I’ve been trying to put my thoughts about the Ottawa shootings down, and then I happened upon Russell Brand’s energetic assessment, not only of the situation, but how it is being spun. Yes, it is terrible that a soldier died. And that another soldier died in a completely unrelated incident earlier. But there is no question in my mind that the murders of these two men is being “spun.”
Canadian Civil Rights
The personal privacy of Canadians is supposed to be protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Maybe it was true once, but it doesn’t seem very true now. And yet we value our Charter highly.
“The consultation also asked which of Canada’s accomplishments of the last 150 years “make you most proud to be a Canadian?”
Medicare topped that list, followed by peacekeeping, then the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms at No. 3.”
Security professional Byron Sonne was arrested before the G20 Summit, an event on which the Canadian government lavished a great deal of money on security. Byron was concerned about the implications of the introduction of an influx of a host of new CCTV cameras in downtown Toronto, so he took a look at the security being provided by his tax dollars (and yours). Apparently citizens were supposed to keep their eyes closed. Police violated Byron’s Charter rights; he was arrested and punitively denied bail for almost a year. When he was finally released into his parents’ custody for almost another year, the draconian bail conditions obliged his parents to waive their own Charter privacy rights.
Byron lost his home, his business and his wife; and yet he was finally exonerated because, as hard as the authorities looked, there was no credible evidence. At one of the court proceedings I attended, a law enforcement expert witness explained that their inability to break the encryption on one of Byron’s computers meant that even if acquitted, Byron would always be considered a person of interest.
Apparently these days, Canadians are guilty until proven innocent.
And the G20 Summit? Well, that event was marked by a great deal of violence… but not violence perpetrated by peaceful protesters, this was violence perpetrated by the “security forces” against citizens, as citizen journalists posted masses of video of such incidents to YouTube. There were so many unlawful arrests and Charter violations that a great many voices called for a proper inquiry… which never actually happened. The government didn’t want to be bothered investigating abuses it was responsible for. Funny that.
(I kind of think Byron was held for so long because they needed a “bad guy” in jail to justify the ridiculous amount of tax dollars spent, and hopefully distract from the civil rights abuses…)
Canadian tax dollars paid for a whole year of an undercover officer’s infiltration of poverty activist Julian Ichim‘s life.
Even after they were unable to prove any wrong doing against him, (Julian is, after all, an activist, not a criminal), absent evidence the undercover agent tried to convict Mr. Ichim with character assassination and innuendo. No matter what you think about Mr. Ichim and his methods, there is no question he is sincere. And yet, law enforcement agencies continue to harass and try to intimidate the young man.
In well over a decade of activism, working in the trenches to fight poverty and injustice in constructive ways, it seems the only “violent” act Mr. Ichim has ever performed was the act of throwing milk at politician Stockwell Day in his student days. And yet law enforcement considers him a threat.
You should really listen to this CBC radio interview (including the bits that come after Mr. Ichim) to gain some insight into The ethics of police infiltration
Omar Khadr‘s rights are still being denied. As a child put in harm’s way by a parent, maybe he was a child soldier, or maybe he was an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time; but either way he was a victim who should have been treated better. This 15 year old child certainly should not have been abandoned by the Canadian authorities after being dug out of the rubble nearly dead; nor should he have been delivered to the infamous Bagram then tortured and left to languish at Guantanamo Bay for years where he was convicted in what can only be described as a travesty of “justice.” Even back in Canada this young man is still being victimized. What happened to his Charter rights?
The Canadian Government, our government, has been chipping away at our civil rights since 9-11. Since we are now apparently all guilty until proven innocent, our “security services” are investigating all of us all of the time… okay, our Charter Rights aren’t being chipped away, they are being steam rollered and dismantled.
The awesome powers of the state are being deployed, not against terrorists, but against activists trying to make Canada a better place, which often means disagreeing with government policy. But peaceful protest and dissent are considered to be crucial elements of democracy, which is why these activities are enshrined in the Charter.
