Canada’s new anti-terrorism law may violate human rights, UN committee says

© Blair Gable
The UN human rights committee is worried a new law giving almost unlimited powers to Canada’s security agency and federal law enforcement is doing little to improve public safety.

The UN’s report released on Thursday, the first one in 10 years to check Canada’s compliance with an international rights treaty, raised worries that the legislation may lack legal safeguards, is too broad and vague and infringes people’s rights to privacy and free speech.

While praising some parts of Canada’s legislation, the report casts doubts on a number of points of the law, known as C-51. This increased the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), expanded the new data sharing policy and made changes to the ‘no-fly’ program.

In view of two terrorist attacks that took place last year, the human right’s watchdog says it understands the reason Canada feels it has to resort to such drastic measures. However, as the report says: “The State party should refrain from adopting legislation that imposes undue restrictions on the exercise of rights under the Covenant,” referring to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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The UN body recommends that Canada go over the law again to ensure it doesn’t jeopardize human rights and freedoms, and complies with the UN’s requirements. Canadian human right groups, who turned to the UN to challenge the controversial anti-terror law, are all in favor of the recommendations.

However, the government has no intention of changing its mind. In an email quoted by The Globe and Mail, Jeremy Laurin, press secretary at the Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said that “Canada will do no less.”

Despite nationwide disagreement, The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 passed into law last month. The Conservative government was warned that the bill breached the country’s constitution, but it ignored this fact.

In his interview to Daily VICE, Tom Henheffer, executive director at a non-governmental organization called Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said: "It (the law) gives the government a tool to abuse."

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The legislation came as a response to deadly attacks on military personnel in 2014 that shocked Canada. The incidents, supposedly linked to terrorist organizations, induced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to give more power to the main spy agencies. The decision was met with widespread disapproval and quickly became unpopular.

Another area in Canada’s legislation the UN commission finds disturbing is the way indigenous people are being treated, pointing out numerous episodes of violence against aboriginal women in particular.

The United Nations says it has more than once called for a national inquiry into the matter, but the problem still hasn’t been addressed.

Last year, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) found the government’s refusal to investigate cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women is a “huge infringement” on human rights.