Hello, CSIS!

This post originally appeared on the Dogwood Initiative blog.

I should confess: I talk to lamp fixtures.

I wink at ceiling vents, sing to the dashboard in my car, apologize to the people eavesdropping on my phone calls for how boring my conversations are.

I can’t pinpoint when this running joke began, but it was sometime after I left television journalism and began to publicly criticize the government. Now that I work at Dogwood Initiative — where we’ve actually been the target of homeland surveillance — the joke is less funny.

Last week Dogwood organizers testified at a secret hearing of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — the “watchdog” tasked with keeping CSIS on a leash. We allege not only that Canada’s spy service broke the law by gathering information on peaceful civilians inside Canada, but that government spying has put a chill on democratic participation.

Do you know that feeling, that you’re being watched? It’s like when you park your vehicle in a bad spot and have to walk there after dark. Or you come home after a trip and the door is unlocked. Or you peer into the webcam on your phone or computer and wonder, is anyone there?

Thrown Under the Omnibus: C-51 the Latest in Harper’s Barrage of Sprawling, Undemocratic Bills

In 1982, an omnibus bill proposed by the Pierre Trudeau government provoked such indignation in parliamentarians that the official opposition whip refused to show up in the House of Commons.

Back then the custom was for Parliament to ring noisy “division bells” when opposition whips pulled a no-show and in this case they rang loudly — for two whole weeks.

The noise was so unbearable that parliamentarians were supplied, and this is no joke, with earplugs at the door.

While the division bells no longer ring, the passing of the Harper government’s most recent and certainly most contentious omnibus bill, the anti-terrorism bill C-51, has created a tremendous amount of noise.

Yet the federal Conservatives seem to have found that old pile of earplugs.

Canada Just Got a Democracy Report Card and Our Grade Isn’t Pretty

The Canadian civic-engagement advocacy group Samara just released its first-ever report card on the state of “everyday democracy” across the country. The result? Canada received a disconcerting ‘C’ grade.

What does that mean?

We’re failing on a lot more fronts than just voter turnout, according to Jane Hilderman, Samara Director.

The political process now repels more citizens than it attracts — particularly young Canadians,” she said.

While most evaluations of democracy focus on voter turnout, we need to better assess the relationship between citizens and political leaders beyond a trip to the ballot box every four years.”

Access Denied: Ministry of Environment Vetoes Interview Request on Oilsands Toxins in Animals

Documents obtained by DeSmog Canada reveal that Canada’s Ministry of Environment vetoed an interview request on toxins in fur-bearing animals in the oilsands, even though the federal scientist was “media trained and interested in doing the interview.”

The Environment Canada scientist in question, Philippe Thomas, had asked members of the Alberta Trappers Association to send him samples of fur-bearing animals caught across Alberta in 2012. Thomas needed a broad range of samples to gain deeper insight into the contaminant load in animals living near the oilsands.

In late 2012, DeSmog Canada submitted a request to interview Thomas, and provided several written questions to Environment Canada to review.

Documents obtained via Access to Information legislation show that pre-scripted responses were prepared for Thomas should the interview be approved at the upper levels. The request was approved at the deputy general level, but denied in the office of former Environment Minister Peter Kent.

Citizens Take Constitutional, Free Speech Challenge Against National Energy Board to Supreme Court

A group of citizens fighting to speak about climate change and the oilsands at National Energy Board (NEB) reviews of pipeline projects, like the current Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, are taking their battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The group, comprised of landowners, academics, owners of business and many others, filed a constitutional challenge against the NEB’s restrictive policies that limit public participation and prevent discussion of climate and upstream oil and gas activities.

The purpose of taking the challenge to the Supreme Court “is to ask that Court to direct the NEB to do its job properly,” David Martin, legal counsel, explained in a statement.

The NEB's claim that it cannot consider scientific evidence regarding the long term impacts of the export of bitumen is simply wrong,” Martin said.

“Instead the NEB is making a misguided choice to adopt an unconstitutionally narrow interpretation of its jurisdiction so as to avoid having to address the real competing public interests that pipeline approval applications necessarily entail.”

More than 100 Legal Experts Urge Parliament to Amend or Kill Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51

harper, anti-terrorism, C-51

Legal experts from across Canada are urging all parliamentarians to “ensure that C-51 not be enacted in anything resembling its present form.” They argue, in an open letter published on the National Post, that the federal government’s anti-terrorism bill is a “dangerous piece of legislation” that has not been given due debate. The Harper government decided to cut off a second reading debate of the bill on February 23, after less than three days of discussion.

