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May 2015, aka “The month I realized dissent was illegal in Canada”

Bill C-51 and this revision to Canada’s hate laws make it possible for reasonable dissent, formerly protected under free speech laws, to be labeled terrorist, racist, or both, and prosecuted as such. 

Dylan Collins
20 May 2015
Toronto demo against Bill C-51.

Toronto demo against Bill C-51. Demotix/ R.Jeanette Martin. All rights reserved.This month will go down as the most illiberal month in Canadian history. It didn’t all happen in May, but May is definitely the month where the covers were pulled off the whole operation.  

First, Bill C-51 was passed into law on May 6, making possible the prosecution of anybody who interfered with “the economic or financial stability of Canada” (along with a host of other troubling expansions of the power of Canada’s security forces).  Want to protest the oil sands or a new pipeline? Oil is important to Canada’s economic or financial stability, so you had better think twice before you “interfere”, get labeled a terrorist, and are prosecuted under the so-called “Anti-Terrorism Act”.  Do you support Québec separatism or Indigenous land claims? If you want to do something about anything the government might not like, you better be ready to lawyer-up now that Bill C-51 is on the books.

OK, so you can’t in any meaningful way protest the Government of Canada’s actions without facing the possibility of prosecution, but that leaves something like 205 other states whose actions you can protest without facing the possibility of prosecution, right?

Not if you’re in Canada.  If you are, there are only 204 other states you can protest about without the possibility of facing prosecution.  This has actually been the case for some time, but is only now apparent thanks to the CBC’s correspondence with Josee Sirois, an aide to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.  In his January speech to the UN Blaney stated that Canada was taking a “zero tolerance” approach to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, and called the BDS movement a form of discrimination and an attempt to “delegitimize Israel”, echoing the assertion of Stephen Harper and many others that anti-Israel rhetoric comprises the ‘new anti-Semitism’ of today.  So you can cross Israel off the “able-to-be-protested-without-the-threat-of-prosecution” list after Canada.

Sirois explained to the CBC that Canada’s definition of hate speech was updated last year to include speech targeting “national origin”, as well as race and religion.  She pointed to the Criminal Code’s “hate propaganda” provisions, which prohibit “hatred against an identifiable group”, noting that this now includes groups that identify with Israel.  In short, Canada’s hate laws make it just as punishable to espouse anti-Israel rhetoric as anti-Semitic rhetoric (as well as rhetoric targeting any other country that the government might wish to protect in the future).

Bill C-51 and this revision to Canada’s hate laws make it possible for reasonable dissent, formerly protected under free speech laws, to be labeled terrorist, racist, or both, and prosecuted as such.  Imagine if the two were to converge on one poor man or woman, told that his or her “racist” anti-Israel rhetoric was undermining Canada’s Middle-Eastern military strategy and thereby its national security, making him or her a “racist terrorist”!

Criticism of the Government of Canada over these actions should transcend partisan bias (as does the support for these bills and measures, since the Liberals were complicit in the passing of Bill C-51 and both Liberal and NDP party-members have supported this conflation of anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism).  

Following Harper’s January 2014 speech to the Israeli Knesset, even Andrew Coyne in his pro-Israel article for the staunchly pro-Israel National Post indicated that this conflation has gone too far: “Does any criticism of Israel betray an anti-Israel, indeed an anti-Semitic bias? No, of course not — and here I might part company with the Prime Minister slightly.”  Similarly, does any attempt to alter governmental policies with an indirect effect on Canada’s environmental or financial stability constitute terrorism? 

On this topic everyone should part company with the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada – and not just slightly.  Debate and dissent are the lifeblood of democracies.  Sadly, Canada’s democracy is being eroded little by little, and it seems that the Canadian electorate is powerless to stop it. 

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