Watch Yourself, Canada

ABOVE THE fold of October 4th’s Globe and Mail there was featured a piece by the fine journalist Steven Chase, “Military intelligence unit keeps watch on native groups.” A more candid and accurate phrasing (Chase, not a writer given to mealy-mouthing, is not responsible for the headline) would be “Canada is spying on indigenous people.”

Chase begins by observing that “the Canadian military is keeping a watch on aboriginal groups through an intelligence unit that is meant to protect the Forces and the Department of National Defence from espionage, terrorists and saboteurs.” In the post 9/11 world, one imagines that this set-up arrives to many without need of further comment. Well, I did find myself wondering who the Indian “terrorists and saboteurs” were exactly, and while I’m not given to delusions of grandeur I have noticed that the visits to this by-the-wayside website of mine have included “hits” from (for examples) CSIS and Homeland Security and the CIA. An Indian can dream, in other words.

Not content to speculate, I got a copy of the ATIP document to which Chase refers, released in late September and inelegantly titled “A-2011-00367.” (As an aside, I’ll note that news of the Harper Government’s decision to track indigenous “hot spots” broke in 2006. I drew attention to this earlier in the year.) In the PDF file there are twenty-one pages of intelligence gathering, covering the period January 2010 to July 2011 and concerning routine matters such as a rally on Parliament Hill (over the HST) and other proposed marches and demonstrations.

The report whose very banality I thought eloquent however concerned pre-scheduled June 9-11, 2010 meetings between the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs “with various Ministers and Senators to discuss issues facing First Nations people.” This indicates that the counter-intelligence net is cast widely enough so that into its clutch now falls the routine business of elected political representatives. In case I’ve not been clear, let me phrase it like this. The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is now being spied upon as the result of a Prime Minister of Canada directive to counter the threats of espionage, terrorism, and sabotage.

This revelation ought to provoke, but it appears Canadians will remain supine, self-satisfied and semi-comatose and thus deserving of whatever they happen to get. With Caledonia uppermost in many minds, the idea no doubt occurs that those being spied upon “had it coming.” The scant table crumbs released by the Government suggest otherwise. To be sure, there are the usual threats of blockades. Legitimate security concerns are involved. (By the way: what about the security of indigenous people, who for hundreds of years have faced real and immediate threats to their cultures, languages, lands, food supply, and children?) This expansive and unaccountable and opaque program however crosses, in my opinion, a line the transgression of which citizens ought to challenge. Instead they appear to bear the matter with good and generous grace.

Now that the tip of this ugly iceberg has met the northern air, it’s time for someone to put forward some pointed questions. The first might concern the nature of the danger posed to Canada by the Assembly of First Nations politicians whose very existence has depended upon the Government purse. Another: could it be as it so clearly seems that Canada is now targeting anyone engaged in the mere act of politics? How else does one explain the opening of a file on this suit-and-tie operation which is itself sanctioned and underwritten by the state? The question I am most anxious to ask however is this: am I the only one to glimpse in this dirty work of the enemies list and the clandestine political file the era of the disfigured and hateful Richard Nixon?

If that last question seems to you an over-reaching, do recall the pattern already established by for instance John Baird. The Harper Government is very much in the business of ideological battle and personal assassination, and has shown itself willing to prevaricate and insinuate in service of these ends. Critics of Israel — any critic, really, making any sort of criticism — are certain to receive a rough handling, as are those who in any way disagree with the Harper Conservative way of doing things. What a brilliant and useful contribution to the short-circuiting of dissent an intelligence gathering operation might make, were it to fall under the sway of persons with personal agendas. This unhappy integration of personal vendetta and state machinery is ever the real threat to democracy, which by its nature is a delicate arrangement in need of supervision. Watch yourself, Canada.

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