Thank you very much for the invitation to appear today. Like my colleague here, I will start with a brief overview of the NCCM and what we do.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims is Canada's only full-time, professional, independent, non-partisan, and non-profit grassroots Canadian Muslim advocacy organization. Its mandate is to protect human rights and civil liberties, challenge discrimination and Islamophobia, build mutual understanding between Canadians, and promote the public interests of Canadian Muslim communities. We strive to achieve this through our work in community education and outreach, media engagement, anti-discrimination action, public advocacy, and coalition building.
For over 16 years the NCCM has participated in major public inquiries, appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada on issues of national importance, and provided advice to security agencies on engaging communities and promoting safety.
Why does this debate matter? National security is important to all of us. Canadian Muslims are committed to national security because terrorism is harmful to everyone. In fact globally the overwhelming majority of victims of extremist violence have been Muslims. We support national security efforts to make our communities safer.
Canadian Muslims also expect their basic freedoms to be respected, a constitutional right. Our concern is that sometimes those freedoms are sacrificed at the expense of national security, and because of negative stereotypes, assumptions and overbroad powers, Muslim communities feel disproportionately affected, as if their rights and freedoms were lesser than those of other Canadians.
National security should not come at the expense of charter rights and freedoms; rather, they share a symbiotic relationship: the loss of one signals the loss of the other. We must acknowledge that some marginalized communities are stigmatized by overbroad laws and the rhetoric of fear and hate, making them feel less rather than more secure.
National security policy is particularly important for Muslim communities because of the current political climate. In recent years and months there has been a surge of hate crimes against Canadian Muslims and a growing climate of Islamophobia. Every time Islam or Muslims are associated with violence or threats to Canadian society, or the political discourse disparages or vilifies Muslims, the social impact of these negative associations is felt.
A devastating example of this is the hateful attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City that claimed the lives of six Canadian Muslims. Promoting security for all Canadians must include protecting Canadian Muslims and other targeted minorities against discrimination and hate crimes by some elements within society.
Canadian Muslims pay a higher cost for national security. Based on what is known in the last 15 years, it appears that the Canadian security establishment does not afford Canadian Muslims the same charter respect and protection as other Canadians. Through direct and indirect actions, Canadian security agencies have in many respects lost the trust and confidence of Canadian Muslim communities.
The disturbing and well-known cases of Canadians, such as Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, Abousfian Abdelrazik, and 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 that these men and their families suffered unjustly.
Little has been done to address revelations about errors, lies, unreliability, and sloppiness in information gathering and information sharing within the security establishment. The principal recommendations of the Arar commission inquiry and others have been unheeded and are not adequately reflected in the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, or addressed in the government's green paper.
The Arar commission concluded that the “potential for infringement on the human rights of innocent [Muslim and Arab] Canadians” is higher in national security enforcement because of the stricter scrutiny to which the members of these groups are subjected; thus, any deficiencies in the act or its enforcement will disproportionately affect Canadian Muslims.
It is our submission that Bill C-51, as it was known, will marginalize Muslim communities. In March 2015 the NCCM testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-51—the Anti-terrorism Act, as it is known. NCCM has taken a principled opposition to the act from the beginning. We echo the view of the overwhelming majority of experts in the field that the act represents a greater danger to Canadians than is justified in the name of fighting terrorism. We agree with other witnesses that more power to security agencies does not necessarily mean more security for Canadians.
Further, the government's green paper does little to assure Canadian Muslims that our participation in any national security strategy will result in our members and communities being made more secure.
The green paper calls for the strengthening of the security establishment without providing any evidence or reasons to show why this is either necessary or wise. Canadian Muslims are looking for assurances that the government will keep the powers of the security establishment in check through proper review and oversight mechanisms, as well as rigorously applying charter standards. The risks of abuse are too great and the record of past abuse too extensive. Canadian Muslims must be treated as citizens, not as suspects.
National security errors not only put innocent people at risk of suspicion and stigma, they also divert resources from focusing on actual threats or engaging in other activities to promote safety and security within Canadian society.
The NCCM believes the Anti-terrorism Act 2015 is unnecessary to ensure the safety and security of Canadians, while the threat it poses to civil liberties and the equality rights of Canadian Muslims is disproportionate to any purported benefit. Therefore, we are in favour of its repeal. In the alternative, the NCCM has specific recommendations on amendments to the act.
I'll address some of the ways in which Bill C-51 undermines Canadian Muslims' basic rights and freedoms, starting with the no-fly regime.
