Comment: Harper’s Anti-Terror Act is a threat to Canada’s identity

Illustration by Will Willis.


The late 1950’s and early 60’s in Canada were an era of determining nuclear policy. It was the time of Diefenbaker, and Canadian identity was under the limelight.

Many view this time period as the paradigm shift towards “Americanization” as Canada joined the Nuclear Family. Scholars and citizens determined that Canada was losing a sense of self, that any agency it held as an individual nation was being shed as the government acquired nuclear arms in negotiation with the United States.

In the eight years that Prime Minister Steven Harper has been leading the nation under the Conservative party, Canada has seen the pendulum swing once again towards foreign policies that aligns itself with the United States.

Harper has been quoted saying it is anti-Semitic to display pro-Palestinian sentiment. Omar Khadr, a young boy infamous for his controversial imprisonment, has only recently returned Canada and is finally dwelling in a Canadian prison facility after years of being detained in Guantanamo Bay with no charges, despite being a Canadian citizen.

These topics are a can of worms that when opened, lead to hours of polarized and heated discussions. There is a continuity within them though, and that is the intertwined politics and partnership of the United States and Canada. There was a time when the United States was intimidated by Canada’s relationship with nations like Cuba, during the leadership of Pierre Trudeau, who often came under fire for supposedly having Communist sympathies.

Through the eras of Diefenbaker, Mulroney, and Harper, we have seen the nation shed much of its contrasting identity from the United States regarding environment protection, new bills, and foreign affairs that incredibly benefit and profit our neighbours down South. This is a sweeping analysis that ignores the rocky bits and pieces that are the complexities of any situation, yet sets the basis for an incredibly controversial Federal bill that the Conservatives are attempting to pass as we speak.

Shrouded in vague terminology and general statements, the Anti-Terror Act, Bill C-51, has been proposed by the Conservative Party who seem to be in quite a rush to pass it. The Liberals have disappointingly shown their support, while the NDP leader Tom Muclair has declared the party’s opposition to the bill.

Bill C-51 is being painted as an effort to protect Canadians against terrorism. Three months after the tragic attack on Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, and within the absurdist theatre of fear mongering and conceptual threats of ISIS to the everyday Canadian, Bill C-51 fits nicely into the narrative that has travelled through the United States to Canadian doorsteps, permeating our media and foreign policies under the rule of the Harper government.

In a similar fashion to the October Crisis in 1970, the Anti-Terrorism Act is reminiscent of the War Measures Act. Rather than being enacted in times of immediate crisis, Bill-C51 would be an ever present entity. The bill will allow enforcement officials to have greater powers to make arrests based solely on suspicion. Citizens will be detained for seven days with no charge rather than the current three days, as well as extending the reach of the “no fly list.”

The power the Anti-Terror Act will place in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) hands is extremely problematic. Essentially, it will lead to a secret police under the CSIS umbrella that will monitor online activities of Canadian citizens, seeking to “disrupt” any suspected terrorist activity. The goal is to make it illegal to “promote” terrorism.

Harper has already claimed that it is anti-Semitic to show Pro-Palestinian sentiment so where will the line be drawn, and what exactly will entail “promoting terrorism?” Political and Historical Academics are still arguing over the definition of terrorism and have yet to agree on any objective characterization.

C-51 was under scrutiny before it was even proposed by lawyers and civil liberty groups. Many are unaware that the Canadian government is already dealing with several law suits concerning oversight of nation security. Therefore it is ridiculous that this act is under discussion as Canada already has more than sufficient laws to deal with such crimes and is already being accused of breaching security laws.

There has been little analysis of the consequences of the proposed bill, save an in depth study by Professor Ken Roach and Craig Forcese. These three papers, Advocating or Promoting Terrorism, New CSIS Powers, and Information Sharing are an essential read for anyone worried about this legislation.

Under the magnifying glass much of the bill is subtext, an inception or “a bill within a bill,” which goes much further than just preventing terrorism but simply gaining more access to private information. One can see this in the subsection of the Anti-Terror Act, entitled, “Security of Canada Information Sharing Act.” Many important questions still remain unanswered, such as whether protests will be counted in the new bill, which could greatly affect Indigenous groups, yet the Conservatives have already rushed the bill from the House of Commons to the Committee.

In light of Black History Month and the recent hate crimes committed against Muslims in Chapel Hill, arsonist attacks on mosques globally, and violence against individuals mistaken for Muslims such as Sikhs, we must acknowledge that this will inevitably become a racial issue, which will target visible minorities on a daily basis if the bill passes.

Post 9/11, the United States went through a metamorphosis; foreign policies transformed, the Patriot Act was introduced, people were plucked off the street by authority forces and the collective consciousness of citizens was vulnerable as seeds of fear were planted to the greater advantage of those in power, in order to gain even more power.

Steven Harper’s speeches to the public are an eerie echo of U.S. President George W. Bush’s tyranny pre-Iraq invasion. If the Conservatives are successful and Bill C-51 is passed, Canada will shed even more of its identity and the course of its future will take an all-too-predictable turn towards partisanship and intolerance.

About Yumna Leghari 59 Articles
I am currently co-editor along with the fabulous Zara Syed. I'm a Peterborough hobbit, and often find myself writing too much poetry and struggling to be a proper adult. Just kidding, there is no such thing as too much poetry. I spent two years as a reporter before being lucky enough to become co-editor of Arthur. I love journalism of all sorts, but generally focus on music journalism and politics. As a History and English major, I tend to over-analyze everything. Luckily, the journalism world is the one place where that is accepted-one would hope. You can probably find me tucked away in a corner of Peterborough somewhere, scribbling in a notebook frantically over my fourth cup of coffee.