One of the principal thrusts of corporate globalization and its neo-liberal ideology is the development of the national security state. In the minds of the gurus of this global system, the only proper roles for government are security — policing, the armed forces, intelligence gathering, prisons — the banking system and the general facilitation of the actions of private capital. Ideally, the rest would be handled by the private sector. As we have seen in Iraq even the security role can be increasingly contracted out to the private sector.

The Harper government is determined to take the country in the direction of a security state as evidenced by numerous moves in the past few months and over the past year. He has recently announced Ottawa’s plan to build more prisons in anticipation of the much larger number of prisoners created by his extremist, U.S.-style changes in the criminal law. He has, since taking office, made clear that Canada’s military has permanently left behind its history of peace-keeping (contrary to media spin, there are more peacekeepers operating under the UN mandate now than ever before — Canada contributes fewer than 60 soldiers). The military budget is now (at over $20 billion) larger proportionately than at any time since the Second World War and is scheduled to increase every year (beyond inflation) through 2027. This despite the absence of any enemy state on the horizon.

One of the defining publications of the Washington Consensus was a book called the Crisis in Democracy which boldly declared that there was an “excess of democracy” and advocated increasing restrictions. Indeed, part and parcel of the security state is the systematic restrictions put on civil liberties and human rights. As the neo-liberal state facilitates a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, it consciously prepares the ground for dealing with any future social unrest rooted in a response to poverty. We saw the first sign of this when countries across the West used 9/11 as an opportunity to frame protest against globalization as a form of terrorism.

In British Columbia we are witnessing a test of the next radical stage of the redefinition of “security” as anyone who dares protest the coming of the Olympics to Vancouver/Whistler is finding themselves subjected to Gestapo-like harassment: being stopped on the streets and questioned; having friends, neighbours and colleagues questioned about their character and more. A new law (so far applied only in the Olympic venue cities of Richmond, Vancouver and Whistler) allows the Olympic security members to enter your home and remove anti-Olympics signs (and other material?).

According to a recent article in the Dominion, the behind-the-scenes security apparatus for the Olympics reflects the new corporate approach to security in the U.S.: “… a new model of law enforcement has emerged in which police, military, security contractors and large corporations are collaborating on intelligence gathering.” His answer to the question “Are the 2010 Olympics ushering this new paradigm into Canada?” seems to be yes.

Part of the construction of the security state is cultural. Last winter I wrote a column on the subject at a time when Hillier was head of the military and it seemed that Canadian culture was being deliberately militarized. “Canadian military spokespersons now openly promote their war-fighting role and take part in cultural events, and the media (most notably the CBC) promotes this new expansive role.”

Now we learn that the Harper government has re-written the guide to citizenship that every one of the 250,000 new immigrants (each year) must study to prepare for the test that leads to citizenship. The document will, according to the Globe and Mail, place “…a much greater emphasis on Canada’s military history, from the Great War to the present day.”

And even Remembrance Day, once a two or three day event now lasts a week largely at the initiative of the federal Conservative government but with the co-operation of the major media outlets.

Ideology is meaning in the service of power. The creation of cultural icons and materials to support policies being implemented on the ground is a sophisticated approach to social engineering which is what the Harper Conservatives are up to. Fortunately, it’s a long term process and we can still resist it. We are a long way yet from the national security state in Canada. But people need to be conscious of the process in order to oppose it. And it would be interesting to see what leadership on the issue from progressives in the world of Canadian culture would look like.


Murray Dobbin

Murray Dobbin was's Senior Contributing Editor. He was a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over 40 years. A board member and researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy...