Tech founder puts up cash to put the brakes to Bill C-51
Protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, during a day of action against Bill C-51, on April 18, 2015. (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press)
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 14, 2015 5:03PM EDT
TORONTO -- A Vancouver-based entrepreneur who has earmarked $1 million of his own fortune to combating the Harper government's controversial anti-terrorism bill said the laws dredge up unsettling memories of the totalitarian regime he fled as a child.
Frederick Ghahramani said the sweeping surveillance measures contained in Bill C-51 undermine some of the central Canadian principles that prompted his family to relocate from Iran in 1985.
A desire to uphold those values, coupled with concern for the bill's effect on the Canadian economy, have prompted him to offer financial support to organizations intent on overturning the bill.
Ghahramani has already contributed $100,000 to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and OpenMedia, adding he plans to determine how best to spend the remaining $900,000 after Monday's general election.
The bill has garnered minimal discussion during the 11-week campaign, he said, adding that it was this lack of dialog that prompted him to stand up for what he sees as core Canadian values.
He recalled a childhood of frequent admonitions to watch what he said on the phone for fear of someone listening in, and said life in Canada offered an escape from such thinking. Newcomers to the country today, he said, may not find the same respite.
"I find it really sadly ironic that we have Syrian refugees that are running away from a horrible country that treats them horribly, listens in to everything that they do and watches them 100 per cent of the time arriving in Canada at a time when we're eliminating those very same rights that make us existentially Canadian," Ghahramani said in a telephone interview.
"It just feels like I've woken up in North Korea and our dear leader has eliminated our rights to think and speak and write and do business in private without government oversight."
The legislation, which went into effect in May with support from both the Conservatives and Liberals, gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more power to thwart suspected terrorist plots -- not just gather information about them.
It also increases the exchange of federal security information, broadens no-fly list powers and creates a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorist attack.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has said the legislation is required to keep Canadians safe from jihadi-inspired attacks, while a raft of opponents from Amnesty International to the United Nations have decried the bill as a fundamental breach of privacy rights.
One of the loudest complaints about the bill is that it lacks additional oversight of intelligence services to prevent possible excesses. The government says no new mechanisms or bodies are needed beyond what already exists and insists the laws respect Canadians' rights.
Ghahramani begs to differ, particularly with regard to the country's business leaders.
"I really want every CEO in Canada to think about the fact that when they have insider information, private sales accounts, private customer information, things that the market can't yet know, the government will now have that information," he said. "Really this legislation is extremely damaging for Canadian business, and that will cost us a lot more than just a million dollars."
Ghahramani, whose business experience came about over 15 years of launching and investing in telecom and software startups, said he's deeply troubled by the notion that personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets, could theoretically be used as information gathering tools by a government body with powers to disrupt what it perceives to be threatening activities.
He said the issue has caused him to rethink his usual political priorities, which typically have skewed towards platforms that support the low taxes and minimal government intervention he favours. This time he is casting his support behind the NDP, the only party that refused to back Bill C-51 in the House of Commons and has vowed to repeal it if elected.
The Liberal pledge to revisit the legislation with the aim of introducing oversights, he said, doesn't ease his concerns.
"If I was to tell you that we're going to put a camera in your bedroom, the conversation we'd be having is not, 'well, who gets to see the videos," it's, 'why is there a bloody camera in my bedroom?'"