Bill C-51: National Security versus Personal Rights

The Senate voted 44 in favour and 28 against Bill C-51. The bill has passed and is now awaiting the Governor Generals assent. The bill is over 60 pages long and impacts eight existing legislations and will create new legislation as well.  The bill is meant to protect Canadians from terrorism but the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) along with many citizens have an issue with the new bill.

CCLA’s Stance

Bill C-51 generally expands on the existing legislation that counters terrorism. The CCLA argues that the existing legislation is sufficient and there is no need to extend its scope.  According to CCLA, Bill C-51 will result in further surveillance of Canadians, including their online actions.  The CCLA also argues that the existing laws against terrorism successfully prevented the Via Rail and Toronto 18 attacks; thus the present laws are effective. Nonetheless, the CCLA argues that if the laws were not successful in preventing the attack on Parliament and the murder of the Quebec solider then citizens should be informed as to why the laws were not effective rather than having the laws changed without an explanation.

What does Bill C-51 entail?

Bill C-51 will make changes to the jurisdiction of the CSIS, freedom of speech, fly list, the criminal code and penalties for suspected terrorist activity.  Below are some of the CCLA’s concerns explained.


The bill will allow The Canadian Security Intelligence System (CSIS) to act on security intelligence information.  Prior to Bill C-51 the CSIS only collected information.  Many individuals and legal experts are concerned that their privacy rights will be compromised as citizens will be subjected to surveillance without knowledge.

The Canadian Security Intelligence System (CSIS) will now have the ability to impede travel plans, cancel bank transactions and secretly interfere with radical websites. However the CSIS needs “reasonable grounds to believe that there is reason to interfere” before doing so.  If the CSIS’s actions will disrupt someones personal rights, then the CSIS will require a court order before proceeding.  The CSIS also has more power to intervene with suspected terrorist attacks.  Essentially, this bill will allow the CSIS to act almost like a policing entity.


When Bill C-51 receives royal assent, promoting/advocating terrorism will be added to the criminal code. Generally advocating for terrorist attacks will be criminalized.  The intent to follow through with a terrorist act is not a prerequisite for an arrest. You can be arrested for advocating terrorism without committing a terrorist act.  Language which is considered to be a threat to national security will be treated similarly.

Protestors worry about what language constitutes a threat to national security. Some individuals argue that they would be afraid to express themselves politically in fear of persecution. Since the legal language of the bill is vague and confusing even to legal experts, one must tread lightly when discussing matters of national security to avoid being misunderstood.

Fly list

The no fly list would become even more secretive and the evidence explaining why someone is on the list will also remain secret. If someone thought they were on the list and wanted to find out, they wouldn’t have access to the list. Canadians may be placed on the list and won’t know why. They also won’t have the right to see the evidence against them but they can appeal the decision in court.


The bill will lower the threshold for detention of suspected terrorists. If the police believe that a terrorist activity might be carried out they can detain an individual for double the time they could before without a charge. Thus individuals could be arrested and detained on suspicion of terrorist acts.

Personal information

Your personal information can be shared with the RCMP via Health Canada and the CRA if you are suspected of terrorism. These government institutions will also be encouraged to look for suspicious activity.


Bill C-51 supporters suggest that these changes are a form of progression.  Supporters argue that these are necessary measures to protect Canadians from terrorism and not extreme actions.  Furthermore, some argue that these laws do not impact most people and only individuals that are partaking in illegal activities have reason for concern.

Where do you stand?

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