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Stop Harper from crushing our civil liberties

By: 
John Bell

October 26, 2014

Let us not mince words. The attacks on military personnel in Ottawa and Quebec are a potential disaster for democracy in Canada.
 
“I will be shocked if the events of this week don't result in far greater secrecy powers and far greater surveillance powers than existed previously,” Glenn Greenwald told The Canadian Press. Greenwald is the reporter who published the revelations from whistle-blower Edward Snowdon about unlimited and illegal government spying on US citizens.
 
Harper no sooner emerged from his closet than he launched a new assault on our rights and freedoms. He leapt to label the attacks in Quebec and Ottawa as “terrorist” acts, despite ample evidence that both attackers were isolated and troubled individuals. In comparison Justin Bourque, the Moncton man who killed three Mounties in a July shooting spree, was never labeled a “terrorist.”
 
In a speech to the House of Commons Harper declared Canada’s already draconian use of surveillance and secret trials insufficient. “Our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest. They need to be much strengthened. I assure members that work which is already under way will be expedited.”
 
Even before the attacks, the Tories were planning to table a new security bill before the end of October. Expect it to be crammed with new attacks on the right to open trial, the presumption of innocence that is supposed to be the bedrock of our legal system, and sweeping powers for security agencies to monitor citizens without warrant.
 
Preventive detention and condoning terror
Justice Minister Peter McKay warned what to expect. “We’re examining all those sections of the criminal code, and all measures under the law that will allow us, in some instances, to take pre-emptive measures.” In part, that means preventive detention.
 
Canada already has a form of preventive detention: the ministerial security certificate. This allows Canadian citizens to be held almost indefinitely without charge, be denied the right to face their accusers, and be denied the right to open trial.
 
So far five Muslim men have been victims of the security certificate powers, often jailed on unsubstantiated information gleaned through torture. After years of incarceration, none have ever been officially charged or tried in open court. They are the subject of an important documentary film, The Secret Trial Five.
 
There are also hints that the Tories plan to make it illegal to use social media to “condone” acts of terrorism. Under these laws, would it become illegal to support the Palestinian struggle? Our government, with its slavish support for Israel, could well use such a law to curtail attempts to identify Israeli war crimes, or build a movement to brand it an apartheid state.
 
Who defines “terror”?
While the Tories demand more police powers, we know they want to label anyone who dares to oppose the national interest—as they define it—as a terror threat. For Harper, national interest is synonymous with corporate profits, especially from the expansion of the tar sands and the creation of pipelines to reach international markets.
 
According to an RCMP threat assessment document: “Environmental ideologically motivated individuals including some who are aligned with a radical, criminal extremist ideology pose a clear and present criminal threat to Canada’s energy sector.” The 2011 document was obtained after a lengthy freedom of information request process. “It is highly probable that environmentalists will continue to mount direct actions targeting Canada's energy sector, specifically the petroleum sub-sector and the fossil and nuclear fueled electricity generating facilities, with the objectives of: influencing government energy policy, interfering within the energy regulatory process and forcing the energy industry to cease its operations that harm the environment.”
 
Small wonder that federal agents have been illegally spying on opponents of projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline. Organizations like Forest Ethics, the Dogwood Initiative and LeadNow.ca, together with the BC Civil Liberties Association are attempting to use the courts to expose the government’s anti-democratic espionage. Spies from CSIS and the RCMP report not only to Ottawa, but to petroleum industry bosses.
 
“It’s against the law and the constitution for police and spy agencies to spy on the lawful activities of people who are just speaking out and getting involved in their communities,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA.
 
It is likely that Harper et al will use the present tragedy to weaken those laws and the constitution. They have shown no compunction in attacking and intimidating opponents. Witness the way environmental and peace groups have had their charitable status threatened. Expensive audits are designed to use up resources and intimidate organizations.
 
In mid-October the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists found themselves under attack from Ottawa. They received a threatening letter from the tax agency, warning they could face an audit if they didn’t remove “partisan” political information from their website. The threats came shortly after the group sent letters to two federal ministers raising concern about the danger posed to bee populations by Ottawa approved chemicals.
 
Defend civil liberties
From birdwatcher to terrorist in one easy step. If you care about the planet, and organize openly to act on your concerns you can be treated as an enemy of the state. If you have these concerns and couple them with a movement to control development on your own territory, as do many First Nations, then the scrutiny and intimidation is doubled. And all this is before any new police powers are rammed through Parliament in the coming days.
 
Our right to organize and dissent has been seriously eroded over the past decade. Canadians know this. Polls taken after the Ottawa shooting show a big majority does not want to trade more freedom for security. That means nothing to Harper. Unless we can turn that sentiment into actual organized opposition, expect Harper to move from his broom closet to under our beds.

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