“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. Here are some protections that the Charter guarantees:
- freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly
- the right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government
- the freedom to move around and live within Canada, and to leave Canada
- legal rights such as the right to life, liberty and security
- equality rights
- language rights”
— Our Country, Our Parliament (government publication)
How many of our Charter Rights have been violated in my examples? I am not a civil rights lawyer, I’m a suburban mom who writes novels– how do I know about these things? The Internet has made “citizen journalism” possible, so we are no longer limited to knowing what the mainstream “news media” decides we should know. And the mainstream media has been so quiet about these issues that I’m inclined to agree with Glenn Greenwald’s assertion that our “news media” mostly functions as the propaganda arm of our government.
The examples I have cited do not exist in a vacuum; they are the result of government policy.
What it boils down to is that the government tells us they need to take away our rights, to limit them in the name of security. To fight terrorism. There is credible evidence to suggest law enforcement has been engaging in mass surveillance.
And yet this has done nothing to stop terrorism.
Civil Rights exist to protect citizens. Removing or suppressing them doesn’t make us safe, it makes us unsafe.
It used to be that agents of law enforcement agents were not given permission to wiretap citizens, or to search people’s homes, or seize their goods without a warrant. A judge had to be convinced of a reasonable probability — “probable cause” — that there was credible evidence to suggest the subject of the warrant was engaged in criminal activity. There had to be good reason to invade anyone’s privacy.
Certainly, there would be some judges more inclined to sympathize with law enforcement agents than others, but even they wouldn’t sign warrants that could be ruled unconstitutional by higher courts. This system wasn’t perfect, but it struck a reasonable balance between the needs of the state to be secure and the needs of the citizens to not be harassed. Because such laws were in place to protect citizens, when an abuse did happen, the citizen had legal grounds for redress against state harassment (or worse).
Lawful Access quashes our civil rights
Since 9-11 the Canadian Government has been trying to pass “Lawful Access” legislation. This would allow the government to spy on Canadian citizens all the time for no reason, with no judicial oversight.
This would be a huge blow to our Charter Rights that protect citizens from abuse by the power of the state.
Initially Canadians were protected from such legislation by a string of minority governments, which is about as close to democracy as we can get under our unfair electoral system. In a minority, no party can unilaterally impose laws; laws can be passed without achieving enough consensus. Back then I think the alarm was raised by lawyers who understood what was being proposed. The unease spread through the tech communities, because people who understood how computers and the Internet worked could better understand how this technology could be made to work against personal freedom. By the time Vic Toews tried to sell the idea that government spying was a good thing, enough ordinary citizens had twigged to the problem to mount the #tellviceverything Twitter campaign. There was too much bad publicity; the Minister, and indeed the government looked ridiculous. So they backed down.
But they didn’t stop trying, because the legal authority to spy on all the citizens all the time is very powerful indeed. The most recent attempt has been Bill C-13, in which lawful access (aka unfettered spying on citizens) was dressed up as an anti-bullying measure inspired by the Amanda Todd tragedy.
Elizabeth May spoke eloquently against C13, as did Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, who said:
“We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety. We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, ‘sextortion’ and revenge pornography.”
And, of course, Bill C-13 does in no way limit its invasion of privacy to children, or cyber bullies. In the light of the Snowden revelations, the pressure on the Harper Government to get this law passed (to make all the illegal spying on citizens that CSIS and CSEC seem to engage in, alone and/or in conjunction with Five Eyes partner agencies) must have been enormous.
Something no one ever seems to consider is that, even in the unlikely event that our government would not abuse such powers, how do we know that faceless government agents with lawful access to the recordings they make of so many aspects of our intimate personal lives— how do we know that agents with the right to spy on us and our children are not themselves voyeurs, pornographers and pedophiles?
