Thousands of concerned citizens took to the streets Saturday to oppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government’s anti-terrorism bill.
In defiance of Bill C-51, rallies were held in many communities across Canada, including Castlegar.
Gathered outside city hall and the RCMP building, near 100 people hoisted signs along with their voices, in objection to the proposed legislation.
“We are here today to tell our government we will not become a police state,” said Gail Hunnisett, reading from a letter by local MP Alex Atamanenko.
“We need to tell Harper and his Conservatives that we will not be intimidated by his fear tactics. Please keep up the struggle, the future of our democracy depends on it.”
Bill C-51 was introduced by the Conservatives in January. Harper insists it will play a vital role in stopping terror plots well before they unfold but opponents believe it is an insidious way for the government to tighten its grip on ordinary citizens.
They say the legislation would grant CSIS unprecedented powers, including the ability to hold secret trials for “offenders,” expand no-fly lists and collect and share data on individuals with ease.
A major concern raised at Saturday’s rally was who decides what constitutes as terrorist activity and who is a terrorist.
“Who defines terrorism?” asked Cindy McCallum Miller, a long-time union activist for Canada’s postal workers who said she had fallen victim to CSIS privacy invasions. Several years ago it was discovered CSIS had been monitoring the activities and even going through personal garbage of postal workers, she said.
“Are those of you that criticize the government potential threats? Those who fight to protect our food sovereignty and water?
“If we oppose trade deals that allow foreign companies to come in and decimate our public services are we terrorists?”
“Is this [the prime minister’s] way of making sure Monsanto imposes GMO food, private companies control our drinking water and pipelines flow without opposition? I think so. I don’t think there’s any coincidence about this act coming at a time when there’s a groundswell of Canadians standing up and saying no to his policies.
“Many trust our government because they assume an elected government is going to do the right thing and follow the laws of the country. Unfortunately we have seen time after time that Stephen Harper and his government disregard the laws of this country and are trying to create a situation where laws don’t matter; where brute totalitarianism will be the call of the day.”
Miller added: “Do not be too shy to bring this up with friends and family for fear of being too political. If we don’t get too political now we won’t have the right to be too political later.”
Miller’s speech was met with thunderous applause.
One organizer for the Castlegar rally, Antoinette Halberstadt, compared C-51 to apartheid.
“Bill C-51 sends chills down my spine, as it opens the door to a ‘security’ apparatus worse than the one that scarred and even killed my fellow South African friends during the apartheid era that jailed Nelson Mandela.
“Also in the name of ‘fighting terrorism’, the State used the politics of fear for laws like this to stifle legitimate criticism and curb democratic debate. Having spent weeks reading the research of top Canadian lawyers, constitutional experts, past CSIS operatives and former prime ministers, including Conservatives, I couldn’t sit idle,” she said.
One citizen rose to the stand, anger and frustration clear in his voice: “People around the world used to love Canadians, but now, because of our foreign policy we’ve made ourselves hated in the world,” he said.
“We went to Afghanistan and attacked a country that had done us no harm because some of our allies, supposedly our friends, asked us to. Now we’ve sent fighter planes overseas to bomb and kill.
“I would like to ask you, is the man a terrorist if he takes a pistol and shoots ten people or if he takes a fighter plane and wipes out a whole village.”
“We have to take a better look at this thing,” he continued. “They’re creating terror in the world as an excuse to take our freedoms away. Who is the terrorist? Is it our government that’s going over and bombing and killing and making other people hate us?”