Open Letter Calls on the Federal Government to Revise Bill C-59 to Safeguard Privacy and Provide Genuine Accountability

The Privacy and Access Council of Canada ( joined 40 organizations and individual experts from across Canadian civil society in issuing a joint letter to the Hon. Minister Ralph Goodale, the Hon. Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and the Hon. Minister Ahmed Hussen detailing concerns with Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters.

Introduced after last year’s extensive public consultations in which Canadians overwhelmingly made clear they wanted the government to overhaul Bill C-51 (the former government’s controversial anti-terrorism law), Bill C-59 is a good first step toward improving the national security regime. The signatories all share the concern that Bill C-59 does not provide the essential elements necessary to ensure that Charter-protected and internationally recognized rights and freedoms are at the core of Canada’s national security framework.

Not only does Bill C-59 fail to reverse the legacy of its unpopular predecessor, Bill C-51, but it creates additional problems as well. While all Canadian laws must comply with the Charter, Bill C-59 allows intelligence agencies to engage in conduct that threatens freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, and public safety — contrary to Supreme Court decisions that placed limits on the excessive activities of our country’s spy agencies.

“Bill C-59 would legalize state-sponsored hacking and other illegal conduct, jeopardizing private communications and compliance with the country’s privacy and access laws,” said Sharon Polsky MAPP, President of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada. “Moreover, Bill C-59 offers no guarantee that the government will protect encrypted communication technologies which are essential for PACC members and organizations across the country to be able to comply with the country’s many privacy and access-to-information laws and their professional obligations.”

Bill C-59 introduces some improvements to our national security framework and creates important new oversight bodies to review and control national security activities, but It also offers little assurance of genuine transparency or accountability about criminal activities it will legalize. Equally troubling is the absence of any commitment to fund the oversight bodies, leading Canadians to wonder how sincere the government is about ensuring effectiveness and genuine accountability.

PACC and the other signatories also point to a number of specific aspects of Bill C-59 that require serious attention and meaningful change, including:

  • The newly-renamed Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act still permits far too much information to flow between too many departments, and to further concerning objectives;
  • The no-fly list still lacks adequate due process while proposed redress mechanisms remain unfunded;
  • The bill fails to reverse the low threshold Bill C-51 set for terrorism peace bonds;
  • The preventative detention powers introduced in 2001 are still in place and remain deeply problematic;
  • The risk for abuse of CSIS disruption powers is reduced, but the government has yet to demonstrate either their necessity or constitutionality;
  • The newly created oversight agencies lack the guarantees necessary to ensure their effectiveness;
  • The general risk that our security activities will once again contribute to torture remains;
  • CSE “active” cyber security powers (i.e. offensive hacking) are introduced without a rationale for their necessity or measures to adequately prevent abuse;
  • The new bill fails to reverse the erosion of due process C-51 extended in security certificate proceedings; and
  • The bill legitimizes troubling conduct, including mass surveillance by our foreign intelligence agency and extensive data-mining.

The letter, which sets out these and other issues in greater detail, can be found here in English and here in French.

Here is what other signatories have to say about Bill C-59:

“Bill C-59 improves on some, but certainly not all, of the troubling human rights problems that were at the heart of C-51. It also gives rise to new concerns and fails to address longstanding human rights failings that predate C-51. Human rights should be the very foundation to how Canada protects and delivers national security; with C-59 it is clear that there is still more work to be done to get us there.” – Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada

“Some of the most egregious aspects of C-51 have been tamed, but the new bill still leave a lot to be desired. From no-fly lists to CSIS ‘disruption’ powers, there are many provisions that will need to be amended before C-59 passes.” – Vincent Gogolek Executive Director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

“We’re concerned that Canadians will see the positive aspects of this Bill, such as strengthened oversight of security agencies, and not notice the intrusive powers that it keeps or even strengthens – powers which will dangerously erode civil liberties.” – Kevin Malseed, Inter Pares

“Major parts of Bill C-51 were contrary to the Constitution and common sense. With some improvements in Bill C-59, we are no longer at rock bottom lows for deprivations of our fundamental freedoms. However, amendments that only scratch the surface of oversight of agencies with unprecedented powers will not suffice. More safeguards and accountability measures against abuse of power are required.” – Faisal Mirza, Chair of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

“While Bill C-59 contains many positive changes, including reforming the unconstitutional “terrorist speech” crime, it unnecessarily extends the powers of Canada’s spy agencies in ways that could seriously undermine our privacy and free expression rights.” – Tom Henheffer, Executive Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)