Food for Thought: When will the Harper government facilitate democratic debate?
Canadians are losing their ability to fully and meaningfully participate in public debate.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has created a set of standard definitions for commonly used terms to guide staff through the super-delicate task of labelling the individuals they’re watching.
The one-page list of definitions describes a “terrorist” as someone who “has or will engage in, assist, commit or conduct a politically, religiously or ideologically motivated act of serious violence against persons or property.”
An “extremist,” on the other hand, is someone who “holds an extreme belief or interpretation of an idea, ideology, cause or issue, who may incite others to hold similar views and/or advocates extreme measures, including the use of violence, to draw attention to or advance a desired goal.”
Meanwhile, a “supporter” is an individual who “supports a particular organization, cause, issue, idea or ideology and who purposefully diverts or redirects attention and or resources (ie. time, funds, propaganda, etc.) towards this organization or cause.”
Such a person differs from a “sympathizer,” who “may be inclined to favour a particular organization, cause, issue, idea or ideology, but who will not purposefully divert or redirect attention and or resources (ie. time, funds, propaganda, etc.) towards supporting this organization or cause.”
Attempts to clarifying these sensitive, and often loaded, terms might have been long overdue. However, the exclusive process through which these definitions were established leave many questions unanswered.
What would this blogger prefer? Would a little more public input be too much to ask? Perhaps a public debate on how people perceive and would like to define concepts such as terrorism, extreme ideologies?
What does ‘extreme ideas’ mean? What are the assumptions behind CSIS’ definition of ‘extreme ideas’? What exactly constitutes an ‘ extreme belief’? In a period of social unrest, provoked by what seems authoritarian government policies [i.e. audio-surveillance at airports and border crossings without public consultations, Quebec's anti-protest law 78, highly contested Omnibus Bill C-38] who defines extreme ideas, extreme beliefs? Whose purpose do these definitions serve?
Most concerning is that such definitions only apply hierarchically, leaving those who have appropriated the terms of debate outside the framework of the very discourse being imposed. When do these terms, for instance, apply to authoritarian government measures against its citizens? What are the self imposed mechanisms of government accountability when dealing with policies that Canadians do not approve of? When are citizen protests democratic, and when does legitimate expressions of dissent become acts of extremism? Why do these definitions lead to more questions than answers?
It is deeply troubling that government officials can, without any debate, label legitimately concerned citizens and environmentalists ‘radicals,’ ‘extremists,’ and ‘terrorists’. Are there mechanisms in place for alternative perspectives to democratically express themselves? Are there mechanisms in place that ensure public concerns are respectfully and meaningfully addressed by those who claim to represent us?
Within the current political framework, there are no alternative perspectives. There is the Conservative government’s way or the radical way. But governments are not elected with absolute rights to impose an agenda shared only by a few. Citizens do not vote to have unjust policies and legislations imposed upon them against their will.
Governments are supposed to be facilitators of democratic communication between different interest groups. A democratic, elected government should not act as an interest group itself.
When will Canadians reclaim the terms of public debate on issues that matter to us all? When will the Conservative government allow for the democratic space we are all entitled to? When will the Harper government respectfully meets its democratic government mandate and facilitate a public debate for Canadians to express and share ideas without being marginalized, ridiculed, and demonized?
To govern by obeying is to affirm every day that the sovereign is not the state. It is the people, who express themselves not only every five years by the vote, but each day they speak and put forward their needs, expectations and collective requirements. [Evo Morales Source: Bolivian Democracy: ‘governing by obeying the people’]
We may be tempted to conclude that there is at the very least a tension between national security and democratic freedom. Some might even say that they are opposing forces. You can have unconstrained freedom or you can have unconstrained security, but you can’t have both at the same time. And yet, to paraphrase a famous quotation, it is said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.
I would like to suggest a different way of looking at national security and its relationship with democratic values. I prefer to think of national security as an integral part of democratic freedom. Those who say you have to choose one or the other are presenting you with a false dichotomy.
What do we mean by national security? The term is deceptively simple. We use it often, almost without thinking. And we rarely pause to think what we mean by these words. Not everyone agrees on the definition. Many people focus on only the protective aspects of security. What may be less obvious is that it also encompasses protection of our key values and institutions: those enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, respect for the rule of law, and of course, democratic institutions such as Parliament, the judiciary and the executive branch of government…
Source: False dichotomy: Democratic values or national security by John Sims
Excerpt from Public Safety Canada: Building Resilience Against Terrorism: CANADA’S COUNTER-TERRORISM STRATEGY
In Canada, the definition of terrorist activity includes an act or omission undertaken, inside or outside Canada, for a political, religious or ideological purpose that is intended to intimidate the public with respect to its security, including its economic security, or to compel a person, government or organization (whether inside or outside Canada) from doing or refraining from doing any act, and that intentionally causes one of a number of specified forms of serious harm.
