Canada’s Conservative government is set to introduce expanded powers for surveillance agencies, likely for the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Speaking last week in Vancouver, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that the government is “looking at additional powers to make sure that our security agencies have the range of tools available,” apparently to address incidents like the shootings in Paris. However, judging by past policy patterns reaching the highest government levels, such new “powers” will likely be aimed at stifling and criminalizing voices of dissent, here are some reasons why.
Over recent years, the track record of Canada’s state surveillance agencies has been made clear through numerous access to information requests and public accounts, the record is that First Nations have been a prime target for government spying, while environmentalist and social justice groups are also closely watched.
Throughout the Idle No More protests both CSIS and the RCMP, working in concert, monitored closely the community protests for treaty rights, actions that inspired many Indigenous youth to vocalize publicly the apartheid realities facing First Nations people.
Conservative politicians refused to ever fully recognize the voices and demands of Indigenous people on the streets during Idle No More, like the Nishiyuu Walkers, instead turning shadowy government agents on the first peoples of these lands. By extension, all other major Canadian political parties, both the Liberals and the NDP, have failed to denounce clearly, the sustained spying by CSIS and the RCMP on First Nations communities.
Within the context of the “additional powers” that Harper is publicly indicating will be given to spy agencies in the coming period, the likely reality is that additional attention from CSIS will be focused on First Nations peoples protesting for human and land rights in Canada.
On CSEC, Canada’s digital surveillance agency, likely involved in the same type of mass data collection practiced by the National Security Agency (NSA) south of the border, something never publicly disputed by CSEC, the new “powers” that Harper is speaking about will also most likely involve CSEC, an organization with tight operational links to the NSA.
Details made public by American whistleblower Edward Snowden, indicate that Canada’s CSEC maintains a “close co-operative relationship” with the NSA, a working collaboration that involves CSEC offering “resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis.” To date the Canadian government and by extension CSEC, has never confirmed or denied any of these details, in state security terms we know very well what that means.
Today, in the wake of the shootings in Paris, the Conservative government in Ottawa is working to exploit the deaths and by extension the larger neo-colonial political crisis in France, to expand the role of state surveillance agencies, like CSIS and CSEC, that define contemporary neo-liberal authoritarianism, a political orientation that is firmly rooted and extends from the colonial era.
Instead of embarking on a real political discussion on the ways that contemporary western systems of power are central to creating the conditions for “terrorism,” Harper is simply expanding the surveillance practices of neo-colonialism and by extension justifying war.
Harper’s comments in Vancouver on the Paris shootings, intentionally exploit the violence with the aim of legitimizing Canada’s role in the bombing of Iraq. “And they have declared war on any country like ourselves that values freedom, openness and tolerance,” stated Harper, “and we may not like this and wish it would go away, but it is not going to go away and the reality is we are going to have to confront it.”
In real terms this is a call from Harper for prolonged Canadian participation in war, the sustained bombing of Iraq, a military campaign purportedly aiming to save the Iraqi people from the Islamic State (ISIS) group by bombing their cities and towns.
Bombing people to save them, that was an argument made by the U.S. government during the war in Vietnam and again with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, both interventions that clearly has lead to sustained violence and human suffering, remember the Mỹ Lai massacre. How are more western bombs going to liberate Iraq, or Syria, from ISIS?
Most certainly Canada’s moves to join the ‘war’ against ISIS will lead to significant profits for Canada’s ever growing military industrial complex, while simply leading to more death and destruction in Iraq. In reality the entire bombing campaign in Iraq is rooted in violent colonial logic, the very same framework that is fueling the type of violence seen this past week in Paris, the people carrying out the shootings in France spoke about the images of US torture at Abu Ghraib prison and also the Israeli military occupation of Palestine as reasons of the attacks.
Now clearly nothing justifies the killing of cartoonists, or civilians in a supermarket in Paris, but we can’t continue to ignore that western colonialism, past and present, is creating the context for such violent incidents to continue. In a cycle of violence, rooted in colonialism, those holding the monopoly of military power, the U.S., France and Canada, clearly have the greater ability and responsibility to stop the cycle and create real conditions for a just peace.
Instead of examining in truth the roots of the violence, Canada’s Conservative government is simply abusing the memories of all those who died in France, by using the shootings to justify the entrenchment of a surveillance state and to cheerlead neo-colonial military policies abroad.
Image: “Strength in the Face of Fighter Jets” by Nidal Elkhairy