The authors of the letter note the lack of debate is a “troubling undermining of our parliamentary democracy’s ability to hold majority governments accountable.”

It is sadly ironic that democratic debate is being curtailed on a bill that vastly expands the scope of covert state activity when that activity will be subject to poor or non-existent democratic oversight or review.”

The full text of the open letter is reproduced below:

Leaked RCMP Report Fuels Fears Harper’s Anti-Terrorism Bill will Target Enviros, First Nations

Burnaby Mountain Protesters Face RCMP, Mark Klotz

The federal government’s anti-terrorism bill C-51 was the subject of heated parliamentary debate recently after revelations that the RCMP characterized pipeline opponents and First Nations as “violent anti-petroleum extremists” in a leaked internal intelligence report.

NDP environment critic Megan Leslie argued the leaked RCMP document, which labeled Canada’s environment movement as “a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security,” displays precisely how bill C-51 could be used to deploy anti-terrorism legislation against environmental activism deemed to be “unlawful.”

Because protests carried out without proper municipal permits can be deemed “unlawful” the proposed bill has serious implications for environmental and aboriginal groups, Leslie said.

A lot hinges on that word ‘unlawful,’ ” she said during a recent question period in parliament.

This is dangerous legislation, because if there is a wildcat strike or an occupy movement – an occupation of town property, such as the camps that we saw set up – that activity, under the eyes of CSIS or the current government, could potentially undermine the security of Canada without the right municipal permit, and it could all of a sudden be scooped up into this anti-terrorism legislation.”

Every single word here matters,” Leslie said.

The Tyranny of the Talking Point

Dear government spin doctor,

I am working on a story about how the job you’re doing is helping to kill Canada’s democracy.

I know that your role, as a so-called communications professional, is to put the best spin on what the government is or isn’t doing.

That means you often don’t respond the questions I ask, you help elected officials do the same thing and you won’t let me talk to those who actually have the answers.

While this may work out very well for you, it doesn’t work out so well for my audience who, by the way, are taxpayers, voters and citizens.

So your refusal to provide me with information is actually a refusal to provide the public with information.

And if the public doesn’t know what their government is actually doing, it can continue doing things the public wouldn’t want it to do.

That just doesn’t seem very democratic to me. Does it seem democratic to you?

Dear Harper, You Know the Rules: It’s Three Strikes You’re Out

This is a guest post by Michael Harris, author of Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover. It originally appeared on iPolitics

In politics, as in baseball, the rule is simple: Three strikes and you’re out.

When Stephen Harper finally shambles towards the showers, head down, bat in hand, I’ll be thinking of Mighty Casey. For much of his career, Harper has umpired his own at-bats. But that role will soon — if briefly — fall to the people of Canada. Election Day is coming to Mudville.

Strike one against this government of oligarchs and corporate shills comes down to this: They have greedily championed oil and gas while doing nothing to protect air and water. Consider the piece of legislation with the Orwellian name — the Navigable Waters Protection Act. NDP house leader Nathan Cullen said it as well as anyone could:

It means the removal of almost every lake and river we know from the Navigable Waters Protection Act. From one day to the next, we went from 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers in Canada to 159 lakes and rivers protected.”

Does the Harper Government Have the Credibility to be Re-Elected?

prime minister stephen harper

This is a guest post by author and filmmaker Michael Harris. The article originally appeared on iPolitics and is republished here with permission.

From the cold porches of January, 2015 stretches out like a thousand miles of gravel road.

The country is facing an election that will be nasty, brutish and long — from now until the vote occurs, whenever that may be. The writ period is essentially meaningless. Under the Conservatives, it’s always game on.

True to his word, Stephen Harper has transformed the country, largely by stealth. Canada is now a nation that spies on its friends, guests and citizens. It accepts foreign intelligence even when there is a likelihood that it was obtained by torture. The government lies to the electorate on policy matters. It accuses veterans of exaggerating their injuries in order to take the taxpayer for a ride. It washes its hands of any stake in the fate of 1,200 missing or murdered Aboriginal women. It does not practise unite-and-lead politics, but divide-and-conquer stratagems. A government, by any democratic measure, in disgrace.


Subscribe to Democracy