Recently, I received an email from the Secretary of the House of Commons Committee on National Security and Public Safety. It included an invitation to provide testimony outlining my concerns regarding Bill C-51.
Although I had a thousand changes of heart between initially accepting that invitation and actually delivering my testimony this afternoon, I am grateful to have had such an opportunity. It is so rare for the people on the front lines to have a voice in these processes.
Much of my testimony related to transparency and accountability. For that reason, I’d like to share my speaking notes with you. If you track down the transcript from the committee meeting which includes the cross-examination, you’ll find that somehow, in hearings about terrorism and national security, I found myself talking about love.
Thank you to every single one of you who walks beside me in the work we do on the ground. I believe it is good work done with a good heart. Remembering the strength of the community that surrounds me gave me bravery I didn’t feel in my bones until I thought of all of you.
Jessie Housty, Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
March 26, 2015
I’d like to thank the Committee for the invitation to speak today.
My name is Jessie Housty. I am a First Nations woman from the Heiltsuk Nation, who come from the outer coast of British Columbia. The geography of my homeland is part of the Western Canada’s frontline of activism in response to multiple forms of resource extraction.
I serve my people as an elected councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council. However, I do not come here today to speak to you as a councillor or on behalf of the Heiltsuk Nation. I speak to you today on my own behalf.
I am an activist. I am a story teller. I am a community organizer. My work, at its core, is grounded in a desire to protect our lands, waters, and cultural practices for my generation and for future generations. I come to you today from that place.
In my work and under current laws and regulations, I have witnessed the extent to which First Nations people asserting their sovereignty are already labeled as radicals and agitators. In speaking to you today, I intend to share some specific concerns around the further implications Bill C-51 may have for Indigenous nation-building.
In summary, I am concerned about the Bill’s expansion of state power to place people under surveillance to monitor every day activities. I have concerns that this Bill will authorize criminalization of activities involved in advancing and protecting our rights and title, indigenous dissent and activism, and more broadly, democratic activities that are based on a goal to protect and improve our environment for our generation and for future generations. I am also concerned that this will give CSIS powers to act physically to disrupt the peaceful protests that form a strong part of the foundation of our attempts to uphold our rights, interests, and sovereignty as First Nations people.
Before I begin my own comments, I would like to acknowledge and adopt the testimony of several witnesses who have spoken before me. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the advocacy and testimony of National Chief Perry Bellegarde on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and Dr. Pam Palmater. They have spoken aptly to many concerns of First Nations people and I echo their issues with the proposed Bill.
I will now briefly speak to two specific concerns about the proposed Bill.
- Proposed Security of Canada Information Sharing Act
It is my opinion that this should not be enacted.
Other witnesses, including Professors Roach and Forcese, have spoken at length about issues with this proposed Act, so I intend to keep my comments brief.
The stated purpose of the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act is to “encourage and facilitate information sharing between Government of Canada institutions in order to protect Canada against activities that undermine the security of Canada.” The language in the Act is very broad and subjective, and I am concerned it will result in unnecessarily classifying certain activities as terrorist in nature.
Unfettered access to information – and the ability to share it widely (to any person, for any purpose) – is dangerous and fundamentally disturbing. Upholding ideals that are not considered to be in the national interest – ideals like First Nations rights and sovereignty – may, under Bill C-51, open individuals to harassment and persecution with little ability to answer to the information being collected and shared about them. I am concerned that this may result in a chill on non-violent and direct action – the very action my community utilizes to mobilize support for acknowledgement of our rights and interests.
Protests and demonstrations have often been a key element of First Nations efforts to assert sovereignty and uphold rights, in keeping with widespread cultural values around business being conducted in a public and inclusive way. Fear of legitimate action being caught in the wide net of this proposed Bill has the effect of repressing an important expression of nation-building efforts by First Nations people.
I have heard Ms. Roxanne James explain to some witnesses that the exemption for lawful protests must be read with the rest of the section, and that the activities must be those that undermine the security of Canada. I am concerned that this is too subjective, as, if the cause being put forward is not supported by the government of the day, it may be labeled as an activity that undermines the security of Canada. My concerns are not allayed by the present wording of the Bill.
- Additional CSIS Powers
Bill C-51 proposes troubling amendments to the CSIS Act, permitting CSIS, if it has “reasonable grounds to believe” that an activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, to “take measures within or outside Canada to reduce the threat.”
With these changes, democratic protest movements with tactics that do not square in every way with even municipal law will not have the benefit of exclusion for lawful protests, may be the subject of CSIS investigation, and may even be subject to CSIS disruption. I am troubled by the trend of the scope of lawful protest becoming increasingly narrowed, with powers of physical enforcement being expanded to CSIS with even less accountability and oversight than we see at present.
I am specifically concerned that the new powers contemplated to be granted to CSIS will allow CSIS to potentially disrupt peaceful First Nations protest movements for recognition of our rights and title.
I echo Dr. Palmater’s concerns that any expression of First Nations sovereignty is at risk of being construed as a threat to national security insofar as it is inherently a threat to Canada’s sovereignty.
As a First Nations woman, I am guided first and foremost by Heiltsuk law, and at the foundation of Heiltsuk law is the principle that all business is carried out in a public and transparent way. My concern is that peaceful protest movements around rights and title may now be captured as a security issue, and addressed in with little oversight behind closed doors – at odds with the way that I organize, the way my people carry themselves, and the way my laws are carried out.
This is especially frustrating given the intent and foundation of our practices and the laws of our ancestors, which strive to be peaceful and non-violent. If there was more understanding of our traditional First Nations laws and values, I believe there would be less suspicion of us and less concern about violence.
In summary, my view is that this Bill represents a real threat to the tool-box indigenous peoples rely on for advancing our rights and title. For that reason, as well as the many others that other witnesses have so capably spoken to, it is my opinion the Bill should not be enacted.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today and I look forward to your questions.