says. “It does make me wonder whether Canada might be less willing to take in, say, Assyrian Christians displaced from their homes in Iraq simply because they come from a volatile region of the world plagued by terrorist activities. I would hope not, but we will have to see.”

John Hiemstra, Political Studies professor at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta, also points out the two concerns the bill is trying to address: freedom and security.

While C-51 tries to balance the above principles, Hiemstra says it hasn’t placed adequate safeguards on freedom of speech and expression, and wonders if the government is too driven by the private interest of re-election and too little by public interest of addressing deeper causes of terrorism.

“While I do not, in any way, excuse terrorists, Christians who confess their own sinfulness and fallenness, must always seriously ask ourselves, ‘Why do these terrorists want to do these specific things to us? Have our societies done things in the past that might have contributed to the promotion of terrorism?’” Hiemstra asks.

Hiemstra also questions whether there are ways that Christians can help rectify former oppressions that have contributed to stimulating terrorist acts.

Joe Gunn, Executive Director for Citizens for Public Justice, a group that regularly lobbies on various social issues, is concerned that C-51 gives CSIS unwarranted powers of disruption and offers enforcement agencies the power to detain suspects without charge.

“These are issues worthy of debate in a pluralistic society like Canada’s,” Gunn says. “We would want to be extremely careful to define what the legislation entails in terms of ‘preventive arrest,’ for instance.”

“The Canadian Bar Association has also suggested that C-51 will heighten the concern that directors, officers, employees and volunteers of some charities and not-for-profit organizations could be suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations without the opportunity to defend themselves.”

Faith communities that fund projects overseas may be especially leery of such charges, he says.

Gunn acknowledges the importance of security and the problem of youth being radicalized, but questions why that always seems to result in increased surveillance and security measures.

“Wouldn’t we want to include alternative strategies of working with Muslim and other faith community leaders while providing them with programming resources for education, leadership, and training against all extreme fundamentalisms?” he asks.

Gunn says the bill will not affect how Citizens for Public Justice operates. “CPJ encourages what we call ‘faithful citizenship,’ by which we mean speaking against injustice and advocating for the poor and vulnerable,” Gunn says. “This is beyond our democratic right—it is our Christian responsibility.”

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