Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2015). What Does C-51 Mean for Academic Freedom and Campus Free Speech?

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2015). What Does C-51 Mean for Academic Freedom and Campus Free Speech? CAUT Analysis of Bill C-51. Ottawa, ON, CAN: Canadian Association of University Teachers. Retrieved from

[Abstract …]

“… there are also specific concerns about the impact of the legislation on academic freedom and free speech on university and college campuses.” (p 2)

“Academic freedom includes the right to teach, research, publish, and express one’s opinions free from political and institutional censorship. Academic freedom allows universities and colleges to serve the common good of society through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge and understanding, and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students. Robust democracies require no less.” (p 3)

“The legislation would amend the Criminal Code to create an ambiguous and sweeping new offence of advocating or promoting terrorism offences in general. Given the broad scope of the proposed offence, academics may be unwittingly exposed to prosecutions.

“Bill C-51 expands security agencies’ power to share information, without proper oversight. Professors studying controversial topics could be subjected to surveillance and information sharing without their knowledge.

“The Bill expands the power of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to proactively disrupt undefined threats to the security of Canada. This could see academic staff prevented from publishing research or attending conferences overseas if CSIS determines, however broadly, there may be a security threat.” (p 3)

“… _terrorism offences_. … vaguely defined and broadly worded. It will have a chilling effect on free speech, academic freedom, advocacy, and protest as academics and others may avoid saying things in order to avoid prosecution.” (p 3)

[Reference to Forcese & Roach, 2015 …]

“Academics could easily run afoul of this offence. As Forcese and Roach have suggested, imagine that during a lecture at a university an academic says:

‘We should provide resources to Ukrainian insurgencies who are targeting Russian oil infrastructure, in an effort to increase the political cost of Russian intervention in Ukraine.’

“The academic knows that in the audience there are people who may be sending money to forces opposing Russian intervention. By knowing that some audience members may respond to the lecture by sending money to the insurgency, the academic’s actions may constitute the crime of promoting or advocating terrorism.” (p 3)

“Bill C-51 contains no public interest or educational defences. That is, academics could not claim that expressions captured by the new offence had a legitimate educational purpose. A professor leading a classroom debate about whether terrorism can be justified in some circumstances, such as during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, may not be certain he/she is protected from the reach of the new legislation.” (p 4)

[“Academic Freedom and the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act” …]

“It is already well established that the consequences of unaccountable information sharing can be devastating. The findings of both the O’Connor and Iacobucci Inquiries indisputably showed that inappropriate information sharing practices can lead to serious harm of citizens’ rights.” (p 4)

“The information sharing provisions of the Act are triggered when one engages in activities that undermines the security of Canada. The concept is very broad and threatens to curtail legitimate expressive activity,” (p 4)

“Lawful protest, advocacy, dissent and artistic expression are excluded. However, the exception of lawful dissent and protest is arguably of little use in protecting oneself from the Act. This is because lawful protest and dissent is limited to activities which do not contravene any law. As” (p 5)

“The FBI’s decision to rendition Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured was based on inaccurate information provided by the RCMP. Similarly, the detention and torture of Canadian citizens Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin by Syrian authorities was based on information shared by Canadian government officials with US and Syrian authorities.” (p 5)

“Section 2(i) of the Act captures activities that undermine the security of Canada and that undermine the security of another state. This would, for example, arguably include [page break] participants in a non-permit protest of the Chinese occupation of Tibet.” (p 5-6)

[“Expanded Powers for CSIS” …]

“There has been a long history of controversy concerning surveillance activities of Canadian security on university and college campuses.” (p 6)

“The term detrimental to the interests of Canada can be anything the government decides, including economic interests.” (p 6)

“The effect of the definition in the Bill is that completely lawful activity, such as publishing a study on bird habitat destruction, be covered by the current definition of threats. Lawful protest, advocacy, dissent and artistic expression engaged in conjunction with the activity set out in the trigger is also covered by the definition, thus further extending the reach of CSIS’s broad powers of interference.” (p 7)

[“Conclusion” …]

“In creating new offences or adding new powers for the security services, the legislation uses broad and vague language, making it more likely that legitimate expressive activities, including academic freedom, will be chilled, or worse, sanctioned.” (p 7)

“In the last decade, four Canadian citizens were detained and tortured for months by foreign governments as a result of poor information sharing procedures, overzealous and inept security services personnel, and lack of oversight and review of the security services. The recommendations made by the O’Connor, Iacobucci and Major Commissions have not been implemented by successive governments and, if passed, Bill C-51 will increase the powers of the security services without any action to address or correct past practices and procedures that resulted in the shocking violation of Canadians’ rights.” (p 7)

[“Appendix B” …]

[“Iacobucci Inquiry — October 2008” …]

“The sharing of information in three instances by Canadian officials indirectly resulted in Abou-Elmaati’s detention in Syria; Abou-Elmaati was mistreated and tortured during his detention in Syria and Egypt; and The actions of Canadian officials contributed to his mistreatment.” (p 10)

“It was possible that information shared by Canadian officials might have contributed to the Syrian authorities’ decision to detain Almalki; While in detention, Almalki was tortured and mistreated; The mistreatment experienced by Almalki resulted indirectly from the sharing of information by the RCMP in a database about Almalki with US agencies.” (p 10)

“The sharing of information by the RCMP and CSIS with US and other foreign agencies indirectly resulted in the Nureddin’s detention; Nureddin was tortured and mistreated during his detention; and The sharing of information by the RCMP and CSIS likely contributed to the mistreatment of Nureddin.” (p 10)

[“O’Connor Commission (Maher Arar) — September 2006” …]

“It is likely that the FBI’s decision to detain Arar in New York and to remove him to Syria was based on information provided by the RCMP; The information provided by the RCMP to the FBI portrayed Arar in a unfair and inaccurate way; and Arar was imprisoned in Syria for nearly a year where he was tortured.” (p 10)

Selected references

  • C. Forcese and K. Roach, Backgrounder #1: The New Advocating or Promoting Terrorism Offence, (February 3, 2015), p.15, Available at
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