Freda Guttman

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 on what they are experiencing.

Freda Guttman’s story is below. Read Stefan Christoff’s by clicking here.

On April 7, 2010, a knock at my door brought me face-to-face with a CSIS agent who asked if he could come in and speak to me. Fortunately, knowing that I had no legal obligation to speak to him, I refused his invitation to chat and shut the door in his protesting face.

Immediately, I felt enormous anger fueled by the knowledge that I was targeted, as many others have been, because I am a social activist in various areas of injustice and racism that challenge the idea that Canada is a democratic, egalitarian society or that it cares about the human rights of people in other countries.

Much of my activism revolves around the Palestinian struggle for rights that are the rights of all people on this planet and that have been denied them for 62 years. I am a member of Tadamon! a collective that works for peace and justice in the Middle East and I am assuming that this is why CSIS honoured me with a visit. I have been to Palestine four times, most recently in the summer of 2009, working as a volunteer and have witnessed the brutal apartheid regime that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian people.

It’s no secret that the Harper government, which leans toward a form of rightwing Christian fundamentalism, is one of Israel’s greatest friends and works together with Canadian Zionist organizations, along with provincial and local governments and the mainstream media, to stifle any criticism of Israel either by legislation, or by intimidation, by economic reprisal, or by accusations of anti-Semitism. There are almost daily occurrences of such things happening.

I was born in 1934 and grew up in a predominantly Jewish area of Montreal at a time when anti-Semitism was openly expressed in Canada. Living in a Jewish ghetto largely protected me from expressions of anti-Semitism but I knew that it existed. Most important to my development were events happening far away — the persecution of the Jews of Europe and the Holocaust, which count as the defining influences of my life, ones that led me to a life of social activism.

Growing up, I was puzzled and amazed that it was possible that human beings could do such terrible things to other human beings; that they could be made to believe that right was wrong and wrong was right; that any vestiges of empathy for their victims could be superseded by the belief that their actions were for the sake of the security of their country.

It is sadly ironic to me now that that kind of indoctrinated patriotism is what motivates young Israel soldiers to behave as they do towards Palestinians and feel justified in doing so. It is doubly ironic to me that the Holocaust is used as a smoke screen to hide Israel’s criminal acts.

CSIS was established in 1984, as a result of the McDonald Commission of Inquiry Concerning Certain Activities of the RCMP of 1981 report which revealed that over many decades, the RCMP, in its zeal to uncover “security” risks, had illegally used “dirty tricks” in order to entrap and implicate often innocent people who were exercising their rights as citizens to dissent, protest and organize. The commission recommended that policing and security be separated into two different bodies.

In the past few years it is apparent that CSIS has its own bag of “dirty tricks,” namely, smearing, racial profiling, leaking of “secret” evidence to the press, defaming, etc. The nefarious use of the security certificate process has exposed some of these dirty tricks. There are documented cases
of Canadians being arrested overseas, detained at the request of Canada, and tortured. In three cases, it is known that CSIS agents travelled to those countries to take part in questioning Canadians detained in situations of torture.

The main targets of these outrageous and legally questionable actions are members of the Muslim community, suspected to be Islamists, a situation reminiscent in some ways of the racist and collective targeting of Jews, in the years before and after World War II, who were suspected of being Communists bent on world revolution, whether they were or not.

While the harassment of Muslims has been going on for years, according to the People’s Commission Network, social justice activists in Montreal have been receiving visits since October 2009. CSIS’s visit to me should be seen in the context.

I am outraged that it is CSIS’s prerogative to silence and intimidate, to make us suspicious of our fellow activists through its practice of recruiting informers, and thereby sowing discord and a chill on political discussion in progressive groups who are motivated by their dedication to the idea of human rights for all and to the belief that civil society activism is the only instrument for realizing that goal. Should these events happen in a society that thinks of itself as democratic? Am I on a surveillance list because the views I hold are antithetical to those of the establishment powers?

On the one hand, I have a privileged position in relation to others living in Canada in precarious situations, such as immigrants and refugees — I am a Canadian citizen, and I have legal protections, unlike others whom CSIS harasses, persecutes and smears. And, not incidentally, I am white.

However, whoever we, whatever we are, we all must recognize and insist through our actions that an injustice to one is an injustice to all, that no one’s rights are really ever guaranteed and we must constantly fight the battles that need to be fought. We need to be on guard against the things that lurk around the corner, that wait in the wings. The steady erosion of our rights to dissent, our freedoms to assemble, which is happening at an accelerating rate, should alarm and trouble us all. The slope is slippery, as the history of the 20th century should teach us.

Freda Guttman is an artist and activist who lives in Montreal.

For what to do if CSIS comes knocking, check out this People’s Commission advisory by clicking here.


Cathryn Atkinson

Cathryn Atkinson is the former News and Features Editor for Her career spans more than 25 years in Canada and Britain, where she lived from 1988 to 2003. Cathryn has won five awards...