The University of Ottawa’s Michael Geist discussed inadequacies in Bill C13 before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, concluding that:
“This kind of privacy harm can victimize anyone. We know that information from at least 750,000 Canadian user accounts are voluntarily disclosed every year. It is why we need to ensure that the law has appropriate safeguards against misuse of our personal information and why C-13 should be amended. I’ll stop there and welcome your questions.”
But now, under cover of the alleged “terrorist acts” of the last few days, Mr. Harper’s government seems to have quietly passed this most controversial of laws, which shreds much of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Canadians depend on. According to the government website it may still need one more Senate vote before getting the Assent that will make it the law of the land.
Will this make Canadians more safe?
Without consulting with Canadians, our government squandered vast sums of money to build and equip the most expensive Canadian building in history to spy on us all the time. In spite of this, our security forces were caught flat footed by the Ottawa shooting.
In the old days, when Canadian civil rights ensured law enforcement agents had to provide reasonable grounds before a court would issue a warrant to violate anyone’s rights– they did a better job of providing national security. Instead of catching terrorists, the Harper Government is busy watching the birdwatchers who dare speak against current environmental policy. This doesn’t make Canada safe.
Nor will misidentifying disturbed individuals who “go postal” as “terrorists” keep Canadians safe. Addressing the root causes– making the appropriate medical help available to disturbed individuals, for instance, would do much much more to keep Canadians safe.
SWAT teams shouldn’t break into the homes of law abiding families enjoying Sunday dinner. It was acceptable and legal in Nazi Germany, but should it really be legal in Canada?
Spying on citizens was legal and accepted in Russia when the Tsar’s security forces did it. Oddly enough, it didn’t keep the Tsar and his family safe.
Later, it was still legal in the Soviet Union when the KGB did it. Material collected by such surveillance could lead to an ominous knock on the door in the middle of the night. People who dared express concern or disagreement with State policy were often dragged from their beds and whisked away to the Gulag for “preventative detention.” Not because they had done anything illegal, but because somebody decided that they might. Citizens were guilty until proven innocent, rather like medieval laws that put accused witches on trial by being tied to a chair and dropped in the lake– if she floated, she was a witch (who could then be burned at the stake) but if she sank and drowned she was proven innocent. Do we really want laws like this? In Canada?
And, of course, as Glen Greenwald has pointed out:
“It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Canada’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.”
And now that the Lawful Access bill has been passed by the House of Commons, the Conservative dominated Senate is the only thing standing in its way. Will it legitimize the government’s ability to spy on us all, all the time? .
And you know how the story goes, if you give a mouse a cookie… Apparently it works the same way for governments. Lawful Access is the foundation, but even that is not enough.
Mr. Harper envisions curtailing our rights even more. He is considering laws of ‘preventative detention‘ in wake of Ottawa attack.
Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons that laws and police powers would “need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest.” He pledged to bring forward legislation in an expedited fashion.”
My maternal grandparents escaped from Russia before the Iron Curtain slammed down. I’d always been grateful for their foresight in relocating to a better place. Movies like Gorky Park, or The Lives of Others have made me appreciate how important this was. And now it seems it was all for nought.
Isn’t the purpose of terrorism is to spread terror? Although there seems to be international disagreement on what terrorism actually is, the United nations seems to agree with me:
“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”
Of course, when governments engage in criminal acts, all they need to do is change the laws to make it legal.
The news media is whipping up fear because it supports the status quo. And it certainly seems as though our “watchdog press” has risen from the dead to become the propaganda arm of our government.
If the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize a population, oddly enough, our government and news media seem to be doing this far more successfully than anyone committing criminal acts.
But they are doing it because it is to their advantage to do it.
Not to keep us safe.
The text of Elizabeth May’s C-13 comments in Parliament can be found here.
The Intercept: CANADA, AT WAR FOR 13 YEARS, SHOCKED THAT ‘A TERRORIST’ ATTACKED ITS SOLDIERS
Free The Press Canada: Government Passes Anti-Constitutional Surveillance Law During Ottawa Shooting
The Huffington Post: Glenn Greenwald Predicts Security Crackdown, More Canadian Secrecy