C-51: GETTING BAD ADVICE OR IGNORING GOOD ADVICE
Measures said alarming, unnecessary and serious threat to Charter rights
Former CSIS officer François Lavigne is alarmed by the Conservative government’s new anti-terror bill. He believes the measures proposed in Bill C-51 are unnecessary, a threat to the rights of Canadians and that the prime minister is using fascist techniques to push the bill.
Lavigne started his career with the RCMP security service in 1983, before the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was established. “I was hired by the barn burners,” he said in an interview last week. “I went to work for the FIU unit, the foreign interference unit. And that was where the barn burners came from.”
The barn burners were off-the-leash Mounties whose law-breaking ways led to the McDonald Commission, which led to the establishment of CSIS in 1984.
Lavigne, who went from the Mounties to CSIS and later worked overseeing spies in the solicitor-general’s office, likes CSIS’s design. It was set up as an intelligence-gathering body, not an enforcement agency, actively overseen by an inspector-general and reviewed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
Lavigne, 55, left government in 1999, but follows intelligence news closely. He spent years tracking dangerous radicals without the powers the government wants to give to CSIS.
“I find it a little convenient that in the past few years that these radicalized people are the biggest threat to ever hit us,” he said. “There are more people dying because of drunk drivers or because of gang violence.”
C-51 will give CSIS broad powers to disrupt plots and reduce threats, in Canada and abroad. This is a recipe for trouble.
“If you give them more powers, if you lower the threshold, if you allow them to collect even more information, follow more people, detain people, inevitably it’s going to lead to lawsuits, to embarrassment. It’s not if it will happen. It’s when .”
The prime minister uses strong language to warn about the “jihadist” threat, pointing to the attacks on Parliament Hill and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Lavigne said the public doesn’t have enough information about those attackers to justify new powers.
“We know they have some kind of link to the ISIL (Islamic State) group, whether it’s from having seen something on YouTube or discussed things with a couple of people, but they’re not organized,” he said. “It’s not like they’re part of an organization. These are people who for their own reasons decided to act.”
Lavigne said that by proposing broad new powers, the government is either getting bad advice from security officials or ignoring good advice. “I have never seen the RCMP and CSIS have such a cosy relationship with government,” he said. “They’re not supposed to be.”
On Thursday, law professors Craig Forcese of the University of Ottawa and Kent Roach of the University of Toronto, released a hair-raising analysis of Bill C-51.
CSIS will be able to get warrants at secret hearings, which risks creating “a secret jurisprudence on when CSIS can act beyond the law.”
CSIS will have “open-ended authorization whose proper and reasonable application will depend on perfect government judgment.”
They worry that Canadians can’t have confidence CSIS won’t be used to target political enemies of the government.
In 2012, the government shut down the CSIS inspector-general, which provided active oversight. Since then, after-the-fact review is provided by SIRC, a part-time committee once headed by an accused fraudster.
Forcese and Roach said expanding CSIS’s powers without improving oversight is “breathtakingly irresponsible.”
Lavigne agrees. He said that CSIS “sanitizes its files” before handing them to SIRC. “To say that SIRC is any kind of oversight body is really misleading and the government knows that.”
A lot of what the government says about this issue is disturbing to Lavigne. On Monday, standing next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ottawa, for instance, the prime minister said: “As you are aware, Madame Chancellor, one of the jihadist monster’s tentacles reached as far as our own Parliament.”
Lavigne said the prime minister’s advisers must tell him inflammatory language increases the risk. “When our leaders start talking about tentacles and jihadis and barbarians, it’s ... actually increasing the likelihood of that happening.”
Lavigne said the prime minister’s language reminds him of fascist leaders like Mussolini and Franco. “Some of these tactics are taken right out of the fascist playbook,” he said. “Create an enemy that is hard to identify. Make it an enemy that is nebulous and seems to be able to do things that nobody else can. Don’t define the enemy. Just identify. Generate fear around that enemy, then send out the message that the only people who can deal with this enemy are us.”
But the government isn’t fascist, I said. Rhetoric aside, it is not crossing the line to fascist actions.
He agrees. “They’re not crossing the line. They’re using the language to appeal to the emotions, which is one of the first stages. Disinformation being the second, which I think they also use. But they’re not fascist. I’m not saying the government’s fascist.”
He laughs. “Don’t detain me.”
They’re using the language to appeal to the emotions, which is one of the first stages.