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C-51 or Not: Canada is a Racist Police State

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
C-51 or Not: Canada is a Racist Police State

This piece was written by members of Maritime Anarchist Initiative for distribution at the April 18th rally against Bill C-51.

C-51 or Not: Canada is a Racist Police State

What is Bill C-51?

Bill C-51 - introduced in the wake of media frenzy about "terrorism" and particularly the Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shooting - is nothing new when taking a long view of the Canadian state. It does, however, expand in some specific ways the repressive powers of Canada's "intelligence" and "security" agencies. While it's important to see Bill C-51 in a historical context of Canadian "security" that includes Japanese internment camps and goes back to the Indian Act, it's also necessary to be aware of its specific implications.

The five sections of the act are:

1. The SECURITY OF CANADA INFORMATION SHARING ACT which allows any branch of government to access more-or-less every document from every other branch. In other words, it creates a situation in which no information provided to any government agency is confidential.

2. The SECURE AIR TRAVEL ACT which formalizes the rules around no-fly lists. It legalizes and expands the power of the Transportation Minister to add anyone to a secret list of names, on undisclosed evidence, prevents them from boarding air planes.

3. Amendments to the CRIMINAL CODE which expand the powers of police to arrest and hold people without charge, and which make it illegal to "promote" terrorism. It also makes it easier for the evidence in such cases to be kept secret.

4. Amendments to the CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE ACT which expand the powers of Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), from surveillance to "disruption". This includes (while in some instances requiring a warrant) anything short of "causing death or bodily harm" or violating "the sexual integrity of the individual". On evidence that can be kept secret.

5. Amendments to the IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE PROTECTION ACT which expand the powers of the government to keep evidence secret in proceedings against immigrants and refugees.

Who/what does Bill C-51 protect?

Given that, in Canada, one is approximately 100 times more likely to killed by police than terrorists, it should be apparent that this act isn't about the security (let alone well-being) of the vast majority of people. To understand what is meant by "national security" in Bill C-51, one needs to look at what agencies named in the bill are already doing.

There is extensive documentation, for example, that the RCMP spies extensively on Indigenous communities. This is especially the case when communities are engaged in resistance to resource extraction or other colonial interests. The case of 2008 case of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation is instructive - RCMP spied on the community, and arrested five leaders of resistance to mining on their traditional territory. The leaders hadn't committed a crime per se - rather, they were accused of violating an injunction won by the mining company on the basis that they were "interfering".

CSIS in collaboration with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has been active, particularly, in spying on and harassing Muslim communities. This has included facilitating indefinite detainment under Security Certificates, notably the so-called "Secret Trial 5" - three of whom remain under strict house arrest after over a decade.

Who will Bill C-51 most affect?

The peoples most targeted by Bill C-51 are the peoples who have always been targeted for surveillance, criminalization, and other forms of state violence. While the legislation may be new, it continues a long history of criminalizing the existence and resistance (and existence as resistance) of Indigenous peoples and people of colour. The movements that Bill C-51 is designed to suppress are Indigenous struggles for self-determination and sovereignty, migrant justice and survival strategies, and struggles against resource extraction, especially insofar as they overlap with the former two.

As Kanien'kéha:ka activist Ellen Gabriel argues, "the colonialist Canadian government has always criminalized First Nations people who defend their rights and their lands." Because C-51 is intended to protect against any "threat to the sovereignty, security, or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada," Indigenous sovereignty continues to be criminalized by definition. Expanding no-fly lists and border policing continues the targeting of Arab communities and migrants. For the racist nation-state on stolen land to continue, those who challenge it explicitly or simply by continuing to survive must be met with state violence. Bill C-51 is a more formalised, clear, and public form of this, but it is by no means new.

What can we do?

In order to resist BIll C-51, we need to look at the broader picture of state repression and resistance of which it is a part. Many ways that Bill C-51 is being talked about are unhelpful in this regard. For example, many critical "progressive" commentators have expressed that C-51 is "Un-Canadian". Such a statement refuses to take a good hard look at the history and current reality of the Canada - a country which has never ceased carrying out colonial violence against the Indigenous peoples, which is one of the world's largest and most unapologetic contributors to climate change, and which has viciously repressed dissent from the Winnipeg General Strike to the stand-off in Elsipogtog. Rather than appealing to an imagery history of a "Peace, Order, and Good Government" such legends needs to be exposed for what they are: History written by the victors in the blood of the oppressed.

Recognizing this, we need to extend our solidarity in ways that don't exclude those communities in struggle who are most directly targeted by Bill C-51 in particular, but also the Canadian state in general. While on paper it may be true on paper that everyone in Canada is equally subject to being spied upon, harassed, and imprisoned it is clear that, in reality, people of colour and Indigenous peoples are subject disproportionately, especially when directly engaged in resistance. Therefore, rather than decrying the criminalization of "peaceful protest", or emphasizing the ways Bill C-51 might be used against the respectable white left, environmentalists, and "law abiding citizens", we need to stand with those whose tactics we do or do not agree with, those who are not citizens, and those people that popular discourse deems "criminal". It is, after all, the same government which has crafted C-51 which always decides who is within or outside of the law.

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