ICLMG: Pioneering Legal Change Through Small Organisations

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You know it is a challenge, but I think you know, even just videos like this one or finding ways to engage community discussion on these issues, creates more discussion and I think by that right also opens up new paths for you know employment and involvement.

My name is Tim McSorley. Yeah, I’m with the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

So, I started, I studied journalism at Concordia in Montreal originally and so I had always seen journalism as being a more kind of a social change kind of profession and so worked a lot in Independent Media. Through doing that work I just built up more knowledge and specific skills around particularly antiterrorism and National Security laws. That’s how I came to it to apply and was appointed to the job.

So ICLMG was founded in 2002 in the wake of the 911 attacks in the United States in September 2001 and at the time in Canada as you know and especially United States and around the world we saw a crackdown on civil liberties, on human rights, a massive increase in in racial profiling in Islamophobia and that included the Canadian government introducing the First Anti-Terrorism Act. That was introduced around October 2001 and was adopted and received Royal Ascent by December 2001, which is incredibly fast and unheard of basically for any piece of legislation especially for legislation of that size and complexity. And there was a recognition in Canada that while there were organizations looking at you know, defending human rights and civil liberties, that there were no organizations or very few looking specifically at the impact of anti-terrorism laws on civil liberties and human rights organizations, not just in Canada but internationally, kind of saw the writing on the wall that very quickly National Security and anti-terrorism legislation was being adopted and policies brought in and an incredible increase in islamophobia and racial profiling and a crackdown on basic civil liberties and human rights. And so, about a dozen organizations at first and growing to probably around 20, came together to form this coalition to serve as a watchdog group to be able to track and monitor. It’s often you know rooted in the Muslim Community in Canada because they’ve both been the most severely impacted by these laws but also other racialized communities, indigenous communities have felt the brunt of laws adopted ostensibly to combat terrorism but then used instead to undermine and criminalize land defenders and people engaging in land defense and Indigenous protections.

Part of it is staying on top of news stories and what we can learn about the impacts of countered terrorism legislation, National Security legislation. Part of it is staying in contact with communities who are impacted. We also pay attention to and try to work as closely as we can with review agencies and oversight bodies so the Privacy Commissioner’s Office, the newly founded National Security intelligence review agency, and also with the agencies themselves and with MPS and public officials. You know I think another you know I mentioned news but working directly with journalists to know what it is that they’re covering and following up with them about the stories too. But especially coming out of the O’Connor inquiry into the rendition and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian who was renditioned to Syria and tortured there, There were clear recommendations coming out of that Commission in the mid 2000s around the need for an overarching National Security review body and we finally saw that come into effect in 2019 with the adoption of the National Security and intelligence Review Agency Act as part of Bill C-59. I think it’s not too much to say that without the consistent work of ICLMG and our partners, we would never have seen a review body like that actually come into come into place.

Artificial intelligence and developments of that sort are really changing the landscape, you know both very clearly in terms of what kind of threats are posed to the population in terms of cyber-attacks and things like that and things that can lead to you know even cyber warfare which is very concerning and needs to be addressed. It’s already been difficult enough to kind of keep track and keep up with what the powers are and what the tools are that they’re using and AI is simply you know expanding that at vast vast ranges and so that I think is going to be a major thing that’ll be grappled with over the next 5 years for sure; are the rapid technology advance and what it means for you know civil liberties and human rights and how do we use them in a way that protects people but also creates safeguards, bring them in, monitor them and not rush. So, what we’ve been seeing is a rush to adopt these kinds of tools without proper you know evaluation and safeguards and that’s something that you know is going to I think last for at least the next 5 years.

There’s a shift too where we’re grappling to learn about it and understand how it’s used, and I think a lot of organizations are going to be doing that as well. Whereas you know students who have used AI tools and understand it more naturally and are even you know discussing and debating these issues in their classes, I think that is going to be you know incredibly important in the next few years and I think provides a lot of opportunities to take those unorthodox and different kind of approaches to being involved in national security policy and legislation. I think that there are definitely options out there if you’re looking for them and willing to be a little bit creative.

Prior to 2001, Canada had no formal anti-terrorism laws. National security legislation consisted predominantly of the War Measures Act (since repealed), the Criminal Code, and National Defence legislation; though some more specific acts – such as the CSIS act, were in place at that time. On October 15th, 2001 – a little over a month following the 9/11 attacks – Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act, was introduced into the House of Commons. Less than three months later, on December 18th, 2001, the ATA, 2001 received royal assent to formally become law within Canada.

The ATA, 2001 modified a lot of Canada’s National Security law framework. This law modified not only the Criminal Code but also information legislation, notably the Security of Information Act, and the Canada Evidence Act.

Chief among the concerns with the adoption of this new legislation was the effect that it would have on marginalized communities. Organisations were created in order to protect the rights of these individuals. One such organization is the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG). This organisation groups together 45 partners directly touched by or working in National Security. Together, they advocate for more transparent National Security legislation which complies with the fundamental rights.

In 2019, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency was created. This review agency is responsible for the oversight of national security and intelligence activities by Canadian agencies – whether those activities be conducted in Canada or elsewhere. This major change in National Security law was not only the product of MPs and Lawyers, but also of small civil liberties associations such as ICLMG.

Interestingly, many of these organizations, while affecting law, are not law practices themselves. Thus, they invite us to think of the legal landscape as not being pure juridical, but as a field of interdisciplinary work to ensure a more level-headed approach to National Security law.

Through the personal journey of Tim McSorley, one of the two staff members at the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), law students explore the unconventional paths to involvement in national security. They highlight the often-overlooked contributors in this field and the impactful work they are doing to shape our collective futures.

This visual advocacy video was created by law students Gabriel Bichet, Robyn-Lee Hotte and Dada Mudobo as part of the Visual Advocacy/Law and Cinema course offered at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Civil Law Section.

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