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Stopped before we began

If Bill C-51 passes, this might be the last protest that can happen./ Quinn Dombrowski
If Bill C-51 passes, this might be the last protest that can happen./ Quinn Dombrowski

Bill C-51, students, and the need for revolt

Author: Deidre Brandt

The proposed anti-terrorism legislation (Bill C-51) currently making it’s way through the House of Commons has appropriately raised concerns for the effect it would have on a variety of groups. However, very few of these analyses have focused on the effects this legislation stands to have on the current generation of students.

This generation has not found its collective voice yet. Despite our online access to information that provides increased awareness and understanding of many social justice issues, there has not been a tangible increase in protest or public calls for reform. Likewise, although we are facing rising tuition while in school and increasingly precarious employment, once we leave, we have seen little mobilization on these subjects. Although these things are increasingly a part of our collective consciousness, we are often doubtful of social movements. Most of us grew up in a time with no real inspiration to look to for successful action. The fact that many people still referred to Occupy Wall Street protestors as ‘hippies’ may be evidence of how antiquated these movements may seem to a lot of young people.

However, this may be changing. Our increased awareness, coupled with our mounting concern for our future, could be the push we need to turn Facebook shares and tweets into something a little more tangible. Unfortunately, the government’s anti-terror bill will be there to stand in our way. While the legislation supposedly protects “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression,” there has been much concern over how much this statement omits. Non-violent offences like illegal strike actions and civil disobedience could be classified as “activities that undermine the security of Canada” and be subject to the same treatment as terrorism. Terrorism is only one of nine possible activities that the bill covers, with some being open to such broad interpretations as simply blocking a road. By these standards, many of the protests now considered crucial moments in history could be considered in violation of Bill C-51.

Not only is there threat to future action, there is also concern about how the bill will affect how we will be able to share information when it passes. As the bill restricts “advocating for activities that undermine the security of Canada” there may new dangerous restrictions to how we share information. Public support of certain activism may be put in jeopardy; the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) already classifies some Aboriginal and environmentalism groups as ‘terrorists’. Also, the bill could punish endorsing uprisings and revolutions in foreign countries, regardless of whether or not they are justified. These broad interpretations are almost entirely unnecessary, as it is already a crime to “incite terror” in Canada. This legislation simply expands the definition so that it carries serious concerns for freedom of speech and expression.

These offences carry with them very serious new consequences. While often I consider references to George Orwell’s 1984 to be on the same level as using the word ‘sheeple,’ it has been sounding more appropriate lately. CSIS’s powers would be extended massively, not only increasing the span of who they can share information with, but also giving them the power to work with nearly any agency to directly “disrupt” those who “may” commit an act in violation of C-51. These disruption measures include things like preventative detention and a ban from air travel, which can carry serious effects for innocent people. Allowing for action based on the assumption that someone may commit a terrorist act is alarmingly close to the idea of thought police.

Right now, this legislation is poised to slip right past us. The government is expecting silence from us, but we must not be silent. We have to raise our voices so that we can raise them in the future. Given our combination of progressive social views and grim prospects for future employment, I can only expect we are going to need them. We must set ourselves collectively against C-51, or let our generation be smothered before we even let out a sound.

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