Edward Snowden has waded into the simmering debate over Canada’s controversial anti-terror law, saying that Justin Trudeau was reluctant to repeal the law out of a fear of appearing soft on terror.
Speaking to an audience in Toronto on Tuesday, Snowden pointed to a campaign promise by the Canadian prime minister to amend the sweeping legislation, which gives security forces heightened powers to apprehend suspected terrorists and disrupt their activities. “But he’s been in office a little while now and we haven’t seen that actually come to pass,” said Snowden, appearing at the SecTor cyber security conference via videolink from Russia.
Bill C-51 was introduced in early 2015 by the country’s then-Conservative government, spawning protests across the country as it became law. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians, including legal scholars, civil liberties groups and pundits from across the political spectrum, spoke out against the law and its perceived attempt to supplant the country’s democracy with a creeping police state.
Trudeau vowed to amend the “problematic elements” of the law, rather than simply repeal the legislation, noted Snowden. “Because he’s afraid of being politically attacked on the basis of being soft on terrorism, regardless of whether or not this law actually helps prevent any terrorist attacks,” he said. “This is just the way the politics of fear work.”
Last month the Liberal government launched a wide-ranging consultation on national security, meaning any potential changes to the law will likely be delayed until next year. The extra time will offer the government the opportunity to get it right, said Ralph Goodale, Canada’s public safety minister, as he announced the consultation. “A lot of people felt shut out, and we promised to give them the opportunity to be heard.”
On Tuesday, Snowden suggested what he described as the minimum changes needed to the law, such as the creation of a judicial body that would carry out a case-by-case review of every individual exercise of these powers. “And this means those individuals working in those spy agencies know simply that as long as they follow the law, they’ll be fine,” he said.
The law allows information on Canadians to be shared between more than a dozen federal institutions. “All the activities held in our private lives, our private records, are being used as a kind of currency to gain standing and status within this surveillance network,” said Snowden. “We’re being traded like baseball cards.”
Any sharing of information – by those within Canada and with foreign agencies – that doesn’t result in a trial or charges should be disclosed to individuals once a particular time frame has lapsed, he said, allowing people to ensure their rights have not been violated in any way.
Snowden also took aim at the law’s vague and undefined language. “A lot of what classifies as terrorism in the political context – individuals that the news calls terrorist – are really common criminals,” said Snowden. “But they do not constitute the kind of super criminal threat that is represented by our terrorism legislation.”
He pointed to the obvious need for law enforcement to have the right tools to counter these threats. “But we do not want to sacrifice everything that makes our societies great,” he said. “We do not want to reorder the boundaries of our rights for the convenience of law enforcement officials, if it’s not truly necessary, if it means we lose everything that we’re trying to defend.”