Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the committee for the invitation to appear again before you about the proposed legislation, Bill C-51. Our written submission will be provided to the committee in short order, by March 23, as per my instructions from the clerk.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit organization that is a leading voice for Muslim civic engagement and the promotion of human rights. Our mandate is to protect the human rights and civil liberties of Canadian Muslims, build mutual understanding between communities, and confront Islamophobia. We work to achieve this mission through community education and outreach, media engagement, anti-discrimination action, public advocacy, and partnering with other social justice and public interest organizations.
We are mindful of the increased and necessary emphasis on public safety and national security in response to the real threat of terrorism, as well as the disturbing appeal of criminal violence to some disaffected youth, which has emerged over the last 15 years. Canadian Muslims, like our fellow citizens, are unequivocally committed to this country's security. We're just as likely as anyone else to be harmed by terrorism.
Canadian Muslims believe that it is both a civic and a religious duty to respect the rule of law. We thrive when Canadian society as a whole thrives. We also enjoy freedom as much as other Canadians do. We believe that all Canadians deserve to be equally free and to enjoy all their freedoms with the same expectation of privacy and respect, yet when Canadian Muslims today exercise basic freedoms, such as working, associating with friends, attending a religious service, or giving to charity, we fear who is watching, who is tracking, and what assumptions are being made.
Over-enforcement and overbroad laws actually make some people, oftentimes the most vulnerable people, feel less secure, not more secure. Many Canadian Muslims are therefore concerned that in the quest to assure security, the very freedoms enshrined in the charter will be undermined. Overreaction and fear should not dictate public policy and legislation.
This committee has heard and will hear numerous concerns raised about the potential erosion of civil liberties and privacy rights resulting from this bill. We share those reservations brought forward by civil society partners, such as the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and Amnesty International Canada, and by legal experts, including professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese, to name a few.
Like all Canadians, we care about freedom and privacy, and we're concerned about the erosion of important liberal democratic values in our society. The temptation to create more powers of enforcement and arrest to make the general population feel safer can be appealing, but this is a slippery slope in a liberal democracy. You can't simply spy and arrest your way out of this problem. It takes more than laws, even good ones, to effectively address the contemporary challenges to national security, that is, if the goal is to be effective, not simply to appear to be doing something for show.
This law has more flash than bite when it comes to creating more useful tools to combat threats to national security. The real bite, in fact, lies in the risks it poses to the civil liberties of Canadians. In particular, this new legislation will further undermine the equality rights of Canadian Muslims and other groups defined and protected under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I will spend the remainder of my time walking you through how the discriminatory effects transpire.
We already know that members of Canadian Muslim communities have paid a higher price for national security. The Arar inquiry report warned as follows: “Given the tendency thus far of focusing national security investigations on members of the Arab and Muslim communities, the potential for infringement on the human rights of innocent Canadians within these groups is higher.”
Since 9/11 the Muslim community has been hypervisible and under a microscope. This has had many negative consequences, caused by the interplay of Muslim hypervisibility and the existence of negative stereotyping and discrimination within Canadian society. Every time Islam or Muslims are associated with violence or threats to Canadian society, the social impact of these negative associations is felt, whether by way of acts of violence or spikes in hate and other disparaging speech, or countless other manifestations of anti-Muslim bias.
As a result of these social dynamics, Canadian Muslims pay a higher cost for the benefit of being protected by national security measures. The disturbing and well-known cases of Canadians such as Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, Muayyed Nureddin, Abousfian Abdelrazik, and most recently Benamar Benatta, speak to the disproportionate cost and the extant pitfalls associated with administering a national security regime prone to error and abuse.
The lack of effective oversight over security agencies failed to prevent or remedy the pain and suffering these men and their families suffered unjustly. The worst part about it for the wrongly accused terrorist is that the suspicion never really goes away. These men and many others live forever with the stigma of having been a suspected terrorist, regardless of how false that suspicion may be.
As respected retired justice Dennis O'Connor highlighted in the Arar inquiry report, “The impact on an individual’s reputation of being called a terrorist in the national media is severe. As I have stated elsewhere, labels, even unfair and inaccurate ones, have a tendency to stick.”
