Olivia Chow photostream
Elizabeth May: Harper is “converting the Canadian spy agency into a secret police with virtually unlimited powers.”
By: Dana Wagner on
Elizabeth May, Green Party leader and MP for Saanich — Gulf Islands, in a blog post on February 9, 2015
The proposed anti-terrorism law, bill C-51, would not give Canada’s spy agency “virtually unlimited powers.” The bill does impose limits on the agency’s powers.FactsCan Score: Misleading
Elizabeth May criticized the government’s proposed anti-terrorism bill, C-51, in a February 9 blog post that said the Prime Minister is “converting the Canadian spy agency into a secret police with virtually unlimited powers.”
This is a big statement. Put another way, the Green Party leader’s claim is that there are virtually no limits on what Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, can do. This is a fair interpretation of May’s phrase “virtually unlimited” because she continued, “CSIS will be able to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interests of protecting the security of Canada.”
Is this true? If C-51 became law, would there be limits on the agency’s powers? And are those limits significant?
For some background, bill C-51 is broken down into five parts. The first two parts would each introduce a whole new act, and the last three parts propose amendments to existing laws. The five parts are: 1) a new Security of Canada Information Sharing Act; 2) a new Secure Air Travel Act; 3) amendments to the Criminal Code; 4) amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act; 5) amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Some parts also contain changes to other, related laws.
Let’s look at some new powers, plus limits on them, in the proposed law.
In part 4, it is proposed that CSIS can take “measures” to disrupt threats to Canada’s security (section 12.1(1)). It is unclear whether all such measures would require a judicial warrant. However, at least some would. Measures that will contravene the Charter or a Canadian law explicitly require a warrant from a judge (section 12.1(3)).
There are other limits written into bill C-51, on prohibited conduct. CSIS cannot cause “death or bodily harm,” “wilfully attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice,” or “violate the sexual integrity of an individual” (section 12.2).
All of the above are significant limits.
Later in her blog, May sort of corrects herself: “This bill gives CSIS the power to do anything. (Okay, not anything. It specifically says CSIS cannot directly kill or harm people or “violate the sexual integrity of an individual,” but otherwise, CSIS will have a vague set of sweeping powers).” Further down, she adds that judicial warrants are required in some instances.
In an email response to FactsCan, May further qualified her statement by adding another limit in C-51 that we point out above – the prohibition on obstructing justice.
These are not all of the limits that critics have called for, but they do restrict the agency’s powers, and it is misleading to say that C-51 would create a spy agency with “virtually unlimited powers.”