One year later: a look at the Parliament Hill shooting and Bill C-51

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau lay a wreath during a ceremony to commemorate the October 2014 attack on Parliament Hill.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau lay a wreath during a ceremony to commemorate the October 2014 attack on Parliament Hill. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau attended a ceremonial service in Ottawa today to commemorate the death of two Canadian soldiers who were victims of shootings last October on Canadian soil. The shootings sent a shock through the nation and resulted in passing of new laws.

Exactly one year ago on October 22, 2014, 32-year old Michael Zehaf-Lebeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo with a rifle. Cirillo was an unarmed ceremonial guard watching over the National War Memorial that day. The lone gunman was shot shortly after, during a standoff with security staff of the House of Commons..  Two days before this shooting, Martin Couture-Rouleau drove his car into two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Arguably, these shootings acted as a catalyst that pushed out Bill C-51: the Conservative government’s anti-terrorism legislation. The bill was introduced and promoted as a measure to combat homegrown extremism. The Liberals supported it while the NDP, as well as many academics and civil liberties groups, criticized it for being too excessive. Nonetheless, Bill C-51 was passed in January of 2015 and received royal assent this past June.

See: Bill C-51 cheat sheet

Bill C-51 has a number of significant provisions. Firstly, it created a new offence under the Criminal Code that targets “promotion of terrorism.” It also added a new provision to the code for warrants to be issued to seize physical and electronic material that a judge determines to be terrorist propaganda. Another provision allows for police to arrest individuals without a warrant if it believes the individual “may” carry out a terrorist act. Previously, an arrest without warrant was only justified if it was “necessary” to prevent a terrorist act that police believed ‘will’ happen. Further, Bill C-51 allows government agencies to share personal information of individuals who may be threats to national security. The most controversial side of Bill C-51 is the new role of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in disrupting suspected terrorist plots.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression have legally challenged bill C-51 before the Federal Court. Their argument is that Bill C-51 gives CSIS excessive powers to disrupt ‘suspected’ plots. CSIS is now only required to have “reasonable grounds” to believe there is a security threat to be able to take over computers, cancel flights, and engage in other forms of operations. CSIS can obtain a warrant if its disruption operation offends the Charter (e.g. unreasonable search and seizure) or other Canadian law. The challengers say this legislation puts courts in charge of limiting individuals’ charter rights but traditionally courts have been entrusted with the responsibility to uphold charter rights and values.

The challengers are also concerned with CSIS’ new power to put individuals on the “no fly” list based on “suspicion.”  They argue it’s very difficult for someone to be removed from the list and there is no procedure in place to ensure due process.

The challengers also maintain the language of Bill C-51 is vague when it refers to an activity as one that “undermines the security of Canada.”

The Federal Court has not made a decision yet.

The new Liberal government may have plans of reforming the bill— particularly the provisions related to CSIS— but it’s too soon to tell.

The two shootings appear to have steered Canada into a different course, one that resembles the circumstances leading to the enactment of the Patriot Act in the United States.

On the anniversary of the Parliament Hill shooting, we salute Cpl. Cirillo and Officer Vincent for their service and dedication to our great nation. May they rest in peace.

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