Perhaps I am growing less tolerant in my dotage, but I have had it, already, with some of the blindered and jejune commentary that I hear from too many citizens in this country. Particularly when it comes to folks whose smug self-satisfaction with their lives leaves them impervious to the nuances that might change their thinking if they bothered to look beyond the comfortable parameters of their viewing-screens to the realities that lie beyond.
My lament this morning comes in the wake of the Canadian government introducing Bill C-51 last Friday in the House of Commons, and the subsequent sentiments that I have been witnessing across a variety of platforms.
The most recurrent and repugnant comment I hear during these Dark Days of mass surveillance by governments and corporations is this beauty:
“If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of.”
The mouth-breathing, slope-browed, knuckle-dragging, meat-puppets that throw out this bon mot are legion. And their myopia is reminiscent of times when other governments rescinded citizen rights and freedoms whenever perceived “threats” appeared on their particular radar screens.
Remember: it was democratically-elected governments in Germany and the United States that stripped away rights and freedoms from citizens in an effort to rid themselves of or stifle the activities of those they deemed threats to national purity or security. Acts of parliament were the mechanisms deployed, laws were enacted, sweeping powers were afforded security agencies both civilian and military, and these democracies foundered as a result (not to mention the terrible losses impacting the individuals targeted).
PM Stephen Harper and his side of the House contend that Canada is under grievous threat both from within and without from “jihadist terror.” And under PM Stephen Harper Canada has become one of the world’s most significant and sophisticated participants in amassing unimaginable mountains of data through their various programmes of mass surveillance, in turn sharing this information with their partners-in-surveillance.
The prime ministerial propagation of the mythology that Canada is under heinous threat, combined with the ongoing practice of mass surveillance, should give every one of us citizens pause to wonder exactly how these two factors align, and how they could potentially impact upon our daily lives.
Has the government made the case for increasing powers to an agency like CSIS that has already got arguably enough legal weight to go after so-called terrorists with the existing mechanisms already in place? Has the Harper-led government ever truly defined the terms “terror” or “terrorist” in such a way that their meanings are not diluted to vague facsimiles? In my opinion, it has not.
In the meantime, the new anti-terror Bill C-51 would confer upon CSIS powers that are truly staggering. Among them: lowering the evidentiary threshold for a judge to provide warrants for CSIS to a mere suggestion that a target-of-interest might do something untoward or even have “the potential” to become “radicalized.”
If the guiding aim of the new legislation is to defend Canada from threats to our national interests, might we not also be at least somewhat concerned about how these “national interests” are defined?
Recent trade deals with China, for example, and the looming Trans-Pacific trade deal, might very well conflate corporate interests with national interests; and if that is the case, it is entirely conceivable that everyday dissent to proposed business activities might come under the scrutiny of agencies like CSIS to “disrupt” (as the new Bill gives CSIS license to) any dissent that might affect the economic interests (read: the profitability) of Canada or its trading partners.
These are legitimate concerns. And they are poignant concerns when we consider that the Harper-led government has gone so far as to call environmental activists “environmental terrorists” in the last couple years. If CSIS has the right under the new Bill to jail perceived threats without charge for up to seven days, how eager do you think environmental activists will be to continue their impassioned pleas to protect our precious environment?
Think too how this new Bill might affect the resurgent politics bubbling blessedly up from the Indigenous community in this country. The grassroots of Canadian Indigenous citizens is not necessarily in lockstep alignment with the so-called leaders of those nations that make up the AFN. Many Indigenous people are speaking up and are wanting to hold their own leaders and the government to account for the many years of the government’s unwillingness or outright refusal to honourably negotiate existing treaties and land claims. Will these protestors also come under the watchful eyes of CSIS and other law enforcement agencies? Will they too be “disrupted” or jailed for protecting their turf? I think you all know the answer to that one.
Regrettably the very technologies that have opened the world to itself and made communications and community-building so much more expedient are also the technologies that, when deployed by the state against its citizens, effectively make us all potential prisoners and wards of the powers-that-be.
As Edward Snowden warned his Toronto high-school audience via Google Hangout in the last couple days: “The problem with mass surveillance is when you collect everything, you understand nothing.” The Harper bill to increase the power of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Snowden noted “fundamentally changes the balance of power between the citizen and the state.”
It’s time that we stopped blindly-trusting a government that has proven time and again that it doesn’t provide sufficient oversight to their security forces as they are presently enfranchised to operate within and beyond our borders. It’s time to observe with chilling finality that the government in its current manifestation will never communicate with us as citizens deserving of fulsome explanations of their new policy directives.
And it’s time to vocally reject the government’s new anti-terror Bill C-51. Before it’s too late.
— 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