Although not of the same scope and scale faced by other countries, low-level violence by domestic issued-based groups remains a reality in Canada. Such extremism tends to be based on grievances—real or perceived—revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism. Other historical sources of Canadian domestic extremism pose less of a threat…
In the News
Canada adds $8 million to global fund for prevention and response to terrorism June 28 2012 | Guelph Mercury
Decisions on Canadian defence policy are needed now June 27 2012 | Winnipeg Free Press
Federal government looks to build ‘cyber perimeter’ over ‘hostile threats’ to national security June 23 2012 | National Post
Eavesdropping, Mr. Toews? You might not like what you’d hear June 23 2012 | Globe & Mail
CSIS rewrites lexicon to better differentiate ‘terrorists’ from ‘sympathizers’ June 22 2012 | Postmedia
Instilling fear into hearts of citizens June 20 2012 | Standard
Canadian Military vehicle carrying explosives on fire north of Edmonton June 20 2012 | Global TV
Bugging citizens June 19 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Vic Toews orders end to airport eavesdropping pending privacy review June 19 2012 | Calgary Herald
Harper government backs down on plans to eavesdrop on travellers’ conversations June 19 2012 | The Star
Jesse Kline: If the CBSA wants to eavesdrop on us, we should be able to record them June 19 2012 | National Post
Feds halt border listening plan pending privacy study June 19 2012 | Chronicle Herald
Eavesdropping at border crossings has critics up in arms June 18 2012 | CTV
Canadian Big Brother is Listening in Airports June 18 2012 | GeekOSystems
Airport eavesdropping plan alarms federal privacy watchdog June 18 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Canadian Forces warned of white supremacists reaching out to rank-and-file June 18 2012 | Montreal Gazette
Microphones in Ottawa airport will record travellers’ conversations June 18 2012 | Financial Post
Government Announces New Program to Enhance National Security June 17 2012 | MarketWatch
Canadian Safety and Security Program Established – Focus is on Natural Disasters, Counter-Terrorism and Crime June 17 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Canada Will Spy on People, Politely June 17 2012 | The Atlantic
Watch what you say or do at airports and border crossings June 17 2012 | 660 News
Government Announces New Program to Enhance National Security: New program strengthens Canada’s ability to anticipate, prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism, crime, natural disasters, and serious accidents June 17 2012 | MarketWatch
Canada Border Services Agency to bug airports to eavesdrop on travelers? June 17 2012 | Privacy Lawyer
Canadian airports being wired with listening equipment that ‘will record conversations’: CBSA June 16 2012 | Vancouver Sun
Canadian airport to bug travelers’ conversations: Ottawa airport installs microphones that are intended to, quite simply, bug private conversations between travelers. Might this be slightly intrusive? Or just plain creepy? June 16 2012 | CNET
Ottawa airport wired with microphones as Border Services prepares to record travellers’ conversations June 15 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Japanese Canadians were loyal citizens during Second World War June 15 2012 | Calgary Herald
Military considered “embarrassment” to government as threat during G20 June 11 2012 | News 1010
‘Embarrassment to gov’t’ considered security threat at G20 summit: documents June 10 2012 | Postmedia
Hacker stole data on 1,000 Canadian officials from U.S. intelligence firm: report June 12 2012 | Vancouver Sun
Why is Embarrassment a National Security Threat? My Rant June 12 2012 | Exigenomicon
Canada has poor security against cyber attacks, documents warn June 7 2012 | Toronto Star
Counter-terrorism unit protecting the energy industry June 6 2012 | 404SE
Notice of Proposed Procurement: CCTV UPGRADE – EQUIPMENT June 4 2012 | Merx.com
Ottawa pledges $1.1M to counter-terrorism research May 30 2012 | CTV
Boosting foreign ownership in telecoms threatens national security, Ottawa warned in ‘secret letter’ April 18 2012 | Financial Post
Canada Surveillance & Undemocratic State: Terrorism Requires Redefinition April 11 2012 | 404SE
‘National Security’ Is Whatever Dear Leader Says February 16 2012 | Ottawa Citizen
Canada’s counter-terrorism strategy: Still terrorizing Muslims February 15 2012 | Rabble
Canada’s Counter-terrorism Strategy Requires Semiotic Analysis February 11 2012 | 404SE
The New Canada: Fomenting Fear at Home and Abroad February 4 2012 | CIC
“Scary time” for Canada: Critics say they’re “dismayed” by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s anti-democratic and “McCarthy-esque” tactics, regarding regulatory hearings for the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline January 25 2012 | Vancouver Observer
Canada: Military Spending and The National Security Establishment January 14 2012 | 404SE
Canada to revive anti-democratic “counter-terrorism” powers January 14 2012 | WSWS
Taking liberties: When elite representatives define ‘national security’ October 24 2011 | Rabble.ca
Canada Anti-Terrorism Laws: Harper Conservatives Will Reintroduce Controversial Measures September 6 2012 | Huffington Post
Which security experts were responsible for the G20? June 11 2012 | Macleans
A curious pattern: Harper Government’s policies and coinciding reports by the MacDonald Laurier Institute. We will be examining this pattern more closely in upcoming posts:
US military surveillance future: Drones now come in swarms? June 20 2012 | RT
British disclose surveillance plan: Proposal would track daily lives of citizens June 15 2012 | Telegram