Open Letter to Parliament: Amend C-51 or Kill It

An open letter addressed to all members of Parliament and signed by more than 100 Canadian professors of law and related disciplines

Dear Members of Parliament,

Please accept this collective open letter as an expression of the signatories’ deep concern that Bill C-51 (which the government is calling the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015) is a dangerous piece of legislation in terms of its potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada’s democracy.

Beyond that, we note with concern that knowledgeable analysts have made cogent arguments not only that Bill C-51 may turn out to be ineffective in countering terrorism by virtue of what is omitted from the bill, but also that Bill C-51 could actually be counter-productive in that it could easily get in the way of effective policing, intelligence-gathering and prosecutorial activity. In this respect, we wish it to be clear that we are neither “extremists” (as the Prime Minister has recently labelled the Official Opposition for its resistance to Bill C-51) nor dismissive of the real threats to Canadians’ security that government and Parliament have a duty to protect. Rather, we believe that terrorism must be countered in ways that are fully consistent with core values (that include liberty, non-discrimination, and the rule of law), that are evidence-based, and that are likely to be effective.

The scope and implications of Bill C-51 are so extensive that it cannot be, and is not, the purpose of this letter to itemize every problem with the bill. Rather, the discussion below is an effort to reflect a basic consensus over some (and only some) of the leading concerns, all the while noting that any given signatory’s degree of concern may vary item by item. Also, the absence of a given matter from this letter is not meant to suggest it is not also a concern.

We are grateful for the service to informed public debate and public education provided, since Bill C-51 was tabled, by two highly respected law professors—Craig Forcese of the University of Ottawa and Kent Roach of the University of Toronto—who, combined, have great expertise in national security law at the intersection of constitutional law, criminal law, international law and other sub-disciplines. What follows—and we limit ourselves to five points—owes much to the background papers they have penned, as well as to insights from editorials in the media and speeches in the House of Commons.

Accordingly, we urge all MPs to vote against Bill C-51 for the following reasons:

Above, we have limited ourselves to five central concerns, but it is important to reiterate that some or all of the signatories have serious concerns about a good number of other aspects of C-51—and/or about detailed aspects of some of the concerns that were generally expressed in the above five points. The following are some (but only some) of those concerns, in point form. They are included by way of saying that signatories believe these all need to be looked at closely and rigorously during House of Commons committee study of C-51, now that it has passed Second Reading:

We end by observing that this letter is dated February 23, 2015, which is also the day when the government has chosen to cut off Second Reading debate on Bill C-51 after having allocated a mere three days (in reality, only portions of each of those days) to debate. In light of the sweeping scope and great importance of this bill, we believe that circumventing the ability of MPs to dissect the bill, and their responsibility to convey their concerns to Canadians at large before a Second Reading vote, is a troubling undermining of our Parliamentary democracy’s capacity to hold majority governments accountable. It is sadly ironic that democratic debate is being curtailed on a bill that vastly expands the scope of covert state activity when that activity will be subject to poor or even non-existent democratic oversight or review.

In conclusion, we urge all Parliamentarians to ensure that C-51 not be enacted in anything resembling its present form.

Yours sincerely,