Tag Archives: CSIS

Fear and loathing in prime time

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Canada, I sometimes worry, has become a bad sitcom in the American style – its elected leaders more interested in their Ward Cleaver-cum-Richie Cunningham vacuities than in their duties to office in what was once a great and global democracy of truly nourishing values.

Shall we now “Leave it to Beaver” in the evermore of “Happy Days”?

Pierre Blais, a former federal Tory minister of public safety, thinks that’s just fine if it means expanding the Government of Canada’s power to spy on its own citizens. In a “loose-lips-sinks-ships” sort of polemic, the new honcho of nation’s Security Intelligence Review Committee told the Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview last week, “Terrorists, they don’t have borders. When they decide to put a bomb somewhere – the railroad or in Parliament – they don’t care. They just do it. Governments have to adapt to that with their legislation.”

In fact, he assured his interviewers, “We know that CSIS sometimes has to be more intrusive. And I think the Canadian population accepts that.”

In the same Globe piece, the country’s spymaster, Michel Coulombe was explicit: “It could go into disrupting a financial transaction done through the Internet, disabling a mobile device. . .and tampering with equipment.”

Still, who watches the watchdogs? What, exactly, justifies the Conservative government’s new Bill C-51 and all of its paranoiac rhetoric, except, perhaps, a heartfelt determination to pitch the body politic back into a 21st-century version of Cold War mania?

Are we, in this country, so threatened by enemies both domestic and foreign that we are willing to succumb? Have we finally filled that prime-time slot of fear and loathing in our own lives that we once assuaged with frequent viewings of the “Beaver”, “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Love Boat”, “Lost” and, more recently and perniciously, the poverty-porn of reality TV?

If Mr. Blais is correct (and I suspect that he is in more ways that even he appreciates), we have become willing supplicants to an exaggerated tale of woe and wobbly logic in this fine land of ours.

Fact: Violent crime rates hover at a 40-year low; in fact, it’s safer to be alive in Canada now than it was when I was a teenager growing up in Halifax.

Fact: Gun-play across the nation is down, as are break-and-enters and physical assaults.

Fact: Marijuana use has not produced a generation of drooling idiots; the laws against it have merely swollen the ranks of the incarcerated in underfunded, poorly equipped penitentiaries where (guess what?) the young apprentice at the feet of the old, unreconstructed criminals in their midst.

As for domestic terrorism and foreign insurgencies, law enforcement authorities, and their political masters, will argue that the threat is both eminent and imminent. Naturally, though, they won’t articulate their reasons. Apparently, our best interests are protected as long as we remain utterly ignorant of our surroundings and environment (cue: “The Truman Show”), and the rights and freedoms we are constitutionally owed.

One of these is the right to know the truth of our government’s activities, with or without our consent. Another is the freedom from unnecessary scrutiny by public agencies that fully adore their sanctimonious pronouncements about what is, and is not, good for the rest of us.

Our finest hour might arrive when our elected officials finally decide that they actually live in the real world, and not in some facsimile manufactured, like a bad 70s sitcom, for the camera and the boobs who are glued to it.

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Whose democracy 
is it, anyway?

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If those who doubted that the national police force is now working for the political office of the reigning government, let those fine, pristine sensibilities fade into the harsh reality of a hard, partisan winter.

The Harper government has retailed two – and only two – presiding ideological platforms over its well-worn terms in office.

The first is that it, and only it, is the peerless steward of economic growth in this country; the second is that it, and only it, is the last defence against the hordes of human demons and other assorted bad guys determined to upend our constitutional democracy.

The first conceit is patently false, as the national government hasn’t raised a well-appointed finger to encourage anything close to durable economic development in eight years.

In fact, it has gone out if its way to play favourites with the western oil patch at the expense of less flashy, though more sustainable industries.

The result has been predictable: an unemployment rate that, while down nationally to 6.6 per cent, remains as high as 20 per cent in rural areas and even urban enclaves not blessed with dirty bitumen. Now that global oil prices are on the run, it is only natural to expect Canada’s presumptive protectors of the public peace to tar everyone who doubts their sincerity with the same black brush they use to colour their annual balance sheets.

This rather obviously brings me to my second concern, which is: What, on earth, does the RCMP think it’s doing by shilling for the federal Conservatives on environmental stewardship?

Shawn McCarthy’s recent piece in the Globe and Mail aptly serves the point. “The RCMP has labelled the ‘anti-petroleum’ movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government’s new terrorism legislation,” he writes.

“In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.”

The report cites the 2013 cop-car burnings in Rexton, New Brunswick, as evidence of increasing radicalism everywhere without bothering to differentiate between the actions of a very few and the broad, peaceful concerns of the very many.

