Past struggles that shaped this country and made the world a better place, such as the Winnipeg General Strike, the anti-apartheid movement and First Nations’ land rights would be deemed terrorism under the Harper government’s proposed Bill C51, a forum looking into the bill was warned.
"This bill could capture legitimate protest activities,” including everyday activities of unions and social justice groups,” warned Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
In fact, the proposed new law is such a threat to freedom of speech, the Canadian labour movement and civil society, that it should simply be scrapped, participants in the April 16 forum hosted by Unifor National President Jerry Dias and Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff heard.
The forum brought together labour leaders, legal experts, environmental activists and representatives of First Nations and Muslim groups to discuss the mutual threat to freedom of expression and assembly that Bill C51 poses.
Dias said the forum was held to take discussion about the bill out of the halls of power in Ottawa and into the community, where civil society groups will see their legitimate activities to challenge the status quo made illegal by Bill C51.
“We are here today not just to listen and learn, but to engage with each other about how we should react to Bill C51 in this election year, and how more generally we can act together to answer the politics of fear,” he said.
Paul Cavalluzzo, chief counsel to the inquiry into the rendition and torture of Maher Arar, said the bill ignores lessons from that inquiry.
“The Arar report was praised around the world,” Cavalluzzo said. “Unfortunately, the Canadian government refuses to draw from its wisdom to protect Canadian values and freedoms.”
Because those standing up to protect the environment or workers’ rights could be seen as threatening the economic interests of Canadian companies, Bill C51 brand them as terrorists, the forum was warned.
“This country was founded on peace and friendship with First Nations people, and now we’re being branded as terrorists,” Serpent River Chief Isadore Day.
Toronto lawyer and diversity consultant Thamina Jaferi called on participants keep talking about Bill C51.
“We need to ensure that Canadians are aware of what is at stake,” Jaferi said.