On Saturday, March 14, hundreds of citizens, activists, and students filled the streets outside of the Victoria Court House, sacrificing a sunny Saturday to march in protest against the proposed Bill C-51. Touted as the “anti-terror bill,” Bill C-51 is an omnibus piece of legislation that the Conservatives seek to pass for the third and final time on March 31. C-51 would ostensibly enable Canadian law enforcement to better address terrorist activities conducted by or against Canadian citizens. However, the bill has caused a great deal of discussion about its provisions potentially threatening Canadian civil liberties, in particular through violating expression and privacy rights, and an enhancement of CSIS autonomy.
“It’s really terrifying and I don’t think a lot of people know how terrifying it is,” said Jasmin Brown, a UVic political science student attending Saturday’s rally. “They’re basically using fear mongering to get us on-side of something that really compromises our rights.”
The sentiment is echoed by the organizing force behind Victoria’s addition to the cross-country Day of Action, activist and graduate student sofija lasovic. “As an activist who has no problem being active in the Middle East and Europe, in America, in Canada, all of a sudden now in the country I’ve lived in the longest, that I now call home and where I’m a citizen, all of a sudden it’s like, ‘oh, you might be in a lot of trouble, this could really hurt you.’ You’re not allowed to organize democratically, peaceful movements,” lasovic said.
Pausing to hold out a printed copy of the hefty legislation, lasovic pointed out a specific phrase regarding which behaviours may be subject to CSIS attention: “‘Terrorism in general.’ Literally, it just says ‘in general.’ I’m not leaving my activism and my future and my job security and my criminal record up to the words ‘in general.’ We need to have a way to hold government to account when they are fulfilling things that strike the definition of fascism; not having a way to provide checks and balances is really terrifying because then what the fuck is the point of having a democracy at all?”
But responding to Bill C-51 is not the sole aim bringing people out to protest, as Phil Henderson, another organizer, pointed out. “I think it’s about looking forward,” he said. “It has to be a wider call to action . . . I mean, the fact that CSIS is being turned into essentially a secret police with disruptive capabilities is obviously a huge concern but it fits into a wider pattern for sure.”
The pattern Henderson refers to is the decade-long tenure of Prime Minister Harper, which could come to a close with the federal election set for October. Some are hoping this issue could be a political tide turner.
“A shift in the federal leadership getting the Conservatives out of power? Yes, I think that’s definitely something we need to do,” says Brown. “The sort of state Harper’s running right now is based on fear mongering, on people too afraid to protect their rights. So we need to get a government in power that will be more concerned with citizens rights, with environmental protection, with aboriginal groups.”
“I think, the protest [is] an eye-opener,” agrees lasovic. “I know overnight things don’t change: I want to stand in solidarity with every single city in Canada from Victoria all the way to St. John’s, N.L., so we have the entire country tip to tip all covered and we’re all standing in solidarity. We need to remain strong because the minute it starts to crack and we disagree with each other, the Conservatives rush in. I think people are realizing that this is Harper’s, this is his worst. This is the worst he’s done and I think people are finally tipped that it’s too much.”
With a Conservative majority in the House, the bill effectively cannot fail to pass without a loss of confidence in the government. Yet political action against such legislation reflects the power of democracy; given that it is an election year, the Canadian people have more power than generally permitted.
“Just getting people online and looking up what Bill C-51 is, what they can do to help, maybe writing to their Members of Parliament, writing in to Justin Trudeau, and telling him he needs to get off his ass and start supporting this movement instead of being against it.” says Brown.
“What has to happen is that people realize the seriousness of this,” lasovic states. “Contacting their MPs, writing hand-written letters, emailing them, phoning them, speaking to their friends, attending whatever they want to attend be it protests or marches or even just public consultations on the bill. We all need to keep the solidarity and the movement going so that we can continue to exist, so that our voices and actions matter.”