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C-51 will undermine Canada’s businesses: Open letter from 60 business leaders (nationalpost.com)
309 points by zawaideh on Apr 21, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

For those of us not up to date on Canadian politics, does anyone want to briefly explain what C-51 is?

C-51 is a proposed anti-terror law that gives "secret police" powers (the ability for intelligence organizations to detain a suspect without charge for up to a week) and broad eavesdropping and surveillance powers without oversight (the traditional oversight body was dismantled a year ago).

In addition, it gives our version of NSA, the CSE, more powers to spy on people domestically - more accurately allowing CSE to share the information it is already collecting on Canadians with our domestic law enforcement agencies. So it will no longer simply be a foreign surveillance agency.

It will allow police to take down “terrorist propaganda” online.

It will create a secret no-fly list in Canada.

It will allow our health agencies and our tax agency (CRA our version of the IRS) to share information with our federal police. Among others:


It also includes plans to expand the amount of data-sharing with the NSA and other five eyes. So I'm sure the Americans are backing this bill too, which Harper is famous for appeasing.

We have just set up a Campaign for email encryption (join it!): https://www.iwoulddo.it/en/campaigns/2949/email-encryption

This Campaign allows for a coordinated migration of your "social network" towards encryption b/c: Encryption can't be done alone and is often prevented by the fact that people ignore if/when their friends are willing to join them in their effort - an answer we can generate using the "conditional pledge" ("I'll set up encryption if Alice, Bob and Chris encrypt as well").


Unlikely. It was a terrible thing that is being taken advantage of by politicians to advance their agenda of increasing their own power.



Someone should write up a list of ways to evaluate the plausibility of conspiracy theories that actually has a basis in game theory and the way organizations work.

You have the FBI making criminals from scratch and then stopping them before they can carry out an attack. They give them duds to reduce the risk further. This is then used to justify their existence. Thankfully we have mountains of evidence that no plots by three letter agencies ever get out of hand.

Or going forward with the attack and then ask for bigger budget to be allocated to them to avoid future "unfortunate" occurrences and to reward their incompetence & treason a win-win-win.

Where is your evidence of that?

A plausible theory, that's all!

You're clearly an agent provocateur.

Hey, it's a plausible theory...

Before Snowden, I would laugh at him with you. Now... I have a hard time dismissing anything as conspiracy theory nut-baggery...

False flags, although risky, are probably the cheapest way to create an atmosphere conducive to change. Was the Parliament shooting a false flag? Who knows. The bottom line is govs seem to have repressive legislation sitting around to push whenever bad things happen. My guess is the West's governments anticipate unrest as a long-term consequence of economic globalization and they want to consolidate power in advance.

The bigger loss is that even if we think a false flag operation to be extremely unlikely, we no longer rate it as impossible. Then again, anyone who was rating them as impossible pre-Snowden hadn't been paying attention to history.

C-51, like the NSA legislation inside the United States, France, the Five Eyes, Germany, Japan, and like the reaches made by Russia and China do not have anything to do with terrorism. Terrorism is the excuse these countries use to get the laws to pass by their citizens.

What's going on is that the global order of power is shifting and recent advances in technology have enabled ~40 minute intercontinental nuclear strikes (using hybersonic delivery vehicles, etc). NATO and the Bretton Woods institutions are being challenged and rising populations and emerging economies will soon shift economics for the next half century in favor of nations in the Asia Pacific.

By its Wolfowitz Doctrine and by similar postures of allies, the Western world has to do what it can do to land gently (or be the better bombers) into whatever world comes next.

Internet surveillance, mass propaganda, high altitude missile defense batteries, satellite kill vehicles - all of this is due to hollowing out of the old institutions of world order and the challenges of a new one.

The debate therefore needs to be about how necessary these capabilities are for bringing about whatever new world there will be with as little possibility for violence as possible - not another fake conversation about terrorism.

I got to "Bretton Woods" and realized you had gone off the rails.

I'm willing to defend any statement you find 'off the rails' with evidenced and falsifiable statements.

With regard to the Bretton Woods System, the AIIB has gotten sign off from European allies despite the US's efforts to keep the AIIB underwater. Paired with the BRICS bank and Asean trade deals the IMF and World Bank are being seriously challenged in their ability to make strategic infrastructure investments. If you would like an example of what that looks like: the AIIB is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in Pakistan and more broadly Eurasia to build out oil pipelines and trade routes - a land route in Eurasia to pair with South China Sea and Indian Sea trade routes for China's "new silk road". Please feel encouraged to ask more questions.

