The so-called new “anti-terror” law, Bill C-51, is before us. We are being unceremoniously stripped of some of the few remaining Charter rights that this Harper government hasn’t already circumscribed.

I’ve spent over two years studying the 21st century version of the insidious practice of “disruption” prior to the introduction of Bill C-51.

Disruption is, at its core, simply a second method to apply virtually the same constraints available through the “security certificate” program against Canadian citizens — “targets” in the lexicon — who are not caught by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). 

The actual, much-maligned security certificate program in the IRPA, shrouded with virtually the same degree of secrecy as is applied to disruption, cannot be used to target Canadian citizens.

Eyes-on-surveillance” (essentially organized stalking), break-ins, demagnetization of bank cards, vandalism, smear campaigns, installing rootkits and vicious malware on computers, overwhelming a vehicle’s electronics to cause malfunction and injecting metallic noise onto a home’s powerlines resulting in sleep deprivation are all tactics used in disruption. The end game in disruption is a “sting.” Hence agent provocateurs are brought in to try to dupe the target into committing a crime or acting “dangerous.”

Harper wants disruption done secretly. Should a target discover they’ve been targeted for disruption — and complain — the expectancies “scam,” as it’s known in spy circles, is engaged to throw the target off.

Spies call disruption “dirty tricks.” It is a very apt description. Our very own McDonald Commission long ago concluded, “nothing has done more to discredit western democracies, including Canada, than their perpetration of dirty tricks.”

The McDonald Commission’s findings were largely responsible for disbanding the RCMP’s Security Service and reforming its apparatus into a “security intelligence” service — Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Dirty tricks were supposed to have ceased with the creation of CSIS — a civilian intelligence agency. 

Fast forward to 2009 and the Security Intelligence Review Committee’s (SIRC) study of CSIS’ use of “disruption” from 2006 to 2008. SIRC concluded that CSIS had effectively reverted to carrying out disruption activities as was supposed to have ceased with the disbanding of its predecessor. CSIS’ unwritten motto, “lie, deny… then act surprised if you get caught” seemed to govern its response to SIRC throughout that review, however.

That is, CSIS claimed to SIRC that “disruption” was only “a collateral effect” of what CSIS claimed were its investigative techniques. After SIRC released its report in that review, a CSIS spokesperson nonetheless continued to maintain that CSIS doesn’t even try to disrupt threats.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney also claims that “currently CSIS can detect security threats but is unable to take action, unlike most allies.”

Really, Minister Blaney? Did SIRC Report 2009-05, entitled “CSIS’ Use of Disruption to Counter National Security Threats” circa June 2, 2010, not make it onto your desk?

To remove any uncertainty, SIRC also made clear that “disruption” is a tool that is “already exercised by police agencies.” Yet, police agencies, given that they have at least have some ostensible public accountability, shun the use of the term “dirty tricks” to describe the practice. Police disruption is disguised under a confusing moniker known as “intelligence-led policing” or “ILP.”

Disruption is a rampant practice in policing. A formal disruption course for police is offered through the Canadian Police College. The RCMP has devised what it coins a “Disruption Attributes Tool” to actually measure disruption. One Deputy Chief of a southern Ontario force told a Senate committee that “disruption plays a major role in what we do… [in] all elements of our duty.”

The Harper government’s propaganda machine has chosen the term “measures” to allude to disruption in Bill C-51. With the aid of its cognitive linguists (read: spin doctors) it was hard at work to not use more descriptive terms, which terms might’ve shocked the public conscience. Even the term “disruption” was apparently not a term thought innocuous enough for public consumption.

Whatever labels the various linguists are concocting to label disruption such as to make it tenable, disruption is disruption is disruption. The only actual variables in disruption are the types of disruption tactics who and what delivers the disruption, the intensity of the disruptions and the duration of those disruptions.

On those few occasions when disruption has been acknowledged (read: when CSIS, the RCMP or some proxy of these agencies operating at the provincial and municipal levels, or privately in the form of private investigators and security consultants, have been caught red-handed engaging in the practice) it has been couched as an “anti-terror” tactic. The fact that the term “terrorism” evokes such a strong emotional response simply discourages the public from searching deeper or questioning those claims.

The Harper government is going to great lengths to rush this bill into law. It severely curtailed debate on it in the House. It strictly limited the witnesses able to testify about it in committee. Dozens of amendments proposed were simply ruled “out of order.” Even the Senate began to delve into the bill in a rarely used “pre-study” before third reading in the House. 

Both Bill C-51 and the government’s process to ram it onto the books are un-Canadian.


Fred Joseph Ernst, a public interest researcher resident in Hamilton, has a quarter century of experience in public interest research. He specializes in finding and retrieving records using federal, provincial and municipal freedom of information laws. He also engages open court laws, government archives, legislative history and uses open source research to the extent it is verifiable. As of late he has become almost exclusively focused on the practice of “disruption” and the suppression of peaceful social movements in Canada.