Yellowknife Town Hall National Security Framework - December 5, 2016
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
This town hall public consultation took place on December 5th, 2016 from 18:00 – 20:00 at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
A total of 12 participants attended the town hall. The meeting was hosted by Sean Casey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Member of Parliament for Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The session was facilitated by Mary Pat MacKinnon from Hill and Knowlton Strategies.
The session began with opening remarks from Parliamentary Secretary Sean Casey who explained the goal of the consultation process and his role in gathering feedback on what Canadians would like to see included in the reshaping of Canada’s national security framework. He communicated the Government of Canada’s objective of ensuring that the national security framework will be effective in keeping Canadians safe while safeguarding their rights and freedoms.
To help frame the discussion, Mary Pat MacKinnon reminded participants of the three over-arching questions presented in the Green Paper and Backgrounder documentation:
- Accountability: What steps should the Government take to strengthen the accountability of Canada's national security institutions?
- Prevention Radicalization to Violence: Are there particular prevention efforts that the Government should pursue?
- Protecting Security and Rights: How to best achieve the dual objective of keeping Canadians safe and safeguarding rights and freedoms?
Throughout the discussion, participants shared their views on the different topics surrounding national security. The most frequently discussed topics were: problematic aspects of Bill C-51 and Bill C-22; concerns about the current policies and governance related to the sharing of Canadians’ and residents’ personal information among government agencies and departments; the need for greater government accountability and transparency; and, what constitutes an appropriate oversight body for Canadian security institutions.
Participants identified serious challenges and related concerns associated with Bill C-51: an unwarranted expansion of powers without proper checks and balances ( ‘intelligence and security agencies in Canada have a history of abusing their powers, and under Bill C-51 this abuse can only become worse’; ‘Bill C-51 granted Canada’s security and policing institutions with new unprecedented powers, money and resources, while failing to provide commensurate powers, money and resources to existing and newly envisioned mechanisms designed ostensibly to hold spies and police officers accountable”; “the government was given too much discretion to choose who to target for future scrutiny”); ill-defined and too broad powers ( definitions are ‘too broad and difficult to comprehend”); and limiting / restricting Canadians’ freedom of expression (‘“the previous government used the bill to chill freedom of expression”).
Building on the discussion generated by Bill C-51, a number of participants voiced concerns about current personal information sharing laws and practices in Canada that ‘allow government institutions to share information without a warrant if they believe that the information may be relevant to national security’. Several participants noted that the previous government’s expansion of “the scope of CSIS’ role to act on any national security intelligence that was perceived as a threat” inflicted harm on innocent individuals and communities. Participants also expressed their dissatisfaction with CSIS’s lack of transparency and openness (‘CSIS is permitted to conduct much of its work in secret and the details of most of its activities are never revealed publically”). They stressed that ‘this is precisely why CSIS should not be permitted to act as an enforcement agency’ – giving it this expanded role would mean that rights violations [would be] more difficult to detect and more difficult to remedy. They reiterated the view that transparency is essential to ensure that the civil rights and freedoms of Canadians are not infringed upon.
Most participants were positive about the creation of a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians with the capacity to monitor classified security and intelligence activities and report findings to the Prime Minister. They did, however, also identify some concerns about particular features of Bill C-22. One participant questioned the acceptability of giving the government the power “to halt a committee investigation or refuse to provide information when it is deemed “injurious to national security.” Another participant added that “it is particularly troubling that these decisions are not subject to judicial review or any other dispute resolution processes”. They called for “vigorous oversight, including the authority to investigate and recommend sanctions against instances of wrong-doing”, believing that this “will provide Canadians with the confidence that their rights are being protected and enforced”.
At the close of the discussion, Parliamentary Secretary Sean Casey thanked the attendees for their participation and insightful comments. He summarized his key takeaways from the discussion:
- There is a healthy degree of skepticism towards the Liberal party for voting in favour of Bill C-51 and towards Canada’s security agencies in general;
- The inadequacy of the current Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) to do its job and participants’ recommendations for improvements: the oversight body needs to be technically adept, trained, and well-supported, and the parameters and scope governing the oversight body need to be communicated with in an accessible and transparent manner.
- Bill C-51 allows for a wide degree of information sharing that infringes upon the rights and freedoms of Canadians;
- Measures are needed to enhance accountability and transparency to rebuild trust between the government and Canadians.
The facilitator concluded the session thanking participants for their contributions and invited them to complete the optional Feedback Form, share their notes if they wished and do the online survey.
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