The NCCM continues to oppose the no-fly regime implemented by Bill C-51 and the Secure Air Travel Act. No-fly lists have a devastating impact on those who are wrongly named, and yet this legislation does nothing to ensure the freedom to fly for wrongly designated Canadians. At NCCM we regularly hear from Canadians who are wrongly designated on no-fly lists without any possibility of meaningful appeal. It is impossible to know if you are on the no-fly list, and there is little to no redress to appeal your name's inclusion on the list. Although the government has established the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office, this is not an appeal mechanism. The application for recourse remains murky and unclear. As such, the NCCM supports the proposal requiring the government to fully review all appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list.
The NCCM maintains that no-fly lists have also not been demonstrated to achieve a greater benefit for security than harm to personal liberty and, as such, should be re-evaluated. The use of no-fly lists should be reduced only to cases where there are very strong grounds to know that an individual poses a danger. Any alternative results in racial profiling and the imposition of discriminatory limits on constitutional mobility rights that are not justifiable. If the no-fly list is to be maintained, at minimum a listed person should have a meaningful opportunity to appeal and contest their designation.
Regarding information sharing, the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act authorizes government agencies and institutions to disclose information to other government institutions that have jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to “activities that undermine the security of Canada”. This is broad and difficult to define and could result in constitutional violations against innocent Canadians, including innocent Canadian Muslims. We believe that the information sharing act should be repealed. The information sharing must be based on policies that respect personal information and human rights. We cannot normalize extraordinary powers without evidence of effective security enhancement and mitigation of harm to civil liberties. The NCCM urges the government to implement the recommendations made in the Arar commission report with respect to information sharing by the RCMP, which could also be adapted by other government departments.
With regard to strengthening review and oversight of CSIS, the NCCM is particularly concerned with the broad-reaching powers given to CSIS through vague language, for example, to take actions that are “reasonable and proportional”. While the act purports to enhance national security by strengthening the powers of national security agencies, it does so with minimal oversight and at a high cost to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is of particular concern to Canadian Muslims, who are more likely than others to find themselves targeted by national security investigations. It is also problematic that CSIS gets to decide if it needs to apply for a warrant. Such overbroad powers are not demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. We need meaningful accountability.
The NCCM welcomes the proposal for SIRC to review all, as opposed to some, of the operations performed by CSIS. To better coordinate national security agencies, the NCCM would also recommend that the government form a unified whole-of-government committee, or super SIRC, similar to the Five Eyes intelligence partners. A super SIRC could be mandated to review all national security activities in government, including information sharing.
Regarding mandatory legislative review, the act creates extraordinary powers that should be viewed, at best, as a necessary evil in a liberal democracy. The revelations from the Arar commission demonstrate the terrible impact of errors in the use of extraordinary powers. The risks are known; what is needed is robust oversight and review. The NCCM supports the government's proposal for a full statutory review of the act every three years, as well as instituting a sunset clause on certain provisions.
Regarding repeal of overbroad speech and thought crimes, the new crimes associated with terrorist propaganda are imprecise and overbroad. They create too much enforcement discretion, which puts perfectly lawful and non-violent conduct within the purview of the Criminal Code. This risks criminalizing dissent by chilling or punishing legitimate political and other speech, which attract high levels of charter protection. It is unclear why new crimes are necessary, given existing provisions regarding terrorism in the Criminal Code.
The NCCM also urges the government to repeal the over-broad crimes, including, “activities that undermine the security of Canada” in the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, as well as the new offence in the Criminal Code, section 83.221. The language of this offence, as well as the definitions in the act, does not create new tools for enforcement. Rather, they create new risks for chilling legitimate speech and political activism. These provisions directly undermine the democratic goals that justify counterterrorism law and policy in the first place.
In conclusion, in the current climate, merely strengthening law enforcement powers is unlikely to yield effective community engagement. Genuine engagement with Canadian Muslims as partners in national security is a necessary prerequisite to any other aspect of counterterrorism or counter-radicalization activity.
To that end, the NCCM supports the green paper's acknowledgement of the utility of community outreach and counter-radicalization efforts, including the creation of an office of community outreach and a counter-radicalization coordinator.. By far the most effective and least costly approach to combatting radicalization to criminal violence is delivered at the grassroots level within communities.
We respectfully urge this committee to seriously reconsider policies that may in fact be counterproductive to and undermine the efforts of those working on the front lines to address this phenomenon of radicalization to criminal violence.
The NCCM is willing to partake in public consultations and work with the federal government at the grassroots partnership level to develop and implement a national coordinated strategy for community-based initiatives.
Subject to your questions, those are my submissions.