Bill C-51

So what’s the big mystery about the cameras that raw-milk advocate Michael Schmidt found along the roadway north and south of his farm near Durham?

Schmidt was – maybe still is – obviously under surveillance. At first blush it’s tempting to say that for him to suggest it might have something to do with someone tracking children on their way home from school and all that entails is ridiculous. Surely he knows what it’s about, and that it was only a matter of time before some investigative office of the Province of Ontario started building another case against him.

But maybe Schmidt doesn’t know who’s watching him, spying on him, one might say. Maybe nobody knows, outside of the government agency involved, of course, who’s spying on you, and me too, for that matter.

Even as I went on-line to do some research for this column, about the possibility Canada’s new and still controversial, anti-terrorist legislation, Bill C-51, could generate just that sort of surveillance, I wondered who might be watching, tracking, and sharing my internet explorations with various other government agencies.

Sounds pretty, well, paranoid, doesn’t it? Yet, that’s just the sort of thing the many critics of Bill C-51 have warned could happen, especially in the wrong hands, and especially with the lack of accountable, watchdog oversight, even behind closed doors.

That’s just the way a civilized, democratic society can gradually turn into a police state, slowly, bit by bit, incrementally, until one day you wake up and wonder how it happened.

It happening because not enough people are paying attention.

I know I wasn’t, not enough anyway, until I heard about those cameras Michael Schmidt found on the roadside near his farm in late July. He spotted the first one from a field when he was cutting hay. He found the other one two days later. He took a closer look, went on-line to see what he could find and identified them as sophisticated surveillance cameras, two of them, one to the north and one to the south of his farm gate.

Rightly or wrongly, he took them down and gave them to his lawyer to hold and return to whoever put them there. He called the local West Grey Police Service about them. Police Chief Rene Berger issued a brief statement earlier this week that said, “the West Grey Police Service have identified the owner of these cameras and can assure the public that these cameras were not used for any criminal activity.” But the Chief declined, through an employee, to discuss the matter further when The Sun Times called.

That response actually speaks volumes, virtually confirming they are legal, surveillance cameras, with Schmidt the obvious target because of their location.

He’s looking for an explanation. He wants to know who’s watching him? So would I if I were in his shoes, or on his tractor.

Among the outstanding questions that remain is who’s doing the watching. And if not the Ontario government, gathering evidence for possibly more charges that Schmidt is still allegedly marketing unpasteurized milk, then what agency of what other investigative or information gathering agency?

I am not one who gets too carried away with conspiracy theories. I don’t think the 9-11 attacks were an inside job. I do believe there was a high-level conspiracy to assassinate JFK.

And I do think it’s possible the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is using the new powers Bill C-51 gave it to spy on Michael Schmidt and maybe a lot of other people who look even marginally like they might be a threat to the security of Canada. Think of it like some kind of new, federal government-sanctioned open season for surveillance.

Bill C-51 amends the Canadian Service Intelligence Service Act, to give CSIS the power to “take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat” if there are “reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada.”

Bill C-51 came into force after receiving royal assent on June 18, 2015. It was passed in Parliament by the Conservative majority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, supported in the House of Commons by the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, of all things. What a disappointment, by the way.

The SD cards in the cameras indicate they were installed minutes apart in the early morning hours of July 14. Schmidt found them on July 25 and 27.

Bill C-51 was approved despite strong opposition from despite sustained and vocal opposition from privacy, law and civil rights experts.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) have filed a court challenge, arguing Bill C-51 violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “in a manner that is not justified in a free and democratic society.”

Michael Schmidt may be a lot of things – a hero to some, but not everyone. But is he a terrorist?

Am I, are you, if you criticize the Harper government?

Michael Schmidt may be one of the first examples of what we can expect to see much more of as a result of Bill C-51. It does indeed cast a very wide net and is wide open to misuse and abuse. It should be a major issue in the current federal election campaign.

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