Bill C-51 and a dear friend's wisdom...

Greetings from Victoria where our Protect the Pollinators Tour gets underway tonight.

I want to talk about Bill C-51, the anti-terror bill, and how it might impact Canadian environmentalists. Before I do, I want to take a moment and talk about Andrew Chisholm, who passed away over the weekend. He was the first person I ever spoke to at Sierra Club back in 1996. He took the time to talk to me about how the federal government was changing the environmental assessment laws in the middle of the night so it could sell CANDU reactors to China.

Then, when I got here a few years later, Andrew was still part of the Sierra family (on staff and later as a volunteer). He was someone you could always rely on to lend a hand or provide sage advice. He was a brilliant guy and he was always there for me.

He could have had a cushy career as a federal civil servant, but his uncompromising dedication to the environment and social justice drove him out of the public service, though he never stopped serving the public good.

Andrew would be appalled by what is happening in Parliament these days, so I’m dedicating this blog to him.

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s 1984, get a copy because you are living it and you need to understand what comes next.

Bill C-51 is really five bills—it’s omnibus’esque. It’s true the world is a dangerous place and terrorist threats are real, but is Bill C-51 the right response?

The question to be asked is this: Is there a need to create a broad and vague definition of terrorism that police and CSIS may one day use to label organizations like Sierra Club as a “criminal threat” to Canada’s economy or “infrastructure”?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sierra Club being named in an RCMP intelligence report. At the time, I concentrated on the ‘climate denier’ language used by the author, and offered to provide workshops on climate change because it is pretty clear the force doesn’t understand what it’s up against. I felt we should stick to the environment in our response and many of you agreed (thanks for your feedback).

But as I have learned more about C-51, I have had to become more concerned about being one of only two ENGOs mentioned in an RCMP intelligence report on criminal threats to the petroleum industry in Canada.

What will happen if in the future a police officer or CSIS agent asks a judge for a warrant to investigate and/or interfere with Sierra Club? Won’t the fact Sierra Club was once mentioned in a report on ‘criminal threats’ be more than enough to convince a judge? Then one day me, a volunteer or staff person, could be detained without charge. Our database could be accessed, our website could be messed-with, and/or our operations disrupted by secret police agents.

Andrew was always the most vigilant about security. He was fully aware how easy it would be for our website and server to be compromised. He did everything he could to protect Sierra Club. I once playfully mocked his concern...“we’re just an environmental group,” I’d tell him. “Besides, we have nothing to hide.” But he was right.

I thought I was just being cautious, but now with Bill C-51 hanging over our heads, the thought police may yet come crashing down on our heads.

Aim High (please)

Back to our call for action…the RCMP sent a two page response to our letters and emails. It arrived on Friday.

The Director General of Criminal Investigations wanted to assure me that the mention of Sierra Club and references to fundraising on climate issues were just part of a backgrounder.

He said the report was initiated after the ‘violent’ anti-fracking demonstration in New Brunswick two years ago. He did not respond to our offer of climate change workshops.

So I wrote back and requested an apology and written assurance that the presence of our name in a criminal intelligence report will not be used in the broad net cast with Bill C-51. Don’t hold your breath--I won’t be holding mine.

I’m not holding mine, but I am remembering a friend and colleague who lived a tragically short, but good, life…always standing up for what’s right. I hope I can do that too. That’s how I’ll celebrate Andrew’s life.

John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
1510-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog