Ottawa’s anti-terrorism act to face Charter challenge
The federal government’s new anti-terror laws impinge on Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms, two civil liberties groups allege.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) will file a Charter challenge against Bill C-51, Ottawa’s anti-terrorism act, in Ontario Superior Court today.
The twenty-one page application contends various parts of the law violate sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms pertaining to legal rights, mobility rights and fundamental freedoms.
CJFE President Tom Henheffer believes the new law should be deemed unconstitutional.
“We consider it incredibly dangerous,” Henheffer said. “It is the biggest threat to Charter rights in Canada right now and the worst legislation we’ve seen in this country in recent history.”
The Anti-terrorism Act, previously known as Bill C-51, became law in June but generated controversy almost immediately after it was introduced in January.
It expands Canada’s spy agency’s powers and allows government agencies – including the Canada Revenue Agency and other administrative bodies – to give Canadians’ personal information to the spy agency if they think it could be useful.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has long insisted the new tools are needed to combat the growing threat of terrorism.
“Our first duty is to take responsible action to protect the rights and freedoms of Canadians,” Blaney said in March. “The [act] will provide our police forces with the tools they need to protect Canadians against serious and evolving threats from terrorist organizations like ISIS.”
But critics argue the new powers are too broad, the law’s language too vague oversight too scant. They also note there’s no indication police or intelligence officials are even using the added powers they were given following 9/11.
“This bill is absolutely ripe for abuse,” he said. “It gives them [national security agencies] even more power and it does so in secret.
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The groups behind the challenge are aware the upcoming federal election could change things – the NDP has said it will repeal the new law if it forms government; the Liberals have vowed to amend it – but intend to seek their day in court regardless.
“We filed this with the full intent of going to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Henheffer said.
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