Human Rights professor Dr. Christina Szurlej believes Canada’s national security framework needs to balance the right to privacy with other fundamental freedoms.

Szurlej, Endowed Chair in Human Rights at St. Thomas, focused on that message when she spoke to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security regarding the Security of Canada Information Act, which was introduced as part of the Anti-terrorism Act.

“Any restriction of human rights and freedoms entrenched in the Constitution must be proportionate,” Szurlej said. “Only two people have died from terrorism in Canada over the last decade. If the risk is so low, broad restriction of the rights of every Canadian is disproportionate.”

Szurlej noted exchanging human rights and civil liberties for national security won’t necessarily provide protection for the country, but if the government decides to limit privacy as a method of defense they need to consider the distinction between targeted surveillance and mass surveillance, proportionality, cost-effectiveness, and the overall value of these measures.

“It’s nearly impossible for national security officials to be able to adequately monitor and prioritize this information overload,” Szurlej said.

“Imagine being a security officer monitoring ten screens for suspicious activity in aisles where theft is known to occur. Now imagine ten screens become one hundred. You may miss signs of crime, because your energy and resources are not focused where risk is greatest.”

In the event the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act is amended and not retracted, Szurlej made a number of recommendations, including the need for a clear definition of activities that constitute a “threat to Canada,” the establishment of an Office of the National Security Advisor, the introduction of regulations to track what type of information has been shared, and the creation of a clear remedy for instances when information shared resulted in negative consequences for innocent individuals.

“With a low threshold under existing legislation, personal data can easily be shared between government agencies. We need to ask how this impacts protection from unreasonable searches and, by extension, the presumption of innocence,” Szurlej said.

“No one wins when the state fails to balance human rights and security.”

Dr. Christina Szurlej is teaching Introduction to Human Rights and International Human Rights during the winter semester at St. Thomas University.