Being Arrested Under C-51

Now that Bill C-51 has passed, many Canadians seem to be nervous in wondering how their actions might or could be misconstrued to be some sort of threat. Under Bill C-51, Canadians can now be detained if they are found to be advocating or promoting “terrorism offenses in general.” The wording of the bill is quite vague, and for this reason many legal experts have raised alarm over Bill C-51 and the risks that it poses. When it comes to speaking privately or online, if you are found to be discussing solutions to conflicts or debating an academic opinion that may cause a listener to commit a terrorist offense, this qualifies as an indictable offense and carries a punishment of five years in prison. 


The big worry with Bill C-51 is that the speaker's purpose and intentions no longer matter and aren't required. Hypothetically, someone could be swept-up under the scope of this bill even though they might have had completely innocent intentions and were never planning on committing any acts of violence themselves. Under Bill C-51, the speaker is liable if they are found to be reckless in that their words or message might risk that a listener could potentially or may thereafter “commit an unspecified terrorism offense.” 


When it comes to “promoting” and “advocating,” we see that the Canadian Criminal Code already contains a prohibition on the “willful promotion of hatred” in Sec. 319. It affirms that those who are found to be communicating in any public space, who are “willfully promoting hatred against any identifiable group,” are then guilty of an indictable offense and could receive up to two years in prison. However, according to the Code with regard to cases of inciting hatred, if the statements communicated are true, then the person cannot be convicted under the offense. One might also have a defense if they are able to prove that their statements were relevant to public interest or made for the benefit of the public. 


The new rules now under Bill C-51, allow for the private communications of Canadians to also fall under scrutiny for their potential to lead to danger or violence. Bill C-51 extends criminal culpability beyond the speaker of the message, and now one must more seriously worry about how their words could be construed by others who might come across them. Not only can a writer be held responsible, but also the editor, publisher, and any others involved with the publication who could be construed as “aiding and abetting” the act. This controversial anti-terror legislation, which has been broadly criticized by many legal professionals including the Canadian Bar Association, has crafted an atmosphere of fear in Canada. Citizens are now unsure of what they can say online, what articles they can share, should they like certain videos or pages?  


Under C-51, internet service providers and telecommunication providers will be required to remove any content that a judge considers to be “terrorist propaganda” or anything that makes “terrorist propaganda” available. Even those who are sharing “terrorist material” to condemn the actions in it, they are still putting themselves at risk. 


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Tags: canada, c51, bill c51, c-51
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