Government Must Rebuild Trust with Canadian Muslims on National Security
By Ihsaan Gardee
The Hill Times | June 11, 2018
Once bitten, twice shy. That’s the sense within Canadian Muslim communities when it comes to the Liberal government’s proposed overhaul of national security law under Bill C-59.
The legislation was back before the House last week after examination by the Public Safety and National Security Committee.
Let’s not forget where this first started. Under the previous government, Canadian anti-terrorism laws quickly morphed into overreaching and draconian policies. This was coupled with Muslim communities facing jarring public scrutiny and increasing Islamophobia.
Back then, despite efforts from Canadian Muslims to establish robust partnerships on national security, the government’s response was to smear them as a threat to Canada. The result: trust between Canadian Muslims and the government agencies tasked with protecting us all evaporated after years of work.
The days when the loyalty of Canadian Muslims was being questioned by government officials seem behind us—for now. But that is no standard by which to measure meaningful change.
That very public show of Islamophobic discourse by government overshadowed something even more alarming—the permeating of systemic bias and discrimination against Muslims by and in our security agencies.
In the past several months alone, we have seen sweeping allegations by CSIS employees about racism and Islamophobia within the service and new data that suggests the CBSA disproportionately targets non-whites, particularly those from the Middle East.
These accounts, along with the direct reports regularly received by our organization, only amplify concerns about what Canadian Muslims have been experiencing for years.
To be fair, Bill C-59 does make important, long-overdue improvements to previous laws, including better and more focused review powers and mechanisms as well as some stricter directives to prevent complicity with torture by foreign powers.
Last December, our organization told the House Public Safety Committee that redress and review were only a partial solution to the problems plaguing Canada’s national security system. Real reform of security work is necessary to address systemic bias and discrimination.
As outlined by experts and civil society, there are several concerning elements in Bill C-59; however, two key issues have recently come to the fore.
First, the government has not substantially reined back the contentious disruption powers given to CSIS—an agency that we know through public inquiries has targeted Muslims with little to no accountability for their actions. There must be a concerted effort by government to confront the systemic bias in the way CSIS approaches and resources its intelligence work. Until real change occurs, these powers which remain unproven in their effectiveness are only an invitation to more abuse and scandal.
Second, the lack of due process in the Passenger Protect Program—Canada’s No Fly List—continues. This has been one of the most troubling instruments of state power for over a decade. There are no reported cases of Canadians successfully getting off the list through the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office which was created in 2016. Families impacted by the list say the inquiries office has been of little to no use. Although recently funding has been earmarked for a new redress system to remove false flagging, how and why Canadians find themselves on this draconian list in the first place remains unanswered.
As we look ahead, the aegis of this legislation does not engender the kind of trust from communities that is needed.
Incidentally, Public Safety Canada’s recently launched Canada Centre for Community Engagement and the Prevention of Violence is pledging a strategy that “reflects the realities faced by Canada’s diverse communities.” Canadian Muslims are closely watching whether this initiative is yet another exercise in falsely framing national security as the “Muslim problem” or whether policymaking will finally take into account the growing threat of far-right extremism in Canada.
In other words, rebuilding trust with our communities cannot be achieved through roundtables and focus groups.
It has been more than a decade since the Arar Inquiry report first outlined some of the protracted problems within our country’s security apparatus. Through the haze of political haste, 12 years later Canadian Muslims are still seeking the partnership with government that ends their national security stigmatization.
Ihsaan Gardee is executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).