AFN chief wants C-51 scrapped, fears bill will brand First Nations people as terrorists

LauraBeaulne
ca-news-canada-politics
AFN chief wants C-51 scrapped, fears bill will brand First Nations people as terrorists

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations says aboriginals in Canada are worried that the Tories’ proposed anti-terror legislation will brand them as terrorists.

AFN chief Perry Bellegarde appeared before the House of Commons national security committee Thursday morning and raised a number of concerns over Bill C-51.

He said that First Nations people in Canada have a long history of dealing with laws that threaten their rights. Bellegarde made a recommendation that the bill be scrapped, and rewritten with proper consultation of First Nations people.

“The key issues at stake in Bill C-51 are the state’s power to place individuals or groups under surveillance, to monitor their everyday activities, to create criminal offenses that affect our ability to exercise our legally recognized rights, and the overall relationship of state power to fundamental human and indigenous rights,” Bellegarde said.

“First Nations people are often forced to take a stand against actions or initiatives by governments that refuse to respect or protect our rights, “ he continued.

“These activities are often deemed ‘protests’ when in fact we are only calling on Canada to obey its own laws, which include the recognition and affirmation of inherent aboriginal rights and treaties in Canada’s own constitution.”

A number of reports over the past few years have detailed how Canada’s spy agency keeps tabs on First Nations-organized protests.

The Canadian Securities Intelligence Service (CSIS) paid close attention to the Idle No More protests at the end of 2013. As reported in the National Post last year, documents revealed CSIS was preparing for the possibility of the protests escalating.

“We have been subjects of surveillance and suspicion, and seen as a threat for as long as this country has existed. Why? Because our cultures, values and laws place a priority on protecting the lands and waters, they place primacy on sharing and sustainability,” Bellegarde told the committee.

“This generation is not going to forsake our ability to protect our lands and territories and rights that has ensured our survival,” he said.

The bill’s proposed extensions of CSIS’s powers aren’t meant to apply to lawful advocacy and protest, but other organizations such as Amnesty International, have raised concerns about its impacts.

Amnesty International’s secretary general Alex Neve worries that powers given to CSIS could be used against activists who may be protesting without an official permit.

“It is absolutely vital that terrorist threats be addressed through measures that are in keeping with international human rights obligations,” Neve said earlier this week.

The anti-terror bill was introduced after attacks on two soldiers on Canadian soil. Despite growing dissent, the government maintains the bill is necessary — and will be effective — in keeping Canadians safe against terrorist activities.