Bill C-51, the sweeping legislation passed last year by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and dubbed “Canada’s Patriot Act” is up for consultation, and Canadian queers should do our part to send it to the scrap heap.
Our right to privacy is the right to be who we are — and from RCMP surveillance to bathhouse raids to the notorious Fruit Machine, queer Canadians have too often ended up on the business end of state snooping.
From a queer perspective, there are many reasons to oppose mass surveillance. Here are just five:
C-51 allows for targeting of peaceful protestors
Historically, queers in Canada have had to protest for their rights, but Bill C-51 gives the government broad power to surveille protesters and any group they deem a security threat. What qualifies as a “security threat” is open to wide interpretation, and may depend on prevailing political sensibilities. Protests for queer rights could, under C-51, justify government surveillance of queer activists.
C-51 chills freedom of expression
Queers have a history of speaking up and telling tough truths to power, often in ways that offend the moral majority. But under C-51 certain types of speech could be considered threats to national security. Vague, sweeping language gives the government leeway to decide what is and is not a threat, and label free expression as “terrorism.” Queer people, such as those at Vancouver’s Little Sister’s bookstore, have fought important battles for free speech in Canada; C-51 could make those battles more difficult.
Personal data collection pries into queer lives
Mass data collection undermines individual privacy on a national scale. In a recent ruling, the Federal Court of Canada found that CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, illegally amassed and retained huge amounts of metadata on innocent Canadians — for a decade. We know metadata can lay bare a whole life — your political affiliation, sexual orientation and medical conditions can all be revealed by piecing together whom you speak to, when and for how long. C-51 open queer Canadians up to profiling and targeting by the government.
Government agencies are allowed to distribute private information without a warrant
C-51 gives government agencies such as Health Canada the freedom to share information with the RCMP without a warrant. Health records, in particular, contain sensitive data that have little to do with security, but could be used maliciously to out, harass or blackmail queer people. Sharing this information between 17 different government agencies makes it vulnerable to leaks and exposure by criminal actors, with no guarantee it will be used for its intended purpose.
Queer Canadians have historically been the targets of surveillance
Canada has a dark history of using the state security apparatus to target queers. Gary Kinsman and Patricia Gentile describe in their book The War on Canadian Queers how Canada’s queer community has been subjected to increased surveillance, illegal searches, and even blackmail. This should be an important reminder why queers should be wary of unaccountable government officials.
The current public consultations on national security are our best opportunity to not only eliminate the negative impacts of C-51, but put positive privacy protections in place to keep Canadians safe. Registering your opinion through OpenMedia’s pro-privacy tool at SaveOurSecurity.ca is an action you can take right now to ensure that our rights are not eroded by this overreaching legislation.
For further reading on C-51, you can check out this handy primer, Everything you always wanted to know about Bill C-51, created by OpenMedia.