We know for a fact that our law enforcement agencies, despite the best intentions of many who work for them, have been guilty of abusing their powers. We need to look no further than the previous cases mentioned to understand the devastating impact of increased security powers with ineffective oversight.
If Bill C-51 is accepted as is, expanding powers without any substantive increase in independent oversight of our security agencies, the risks of rights violations increase not only for Canadian Muslims, but also for other Canadian communities and groups that may be subject to increased and unjust security scrutiny, including but not limited to political, environmental, or equality-seeking groups.
National security is not enhanced when vulnerable communities of Canadians are made to feel less secure by overreaching law enforcement, especially when avenues for the redress of abuses and errors remain ineffective.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to move and travel freely. At NCCM we regularly hear from Canadians who are wrongly designated on no-fly lists without any possibility of appeal or recourse. This legislation does nothing to ensure the freedom to fly of wrongly designated Canadians. Too many Canadian Muslims have essentially been banned from international travel, considered to be too dangerous to fly. This humiliation comes at great personal and material costs to those affected.
This legislation antagonizes Canadians rather than investing in them. As former chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, Senator Colin Kenny, recently wrote, in talking about how to most effectively combat the threat of violent extremism:
A robust counter-terrorism response isn’t always the ideal approach, either. If possible, it’s safer, faster and less expensive to dissuade at-risk individuals from going further down the path of extremism before they commit a crime. This dissuasion is often more effectively delivered by people within their communities.
Canadian Muslim communities across the country have indeed been at the forefront in confronting radicalization and continue to work to address this through various projects and initiatives, including for example, the OWN IT Conference held in Calgary last year, the United Against Terrorism guide produced by the Islamic Social Services Association in conjunction with the NCCM, and the Hayat Canada project started by Christianne Boudreau, the mother of a Canadian who was tragically radicalized to criminal violence and was killed overseas.
Challenging this phenomenon is a Canadian issue, not a Muslim issue alone. To date the work done has been more of a patchwork rather than a coordinated and supported national effort that recognizes the multi-faceted nature of this problem. The tireless and good faith efforts of communities and community leaders in addressing the threat of radicalization should be supported not only financially, but also by way of specialized resource support. To date, communities have navigated this complex issue with little or no expertise in areas like counselling, deradicalization, social media messaging, and so forth.
Furthermore, it must be stated that the broad definitions found in this bill have the potential to cast a chill over political and other forms of expression in this country, and this may hamper the efforts of Canadian Muslim groups to effectively deliberate over difficult and challenging issues within their communities in the best way required to combat radicalization and misinformation.
The language of Bill C-51 is so broad it will almost certainly cast a chill over members of our community, many of whom have fled authoritarian regimes where people are often punished for their opinions. Rather than risk being accused of extremism, individuals will stay quiet, and more distressing, rather than debating opposing views and risking being associated with tainted individuals, those who could be on the vanguard of deradicalization will be scared into silence. The silencing effect will be damaging to our values of openness, free exchange of ideas, and free association.
We respectfully urge this committee to seriously reconsider passing a bill that may, in fact, be counterproductive to and undermine the efforts of those working on the front lines to address the phenomenon of radicalization.
In closing, the NCCM, an independent and mainstream civil liberties and advocacy organization, has been at the forefront in affirming that national security and human rights are not mutually exclusive; rather, they share a symbiotic relationship: the loss of one signals the loss of the other.
They say that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. That said, the rife and serious shortcomings proposed in Bill C-51, combined with the lack of any new and concomitant increases in robust and comprehensive oversight, review, and redress mechanisms for our security agencies invite similar abuses of power as we have already seen in the recent past.
In our view, Bill C-51 in its present form is not the answer to the pressing national security questions facing our country. Rather, it is a perilous exercise in law-making that will have repercussions on Canadians for several years and that will lead to the further stigmatization of Canadian Muslim communities.
Any and all concerns put forth by my colleagues about this bill are doubly concerning for communities who know first-hand how faulty laws can impact them and their families.
Subject to your questions, those are my submissions. Thank you.