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LOEWEN: A reality check for Canada's self image

Image Credit: Contributed/Jeffrey Loewen
October 29, 2014 - 7:30 AM

All of us would like to think of ourselves, even our country, as “good” people. We want to believe that we are fair-minded, welcoming of the views and aspirations of our brothers and sisters, champions of peace and reconciliation.

Those people and countries out there that don’t share our views are, of course, “bad” people, or backwards, religiously fanatical, terrorists. It’s the vaguest word in the contemporary lexicon, terrorist, and it’s never really defined, is it? It reminds us of the inane dichotomy articulated by former President George W. Bush following the 9/11 attack on American soil, that “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

We take national pride in the narratives that have framed who we are as Canadians -- a country that is accepting of diversity, a country that looks after its own domestically and abroad, a country that rallies to the support of its allies during those critical times when our allies need us most. We are, after all, lucky, caring citizens in a democracy; and we believe that there is no better political system available to ensure the greatest gains for the greatest number of our fellow-Canadians.

Lamentably, our self image is at odds with reality. Shockingly, when the truth settles in, we see instead how effectively we have been co-opted, propagandized, by our governments and our media, the so-called “fifth estate,” whose job it is to keep those in governance accountable to the citizens that elect them.

It would appear that, again, things are not as they appear. And it would appear that we require other watchdogs on the beat, folks that can oversee the machinations of our cherished media outlets -- just to make sure that we’re getting “the rest of the story” when we read their accounts of new revelations about our country that shock us all.

One of those shockers arrived through the media last October. You will recall that Pulitzer Prize-winner Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist and conservator of the massive Edward Snowden archive of sensitive trans-national intelligence agencies’ documents, wrote a story involving Canada breaching the privacy rights of the Brazilian Ministry of Mines.

According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden, Canada’s surveillance agency, CSEC (the Communications Security Establishment of Canada), had managed to crack the encrypted data bases of Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and gleaned information that might be useful to Canadian business interests, resource extraction interests, in gaining a competitive advantage over its Brazilian counterparts.

The documents also revealed that CSEC had been actively spying on Canadian citizens in Brazil, and in some of our domestic international airports by gleaning data transmitted through wireless hubs and internet cafes. The private communications of Canadian citizens.

Understandably many Canadians were horrified that a fair-minded country like ours would actually spy on foreign powers in this manner. In fact, the majority of Canadians likely continue to be unaware that CSEC even exists. Too many of us blithely go along with our self-propagated mythology that we’re good guys and somehow “above” nefarious tactics like those deployed by CSEC

But we are not good guys.

We were reminded of that twice in the last two weeks as two men serving their country were killed in Quebec and Ottawa, in our own country.

But as tragic and horrific as these crimes were, can we really say they were completely unexpected? Can we really, honestly, expect to be left untouched by violence from within and violence from without, when it is our policies that make us and our closest allies pariahs to those “bad” countries and people out there who we paint as terrorists?

One parliamentarian noted after the Ottawa shootings that we were entering a “new normal.” He was indicating that now that we were reaping the whirlwind of violence from ideologically-opposed elements (a highly debatable contention quickly articulated by PM Stephen Harper), there would be swift changes to security protocols in this country.

Indeed, the shocking speed with which PM Stephen Harper politicized these events to his own advantage (not even 48 hours after Corporal Nathan Cirillo was gunned down) is jaw-dropping. Rising in the House of Commons last week he noted, “Our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the areas of: surveillance, detention, and arrest. They need to be much strengthened. I assure Members (of Parliament) that work which is already underway will be expedited.”

How much more latitude does the prime minister and his office need? We’re already spying on foreign soil, usually for corporate and security interests that are draconian. We have already detained Canadian citizens and handed them over to our allies for questioning in hellish prisons abroad. We’re certainly spying on our own citizens, and we’re sharing this information with the rest of the “Five Eyes” coalition (USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK). What is being done with all this data mining is not perfectly clear, however.

With time it will be made clear. Glenn Greenwald assures us that, after the Brazil story and documents related to it from the Snowden files were suppressed by the Globe and Mail, and later by Terry Milewski and the CBC, that the CBC has installed new journalists to shepherd the rest of the story our way. It will be interesting to finally learn about ourselves what brave men of conscience like Snowden and Greenwald have known for years. And we won’t like what we read, folks. It will be a jarring undermining of who we think we are.

The question is, though: will our fellow-Canadians care? Will we willingly allow Stephen Harper’s, or any subsequent, government to further erode our rights and freedoms, the core values that have persisted as the base for our laws for hundreds of years? I sure hope so because the alternative is fascism. This is not “new” at all. It’s business as usual, folks. And it’s time that we began looking ourselves honestly, without the mythologizing of the media and our governments. And it’s time to repent and change. 

—  Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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