Reports McCarthy, quoting directly from the report: “‘There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,’ concludes the report which is stamped ‘protected/Canadian eyes only’ and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace . . . If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.’”

Fine; but how do you conflate peaceable, law-abiding citizens’ legitimate concerns with violent extremism without driving a nail through the democratic principles that lets you issue such verbal nonsense in the first place?

This “waiting-for-terrorists-to-strike-from-the-shadows” mentality has overtaken our public spaces, our private conversations, our personal expectations and perhaps even our conception of ourselves as members of an inclusive plurality.

Do we jump, do we fight, do we run away?

Surely, we don’t listen to anything but the blow horn from Parliament Hill anymore.

Neither, it seems, do the national cops, now more willing than ever to give their political masters the partisan wherewithal to scare enough voters into hating tree-huggers in the name of catching a few ill-minded radicals.

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Move over RCMP. . .there’s a new kid in town

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As the Harper government openly discusses its efforts to transform this country’s civilian spy agency from a strictly intelligence-gathering organization to an effective police force – imbued with all the powers of search, seizure and, if necessary, apprehension – it steadfastly refuses to speak plainly about its plans for the nation’s fighting men and women in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

According to a report this week in the Globe and Mail, the federal government’s new “anti-terrorism legislation, which was unveiled Friday (January 30), would give CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) the right to disrupt terrorist activity, such as by pulling suspected terrorists off planes or messing with their bank accounts. A judge would have to sign off on such actions ahead of time. The legislation would also make it easier to arrest people for promoting terrorism.”

This is a fair distance down the road from the agency’s embarkation point, articulated in the early 1980s and reiterated currently on the inveterate data-miner’s official website: “The Service’s role is to investigate threats, analyze information and produce intelligence. It then reports to, and advises, the Government of Canada to protect the country and its citizens. . .CSIS’ proactive role complements law enforcement agencies such as police forces, which investigate crime and collect evidence to support prosecutions in courts of law.”

Apparently, complementing law enforcement agencies is no longer enough. CSIS must now become one among that number.

Again, according to a Globe report, the new legislation would also, “criminalize the advocacy or promotion of terrorism (fair enough); lower the threshold for preventative arrest or detention of suspected extremists (uh-oh); relax the requirements necessary to prevent suspected jihadis from boarding a plane (hmmm); grant government departments explicit authority to share private information, including passport applications, or confidential commercial data, with law enforcement agencies (do tell); make it easier for authorities to track and monitor suspects.”

All of which raises natural questions about CSIS’s 30-year role coordinating and collaborating with actual cops.

Has it, or has it not, been doing its mandated job? And if the answer is, “no, it hasn’t”, then how much more success will it enjoy when its desk-bound intelligence analysts suddenly find themselves with upgraded badges?

“Good afternoon, ma’am, I’m agent Mulder. . .This is my partner, Scully. . .We’d like to ask you some questions.”

“No, Scully, I’m Mulder, you were Mulder last week (and besides she’s a he).”

“Sorry about that. . .Let’s start over.”

“Good afternoon, sir, I’m agent Scully. . .This is my partner, Mulder. . .We’d like to ask you some questions.”

And yet, even as Harpertown seeks to equip its spooks with new powers to reveal – and act on – the ‘truth’ about the alleged bad boys and girls in our midst, it has no compunction about withholding information about its own military actions abroad.

The recent deployment in Iraq, for example, was sold to Canadian citizens as a support operation to NATO. Not even Canada’s Chief of Defence, General Tom Lawson, is wagging that tail anymore. Speaking before a House of Commons’ committee last week, he stipulated that “we’re seeing an evolution of that mission.”

The evolution’s end being: directing drone strikes on Islamic militants, engaging directly in a shooting war with combatants and. . .well, comporting themselves in a way that not even the Americans are willing to embrace.

Or, as Stephen Chase of the Globe wrote last week, “The U.S. military says Canada’s military advisers are the only coalition forces it knows of that have engaged in firefights with Islamic State militants in Iraq and that American troops have not, to date, been authorized to direct air strikes from the ground as Canadians are doing.”

If this is the necessary work of our foreign force, so be it; but, then, why hide the policy behind weasel words, coarse deflection and transparent partisanship?

“This is really what we get from our opposition,” Mr. Harper told the Commons last week. “Every time we talk about security, they suggest that somehow, our freedoms are threatened. I think Canadians understand that their freedom and their security more often than not go hand and hand. Canadians expect us to do both, we are doing both, and we do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians, you take away their liberties.”

Sure, Father Canada, whatever you say.

After all, you will soon know what everyone in this vast, compromised democracy thinks and does.

The truth is out there.

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