Michael Pettis presents a (to me) pretty strong-looking argument that the AIIB is not important http://blog.mpettis.com/2015/04/will-the-aiib-one-day-matter... though he does believe that the post-war/post-'71 dollar economy is likely coming to an end, for other reasons. For one thing, it's easy to lend money to the developing world only if you're not careful about making sure you'll get it back. (I am not an expert.)

There are a number of scholars, even some in the circuit of the Defense Industry of the West, who have ranges of ideas with regard to how big a deal the AIIB is or will be. Although there are none that I know of who don't think the Western order isn't being challenged. What matters is that the West on the whole believes very strongly that the AIIB and associated institutions are a serious challenge because it is their belief that determines their actions. Since the West believes that its superpower status is hollowing out - even if it were not true - it will act in correspondence with this belief: in this case with surveillance, etc.

I happen to agree with the West's national security posture that their status is hollowing and that the AIIB and other institutions propose viable alternatives for large portions of the world and threaten the old order (though I'm no expert either).

The reason is that foreign investment is a way that countries can use to very strongly project power. Take the activity in the Baltics - the IMF packages to Kiev - to influence political and geostrategic outcomes which is often worth huge amounts of wealth in the long run. That is to say you aren't always going to get money from the country you are lending to, but you will get influence on political outcomes. And we can see that with China's plans in Eurasia and how these plans for example align with their veto votes on UN activity in the Middle East. Russia had tried to create a Eurasian Union, which has kind of staled but it's likely that with a giant investment bank to fund infrastructure that it can be pulled off.

Long argument short - it's not always about getting money back on your loan: it's often about getting your pipeline, your highway, your port, or your defense garrison.

The political context the bill is being pushed through in is interesting. It's an election year (9(?) months away) and the bottoming out of the oil market has put a lot of pressure on the incumbent Conservative party.

The Conservatives have had a perception of being good for the economy, and weak oil prices have really hit their base (Alberta's economy has completely stalled in the last few months, and a provincial election going on there right now has the 42 year incumbent party in third place).

The Conservatives are in damage control mode, trying to shore up there base with this Anti-terror bill, a balanced budget, and attack ads.

Just to add an addendum to this, the decade the Conservative party has been in power has transformed the economic landscape in Canada- it is now wholly dependent on the strength of the oil industry. The Albertan tar-sands is an especially expensive form of oil extraction- break-even prices around the $70-$80 mark. With the loss of the Keystone XL and continued pressure on the Northern Gateway pipelines; Canada has a lot of over-priced oil and limited means of shipping it.

The problem with a oil dependent economy is that it's at odds with the "classic" Canadian economy- manufacturing/production and trades that directly benefit from low Canadian dollar. If oil does well, it raises the dollar and stresses one side of the economy; if oil does poorly manufacturing is strengthened but the overall health of economy falters.

It's a very precarious position that the Canadian government has put itself in and could result in some very long-term (on order of decades) problems to fully develop.

Out of curiosity - isn't an economy more diversified (and thus stabilized) by having both manufacturing (which benefits from a low $CAD) and oil (which benefits a high $CAD)?

yep, but without a large pool of internal demand to buffer things, these two work against each other.


Dutch disease is exactly what NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called it, and for some reason the Conservatives are trying to spin it as an attack against Mulcair. Personally I find the political spectrum in Canada just baffling.

omfg... can we please have a body count in western countries proposing these laws.

And can we then please put that into perspective? (e.g. compare it to traffic casualties)

And then look at the price we're willing to pay (ridiculous amounts of corrupting power without oversight that affects mostly innocent people)?

For example, let's take one of the countries with the gravest terrorist threat: Israel. Its civilian deaths from any mortar attack from Gaza (let's assume 100% terrorism) in the past 14 years? 30.

Now how many people die in traffic in Israel every year? Today about 260, in 2000 about 450, let's average that at 350.

Alright, so in 14 years, 30 civilian deaths from rocket terror attacks, and about 5.000 people dead in traffic.

Now obviously, that's 30 and 5.000 to many, respectively. And if we can prevent them, we should. But when these are the numbers for a country under what is considered some of the greatest threats of terrorism, and still its terrorism casualties pale in comparison with its traffic casualties... do we really want to pay the price by implementing ridiculous anti-terror laws in a place where it's much safer, and where thus this gap is much, much bigger, like Canada?

I mean, let's look at Canada. Does anyone know some stats on e.g. loss of life due to terror attacks in Canada for say the past 10 years? I know more than 2.000 people die in traffic every year. I can hardly find any substantial casualties in Canadian terrorism history.

