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Don’t rush committee study of foreign interference bill, civil society groups urge

OTTAWA — Ten civil society organizations are warning that the unusually swift parliamentary study of a bill to counter foreign interference could result in flawed laws that violate people’s rights.

In a letter today to MPs on the House of Commons national security committee, the groups express “deep concerns” that MPs plan to soon wrap up hearings on Bill C-70 after only about a week.

The committee could begin clause-by-clause consideration of the legislation early next week.

The bill tabled in the House early last month includes a host of measures to deter, investigate and punish foreign interference.

It would introduce new criminal provisions against deceptive or surreptitious acts, allow for the broader sharing of sensitive information and establish a foreign influence transparency registry.

The letter says a rushed process for a bill of such scope will undermine the ability to hold a full and meaningful study, risking adoption of laws that will violate Charter-protected rights and freedoms.

The letter is signed by Amnesty International’s Canadian section, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and Ligue des droits et libertés, among others.

“We recognize the importance of addressing harassment, threats and violence against people, including when enacted by foreign governments in order to repress the exercise of fundamental rights or engagement in democratic processes,” the letter says.

“However, the changes proposed by this legislation go much further. If adopted, this bill will bring extensive changes to Canada’s national security, intelligence and criminal justice systems, in addition to creating a foreign influence registry of considerable, albeit uncertain, scope.”

As a consequence, the bill will have significant effects on the lives and fundamental rights of people in Canada, including risks of increased surveillance, diminished privacy, and limits on freedom of expression and association, the letter adds.

“The result is that organizations and individuals who would have requested to appear, or would have submitted written briefs, will be unable to on such short timelines. Developing specific amendments to suggest by this Friday’s deadline is nearly impossible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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