Two Montreal activists, Freda Guttman and Stefan Christoff, say they and their friends have been targeted by CSIS in the run up to the Huntsville G8 and Toronto G20 summits. Both write exclusively for rabble.ca on what they are experiencing.
Stefan Christoff's story is below. Read Freda Guttman's by clicking here.
Over recent months, phone calls to me from friends across Montreal have been filled with a distressing tone, a request to meet me in person over coffee, and vague references to unwelcomed visits by Canadian government intelligence officials.
When we meet, they have told me a story that involves members of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) arriving at their apartments unannounced, often in the early morning hours, demanding sit-down interviews.
And, shockingly, CSIS representatives have wanted to speak to my friends about me. This has now happened five times this spring. The questions were forced on artists and activists from different social networks, including people who have been close to me over a decade.
In each case, they have proceeded to unravel a wild series of wide-ranging questions on my involvement in political activism in Canada, my views on anarchism, and my experiences during international solidarity missions in the global south.
In one example, individuals from CSIS showed up at the door of celebrated spoken-word poet Ian Ferrier, who is based on the Plateau in Montreal, in May. They proceeded to question my long-time friend about my work. Insidious in the questioning, the CSIS representatives indicated that they were cognisant of our decade-old friendship and were concerned about my organizing activities.
Questions ranged from my work in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation to probing questions on the nature of our relationship, questions that were similar to activist stories chronicling the McCarthy era in the U.S.
CSIS also questioned friends involved in collective organizing to support of the Palestinian struggle against occupation and towards the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that has seen many successes in Quebec and globally in the past year.
In my mind, it is without a doubt that the CSIS questions were drawn in parallel to the broader crackdown in Canada on Palestinian solidarity organizing administered by the Conservative government.
And in one instance, CSIS officials questioned a friend on my participation in a protest in Montreal to express solidarity with indigenous struggles in B.C. in the lead-up to the winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Disturbingly, on multiple occasions CSIS officials insinuated to my friends that my political organizing work, that stands with a strong public record in Montreal and is easily searchable on-line, is contrary to the values of Canada. CSIS also told my friends that I had been violent in the past, without presenting any evidence, accusations that amount to public malicious slander.
It is critical for me at this point to state that my activism throughout the past decade in Montreal has been entirely public in nature, popular grassroots organizing connected to local community-based struggles for social justice in Montreal, and solidarity work with struggles for liberation in countries around the world from the Philippines to Palestine.
My work has focused particularly on creating synergies between the arts and activism, building ties between key artists from the internationally celebrated cultural scene in Montreal and on-the-ground struggles for justice. Cultural based work that is publicly chronicled in Cultural Crossroads, my regular interview series for the Hour weekly newspaper in Montreal featuring celebrated artists from the city such as the late Lhasa de Sela.
Projects I have been involved with have included the Artists Against Apartheid campaign that has united hundreds of artists to support the Palestinian struggle for liberation and the global campaign against Israeli apartheid, to major cultural events in the lead-up to the historical protests to oppose closed-door meetings towards the now defeated Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City in 2001.
Beyond the arts, my work has focused on many local struggles, direct involvement in supporting struggles for immigrant justice in Montreal against the deportation and detention of migrants by the Canadian government. Specifically, my energies have centred on supporting community-based initiatives like the Comité d'action des sans-statuts algériens (CASS) which led a fight against the deportation of over 1,000 Algerian refugees at the hands of Immigration Canada between 2002 and today.
It was largely successful after many street protests within a mediatised campaign that galvanized a wide selection of social justice advocates from unions to ecumenical justice groups, as some Algerians, like Mohamed Cherfi, took sanctuary in Quebec churches within the broader struggle for their right to remain in Canada.
In the past year, my energies have also been directed towards Project Fly Home in Montreal a campaign to support the struggle of Sudanese-Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Sudanese-Canadian who was tortured and exiled in Sudan due to the actions of CSIS.
Abdelrazik's story is an inspiring struggle that eventually forced the Conservative government to respect his right of return to Canada and is still ongoing as he remains on the UN Security Council's "1267 list." The sanctions against him include a travel ban and assets freeze. Although Abdelrazik has been publicly exonerated the Canadian government continues to unjustly condemn him to a life without the basic rights afforded to all citizens.
Today, these written words intend to assist in breaking the silence on CSIS intimidation against activists in Canada, to convey a directly personal account on CSIS harassment that will hopefully encourage others to speak out. I urge progressive networks from coast-to-coast to collectively refuse to speak with CSIS on all accounts and in all circumstances. My words also are written in the reality that many in Canada are intimidated by CSIS, fearful to speak out due to lack of citizenship or other legal reasons; my words aim to contribute to building our collective solidarity in opposition to CSIS harassment.
I aim to contribute to efforts to break open the debate on CSIS practices in Canada, to affirm our collective right to struggle and to challenge the Conservative governments political repression against social justice activists in the lead-up to the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario.
It is certain that my values are a world apart from the Conservative government in Ottawa, which publicly justifies the killing of civilians by the Israeli army in Lebanon and Palestine or enforces immigration legislation that enforces deportation of migrants from Canada who have been killed upon returning to their home country.
It must be affirmed in this context that my publicly stated differences of opinion with a Conservative government in Ottawa, on the extreme right of the global political spectrum, provides zero justification for CSIS to track and intimidate me or my friends.
Certainly, my activism in Montreal will continue, as does my believe in grassroots social justice organizing, and my vocal support for struggles for liberation from oppression globally, including the right to armed self defence as enshrined in international law.
In the past decade it has been both an inspiration and privilege to contribute to the growing global movement for liberation from the race-to-the-bottom economics of neo-liberal capitalism, a movement that has seen stunning successes recently throughout Latin America. It is a movement that has confronted through the protests of hundreds-of-thousands, summits of unaccountable global bodies like the G8 that enforce a political and economic agenda of global apartheid, the same G8 that activists from across Canada will protest on the streets this month in Toronto.
It is inspiring to join a part of a diverse global movement that struggles globally across borders, a movement that fights for justice horizontally beyond nations, not first for political power or government office but for a different world rooted in revolutionary ideas of collective liberation.
Today in Canada, this grassroots global movement is facing repression and surveillance on the part of the Conservative government. My own story is one piece of a much broader story of intimidation and harassment on the part of CSIS that has hiked in intensity over the past year towards activist networks. In response to CSIS our best response is total non-cooperation and collective solidarity, see you on the streets in Toronto this June.
In the lead-up to the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario and the protest movement against the Olympics this winter in Vancouver, activists have faced intense repression not only on the streets on the part of the police but also from CSIS via unwelcome visits that intend to intimidate and create a political climate of fear within activist networks.
Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician who contributes regularly to rabble.ca and is on Twitter.
For what to do if CSIS comes knocking check out this People's Commission advisory by clicking here.
Thank you for reading this story...
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.
If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.
We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing in 2017.