I'm familiar with a few shootings where one or two people died. Regular homicide numbers (or e.g. traffic casualties) humble the stats. I remember in the 80s, 30 years ago now, a plane was bombed, not in Canada, over Irish airspace, but it had departed from Montreal so you could call it terrorism in Canada in a way. But that was by a Sikh group who wanted to target India (India Airways airplane going to India) rather than Canada, so you could also argue it was terrorism concerning India. That was horrible in any case, over 300 people died. Other than that, it's been small-time as far as I know. A few (fire) bombings without casualties, some marxist attacks, a soldier attacking members of a political party. In fact I think the worst one (after the aircraft) was an American soldier who killed 3 people.

Now of course I appreciate these casualties ought to stay insignificant. The fact terrorism barely registers in stats in most OECD countries is a great thing, and I agree we should keep it that way. But at what cost? We don't ban alcohol or driving either, when they're our biggest threats. We don't shut down factories when global warming will, at current pace, kill billions of future people. I'm completely for fighting terrorism, but I also believe the tools we employ have to be proportional. And this NSA type stuff, surveillance without oversight, detaining without a charge, none of that is proportional and it doesn't seem necessary, either. We have yet to hear of major terror attacks that such programs prevented. Yet government is all too willing to give up a great piece of modern society, a piece that makes these countries great to live in.

Anyway that's just my two cents. Apologies for what is obviously a silly comparison (traffic & terrorism casualties), and yes I appreciate terrorism is more than a casualty number. But I'm trying to show here that our legislative response is out of proportion and I hope people see that.

C-51 is not predicated on evidence. It's predicated on fear, and that fear is based on media and political coverage, not silly things like numbers and facts. For C-51 they really strongly played up a "terrorist" attack on the Canadian Parliament that resulted in a single military casualty and a subsequent shootout. This single incident has been played up almost like some kind of Canadian 9/11 attack - but the reality of it is a lot less interesting - just some disillusioned youth with a gun that got up close to an unarmed solider, then got stopped by trained security forces.

This is all fine and good, but rising surveillance and propaganda legislation was never and will never be about terrorism. Civilians don't understand that globalization and hybrid warfare require extreme technical capabilities that amount to a sort of cyber cold war.

> omfg... can we please have a body count in western countries proposing these laws.

US agencies will tell you that surveillance has totally saved thousands and thousands of lives, but you'll have to take their word for it because the actual incidents are all top secret.

While I generally agree with the gist of your things, neither body count nor Israel is a good subject in any of these discussions.

Would you say polio vaccines in e.g. Canada are useless because there are zero polio cases in Canada and have been for years?

The main claim of governments while making those rules is (generally) the same one behind vaccinations: "If we didn't spend all that money / curtail all that freedom / record all that communications - there would have been many casualties", and it is this argument that should be addressed.

According to [0], The NSA was unable to point at a single success. If they did have any, it is too sensitive to share, or they would have paraded it already - but either way, the count is surely ridiculously small for the price paid. AFAIK, Canadian and British intelligence has equally abysmal [public] record.

But Israel is different:

> For example, Israeli civilian deaths from any mortar attack from Gaza (let's assume 100% terrorism) in the past 14 years? 30.

This is the wrong number to look at, but let's look at it anyway, because the discussion is relevant:

The reason this count is so low is because Israel has spent so much effort making it that low, continuously since inception. e.g. Israeli building code requires a bomb shelter as part of every single building (older code), a bomb proof core (last 25 years) and additionally public bomb shelters; That's been going on for 70 years now. The most recent "Iron Dome" system uses $50,000-$100,000 rockets to target $500-$1,000 incoming rockets (each with rather small potential - say, to kill 10 people -- but of which there were 5,000-10,000 launched at Israel over 2014)

What would the death toll have been if Israel did not have these measures in place? Arguably 10-50 times higher; this is much less of a hypothetical discussion as the rockets were actually launched. But that's irrelevant to the C-51 discussion, I think; what is relevant is that when Israelis discuss these matters, they tend do disagree on their cost-benefit estimation (It cost us this-and-this-liberty, but it saved us this-many-lives, but it cost the palestinians that-many-lives and thus our humanity, but ....) and many actually object to e.g. Iron Dome. But there's mostly factual data to consider and debate. That is missing from the debate in other countries.

