BCCLA barred from talking about secret spy hearings

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The BC Civil Liberties Association says it has been barred from saying anything about testimony at a secret hearing in Vancouver looking into whether or not Canadians were illegally spied upon by CSIS.

It filed a complaint with the Security Intelligence Review Committee, claiming CSIS agents unlawfully gathered information on community groups opposed to the Northern Gateway Project.

“I testified yesterday at that committee and I have been directed that I’m not allowed to say anything about what I said inside that committee,” said Josh Paterson, executive director of the BCCLA, who is even restricted in what he can tell his clients.

The Dogwood Initiative is one of the groups testifying before the committee and executive director Will Horter calls the proceedings “Kafka-esque.”

“This whole overlying issue is whether or not freedom of expression is constitutionally protected and the role of government in relation to that. And now the process meant to bring that to light — to say whether our concerns about that are valid — is actually gagged.”

Horter says calls the apparent surveillance on members of his group and others an “attack on democracy, the freedom of expression and the freedom of association.”

Terry Dance-Bennink is a volunteer with the Dogwood Initiative. Speaking at a news conference outside the Vancouver Art gallery this morning she told reporters she has a tough time getting some people to sign petitions now because they’re afraid they might end up on the radar of CSIS.

“I’m old enough to remember the War Measures Act,” says the 67-year-old. “I think we are on that slippery slope now where our current government is denying and taking away our constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly.”

Another of the group’s directors says her laptop was taken by the RCMP while her back was turned at an anti-pipeline meeting on Vancouver Island. She claims she found officers going through her Facebook page before they returned it.

Before testifying at the hearing this morning, she was asked what they might be looking for. “I don’t know,” she laughed. “My life is pretty normal. I don’t think there is anything juicy they would find other than a lot of pictures of my dog.”

The BCCLA’s Policy Director Micheal Vonn says they filed the complaint that led to the hearing because “Canadians should be able to participate in democracy without being spied on.”

She worries Bill C-51 has given spies even more power, including the ability to violate the constitution.

The media and public are barred from attending the hearings.

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