Bill C-51 Backgrounder # 3: Sharing Information and Lost Lessons from the Maher Arar Experience

This is the third of a series of independent “backgrounder” documents that we shall author on Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act 2015. All of these documents are archived at http://www.antiterrorlaw.ca.

The proposed Security of Canada Information Sharing Act in Bill C-51 declares a legitimate government interests in sharing information about security threats. Yet after close textual review, we conclude that the proposed law is both excessive and unbalanced. Why do we reach such strong conclusions?

The Act will relax constraints on the flow of information about “activities that undermine the security of Canada”. This is a new and astonishingly broad concept that is much more sweeping than any definition of security in Canadian national security law. In comes very close to a carte blanche, authorizing a “total information awareness” approach and a unitary view of governmental information holding and sharing. In that respect, we consider it a radical departure from conventional understandings of privacy.

The proposed legislation is unbalanced because it authorizes information sharing without meaningful enhanced review. While the bill pays lip-service to accountability, it does not incorporate an accountability regime matching its scope. Even as it erodes privacy, it fails to learn from the lessons of the Arar and Iaccobucci commissions of inquiry about the injustice that may stem from poorly governed information sharing.

The claims in the government’s backgrounder that the existing accountability institutions, including the Privacy Commissioner, are equipped for this task is not convincing to anyone familiar with the Arar report.

[NB: We have posted this paper for immediate download on SSRN. While SSRN catalogues the paper for inclusion in its holding, this page will be watermarked “Under review by SSRN”. Readers will still be able to access the paper.  We plan to upload revised editions as we add details and refine points. We have also posted to a “mirror” site, but will not update the paper here.]