March 25, 2016 1:46 pm
Updated: March 25, 2016 1:50 pm

Federal agencies already using new Bill C-51 information-sharing powers

Demonstrators attend a protest on a national day of action against Bill C-51, the Harper government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation, outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver, Saturday, March 14, 2015. The legislation was eventually passed.

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – At least four federal agencies have used controversial information-sharing powers in Canada’s new anti-terrorism law, internal government documents show.

Briefing notes prepared for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale say Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and a fourth agency whose name is blacked out of the records have used the provisions.

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The Security of Canada Sharing Information Act, part of the omnibus security bill known as C-51, expanded the exchange of federally held information about activity that “undermines the security of Canada.”

The former Conservative government, which brought in the bill, argued the measures were needed because some federal agencies lacked or had unclear legal authority to share information related to national security.

However, the sharing law drew criticism last year from privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien, who said it could make available all federally held information about someone of interest to as many as 17 government departments and agencies with responsibilities for national security.

READ MORE: ‘C-51 is a tragedy’ – new book slams Canada’s anti-terror law

The legislation set the threshold for sharing Canadians’ personal data far too low, he said. In addition, Therrien was concerned the bill contained no clear limits on how long the information would be kept.

Even so, the briefing notes say the privacy commissioner “has been engaged throughout the implementation phase” of the new sharing law, which received royal assent in June.

The notes, obtained this week by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, were presented to Goodale last fall as he took over the security portfolio.

Public Safety officials have created an “evergreen guidance document” and other materials aimed at helping federal officials apply the new sharing measures properly, the notes say.

It’s not surprising that agencies have begun using the information-sharing act, said University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese.

“The risk is that it’s being used in ways that are going to be difficult to predict because of the overbreadth and uncertainty of that act, and it’s going to be used in ways that are difficult to police,” said Forcese, co-author of False Security, a book that squarely criticizes the omnibus bill.

“It’s added complexity to a complex problem rather than simplifying life.”

The anti-terror overhaul also gave CSIS the ability to disrupt terror plots, made it easier to limit the movements of a suspect, expanded no-fly list powers and cracked down on terrorist propaganda.

CSIS director Michel Coulombe recently said the spy service had used the new disruption powers, though exactly how is not clear.

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