Current Conditions

Mostly Cloudy
-2.3°C

LOEWEN: Is Canada living through perilous times? A historical perspective

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
February 25, 2015 - 7:51 AM

Given the revelations from the Snowden archives that we now have proof-positive of Canadian government and corporate surveillance of virtually everything that Canadians (and others abroad) say and do, one might forgive Canadians for believing that we live in uniquely perilous times.

The times are so perilous that we even share this data with the other four members of the “Five Eyes” (the others being: the USA, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand), all in an effort to secure our collective interests. And after years of constant fear-mongering by governments and their media mouth-pieces, many Canadians believe we live in terribly insecure and perilous times.

Maybe we do; maybe we don’t.

It will be up to historians and scholars in coming years to reflect on the comparative levels of threat that we have lived through from one decade to the next and to make judgements based on precisely how we were faced with threats to our national interests and how we, as a society, responded to them.

One thing is certain to your Wednesday morning monologist, though: The recent tragedies in Saint Jean Sur Richelieu and Ottawa have still to be accurately depicted as examples of organized “jihadist terrorism.”

And these two examples that have so quickly been politicized by PM Stephen Harper and his governing Conservatives to serve as partial justifications to radically re-configure the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and its powers frankly pale in comparison to other recent threats to the lives of Canadians that ended in unspeakable tragedy.

Although we are not officially “at war” according to our masters (we’re just in the Middle East on a training and support mission, the government claims), we were at war during other times in the last hundred years.

During the “Great War,” and later during the Second World War, Canada played a role in attempting to defeat its perceived enemies. And as unjustifiable as the erosion of rights and freedoms at home for targeted populations of Canadians were during those awful conflicts that saw so much bloodshed and death on all sides, the country was actually at war.

During those awful years, many German-Canadians will remember the calumnies cast upon them by both government agents and the Canadian population at large

The sinking of the Lusitania by the Germans during WW I elicited vicious anti-German riots in cities like Victoria, Winnipeg, and Montreal. Nearly 9,000 German-Canadian “enemy aliens” were interned in Canadian camps during that war. And in Winnipeg, restaurateurs even changed the name “hamburger” to “nip” in an effort to distance their popular culinary offering from the taint of German linguistic expression. And, how can a former resident of Kitchener-Waterloo forget how, during the First World War, the time-honoured name of Berlin, Ontario was changed to the more appropriate and imperially British moniker “Kitchener?”

Of course, the demonization of ethnicity did not end with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. As the Second World War commenced and drew the planet into conflict on all sides of the oceans, Japanese-Canadians were another minority population of citizens that came under the malevolent gaze of the state and the rest of the peoples that populated Canada. 

The expropriation of over 21,000 Japanese-Canadians from their land, and their subsequent internment in concentration camps throughout the B.C. Interior and beyond accounts, frankly, for the continued generational presence of Japanese-Canadians across the breadth of this province and into the Canadian prairies and beyond. The losses of their jobs and land has never been compensated for adequately since those terrible times.

Sadly, the racism and ethnic demonizing that show our country at its absolute worst historically, persists to this very day. It also shows that every time the Canadian government has bracketed, curtailed or removed basic citizen rights and freedoms, we have all suffered grievously.

Many readers will recall the tragic bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985. A flight that left Vancouver for Delhi via London exploded at 31,000 feet over sad and beautiful Ireland below, and 329 folks died an awful death precipitated by tensions on another side of the world. Among the deceased: 268 Canadians.

The commission looking into this truly terroristic attack compiled a laundry list of inefficiencies shared by a variety of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to explain how the tragedy came to be: general incompetence by both the RCMP and CSIS, the destruction of evidence gathered by CSIS, a general unwillingness to share collected data between agencies, etc. 

But there was never a call at that time for increasing powers to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, nor was there the expectation set forth that Canadians should abdicate their personal and collective rights and freedoms in an effort to curtail future threats. And yet, the Air India Tragedy is an example that might have elicited just such calls for what the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada expect from Canadians today.

Former prime ministers and others with historical perspective on these kinds of issues are uniformly calling for caution. Bob Rae, a former member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the underfunded body that is supposed to review CSIS activities, has opined that the meagre committee does not provide “oversight” (as the current PM claims with increasing belligerence) at all -- it’s mandate is not oversight, but “review” of activities already carried out and a mandate to look into perceived breaches of CSIS powers in carrying out its own mandates. 

Effectively, there is no oversight at all. In fact the five-member board has been only four members since last year. SIRC’s budget is a measly, minuscule proffering from government coffers that cannot possibly do the job that it is mandated to do, so immense are the current intelligence gathering activities of our intelligence agencies.

Surely these are not the conditions under which we would give up our rights and freedoms. Both the RCMP and CSIS have complained for years over their own shortfalls in funding.

Might it not be a more balanced approach if our government would revisit funding levels, and then determine whether the agencies entrusted with keeping our national interests in focus against evil-doers from within and without are actually able to do their jobs with the desired efficiency?

I do; and I won’t begrudge the expenditure. But I will not sit mum and fall back on the old chestnut that we have nothing to fear personally, if we are not running afoul of government aims. I don’t trust this government; and neither should you. Bill C-51 in its current drafting should be rejected outright. Sadly, the main contenders for Canada’s crown in the coming federal election don’t think with the long view of our national history in mind.

— 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, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

View Site in: Desktop | Mobile