The number that does matter in this kind of discussion, I think is from [1] - which is over 600 casualties between 2000 to 2014. Israel actually had a serious suicide bombing problem back in the early 2000s, averaging about one deadly attack per week. It was, effectively, solved by 2006, and you are welcome to reach your own conclusion about how this was solved (HN is probably the wrong place for this discussion ....). However, I will say this: I'm not familiar with anyone who claims that this was solved by eroding the rights and privacy of the Israeli public -- which for some reason appears to be the preferred solution in just about every country (would probably have been in Israel as well if there was anything left to erode ...)

It's almost as if all those domestic spying bills actually have more sinister objectives. But we should all trust our governments to do the right things. /s

[0] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/08/nsa-bul...

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_suicide_att...

Generally agree with your points.

On the Iron Dome, it was launched in 2011. Interestingly, in the 10 years before, 17 people died from rocket attacks from Gaza. It's often used to explain the death toll difference between Israel and Palestine (not something either of us mentioned) when it really was a relatively minor factor in casualties before and after the dome. In fact, rocket attacks have always been a relatively minor factor in casualties (despite being of course outright frightening to live in a place where every year you find yourself in a bomb shelter at some point). So I'm not sure that 10-50x higher is very probable although it'd definitely be more.

I agree about the biggest threat being solved around 2006, the separation wall is highly controversial (and I oppose it, in general), but it's been absolutely effective and its benefit is as visible as its cost (unlike many anti-terror laws whose benefits are much more vague).

> I'm not familiar with anyone who claims that this was solved by eroding the rights and privacy of the Israeli public -- which for some reason appears to be the preferred solution in just about every country

Agreed. Although here in the Netherlands our carriers recently stopped saving telephone records on everyone after it appeared the judge said this wasn't necessary anymore, which really surprised everyone haha. Wasn't a Dutch thing btw, the European court of justice ruled the telecommunications retention law invalid. There's some good things happening here and there.

If somebody wants to dig more into Bill C-51, Michael Geist has written a few in-depth articles about the subject:


Essentially a Canadian version of the Patriot Act.

It gives our spy agencies additional powers to spy on Canadians. Think various sections of the USAPATRIOT Act.

It's a bill that, among other things, legalizes the illegal activities government agencies have been engaging in for years.

When people say something like this, what most would take away is "oh, so I guess not much will change then...since they've already being doing that".

But it would be wrong to think like that. When the activity actually becomes legal, such actions will grow by orders of magnitude. Maybe they were already abusing their powers against many people - but if it gets legalized they will shamelessly abuse them against many more.

Indeed. Legal warantless surveillance is admissible in court, while the illegal kind is much less so. Not only will the use of surveillance grow, but so will the likely consequences of being surveilled.

But this is a good thing. It will show people that surveillance does come with consequences. Only then it might be opposed.

Here are some good criticisms on the bill as of the 2nd reading, from a prof at U of Ottawa: https://vimeo.com/120103590

I understand the reason the article is framed this way: "Suprise! Business interests are on the same side as privacy advocates on this issue!" But if the argument "this is bad for business" doesn't fly when someone wants to pollute, why is it a persuasive argument when the shoe is on the other foot and progressive interests are aligned with business interests?

The real reason this person doesn't support the C-51 is because it's nasty big brother crap. Don't minimize the real reason by saying "There's a grown-up reason I'm against the bill: it's bad for business". Privacy is valuable by itself, whether or not it's good or bad for business.

If a measure is bad for the economy, that's a negative point for the measure.

In the case of (many) environmental measures, the good outweighs the bad. It is bad for business, but on balance we think it's worth the cost.

There are many negative aspects to C51. The business community is qualified to weigh in with authority on the negative business implications. Highlighting these costs adds to other negative aspects (like, I dunno, descending into a police state) to hopefully move more people to think the cost isn't worth it in this case.

Many business people have other reasons for opposing C51, of course, but their voice as businesspeople carries more weight when talking about business. There's no contradiction between this and the environmental issue. Nor is it "more grown up" to claim that there's one and only one true reason to oppose the bill.

> But if the argument "this is bad for business" doesn't fly when someone wants to pollute

I think you'll find that it does, actually. As a country highly dependant on extracting primary resources, Canada's quite used to making tradeoffs between protecting the environment and making money.

Point taken. But I hope you'll agree that "it's bad for business" isn't a slam dunk argument even in Canada. Think about it this way: if the alignment were reversed, and this law was good for business, do you think anyone would try to fend off critics of C-51 by saying "But look how good for business it is!".

This asymmetry indicates the real reasons the law is good or bad lie elsewhere.

Many of the people who signed this letter probably believe that C-51 is bad for other, more fundamental reasons.

But since corrupt politicians are more likely to listen to money than moral qualms, Canadian businesses are using "this is bad for business" as a tool to pressure them to do what is right. In other words, this is just a political maneuver to add weight to the opposition's argument. It is a clever maneuver, since it turns the Conservatives' usual emphasis on economic growth on its head. It's not a slam dunk argument, either, but it slightly increases the probability that C-51 will fail.

Ideals are great, but in order to make a difference in the real messy world of politics, you often need to make temporary alliances with those who might have other motives. Even worse, you also sometimes need to manipulate bad people into unwittingly serving the greater good.

> Many of the people who signed this letter probably believe that C-51 is bad for other, more fundamental reasons.

This is basically the reason I signed this letter.

I had actually previously signed the regular citizen petition, but when OpenMedia approached me to sign this, I was on board — not just for my business but also personally.

Bill C-51 is a lowering of standards for what can be considered terrorism in Canada. It extends the power to our domestic security agency to arrest people who "may" commit terrorism rather than "will"--what that means is a open question. It also establishes more powers to quell "terrorist propaganda", including the cited website takedown powers.

It's much broader than that, "(f) interference with critical infrastructure;" which can be interpreted to mean First Nations protests that delay pipeline construction. I heard from a representative of the BC Civil Liberties Association that protestors have already been placed on no-fly lists.

It could also easily be interpreted to cover that kid accused of making too many connections to the Canadian tax agency's servers back when the heartbleed vulnerability was new.

Computer monkeying could suddenly be tarred as terrorism, in addition to criminal nonsense; it was already hyperbole - I don't even know where to begin on C-51.

This bill is idiotic. Some insane idiot goes and shoots up a building? Yeah, anti-terrorism laws will stop that! Harper is a disgrace to Canadians, and the immediate attention whoring he did after that little episode was embarrassing.

No laws, short of banning cars and inspecting everyone, everywhere, all the time, is gonna stop people from driving cars into things or sneaking in a gun and shooting people.

The only real antidote is to not have an abusive foreign policy like the US, and to educate people in rationality and stop treating mystical beliefs as something sacred. And even then, that isn't gonna really stop the really disconnected-from-reality folks.

As a Canadian, I'm once again saddened by how far this government is falling.

IIRC, much like the PATRIOT Act, Bill C-51 was around before the attack itself. The attack is just used as an excuse to muster the political backing to push it through.

So far the recently passed Australian mass surveillance law was the most shameless/obvious power grab. But this Canadian one comes pretty close.

It's pretty clear it's a coordinated effort between not just the 5 Eyes, but the 14 Eyes and even beyond that. Many countries are trying to push for such laws now to "normalize" mass surveillance and make it a defacto "right" of governments around the world.

When you take a step back and think about it, it's even worse than having elected "governments" come up with this and try to push it. It's actually the non-elected secret spy agencies who are pushing for this in a very undemocratic way, as swiftly as possible, with no debate. Or if there has to be one they call something like this as the "balance" between privacy and (national) security. Taking away the rights you've already enjoyed for decades and have allowed the society to thrive in a democracy = balance.

Admittedly, given the technology those secret spy agencies have, the people making policy decisions in each country are in kind of a weird place: every country but their own has a thorough picture of what their citizens are doing, and can use that information strategically against them.

It seems like the only two real Nash equilibria here are the unilateral ban of foreign surveillance, or the unilateral grant of domestic surveillance. Otherwise we're in an "only the criminals have guns" situation that's the worst of both.

To be fair it is not specific to Canada, USA and Australia does the same, also at some extent New Zealand started to walk to the wrong direction. I suspect some influence from US friends.


Apparently no country is responsible for its own actions, everything is the fault of the Americans. That attitude reinforces US power.

Of course a country is responsible for its own actions, but no country flouts American pressure lightly. Aligning a countries interest to America's is often the lesser of all calculated evils.

That may be true but absolving officials of responsibility only invites further transgressions.

US Power is the best interest of all of the above nations.

100% agreed.

The mind boggles that Harper is trying to push this through in the wake of the NSA scandal.

If the agency is doing something illegal, the obvious solution is to change the law so it's no longer illegal. Progress!

It is a shame to sit here and be able to watch Canada's demise, for when we pass these draconian laws that take away and restrict our freedoms, the terrorists that the government is trying to protect against, have won.

I've heard it said a thousand times, but it still bears repeating; terrorism is impossible to defend against.

I thought C-51 was defeated. Why is it back?

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