Saturday, June 11, 2016
Homes Not Bombs occupies Global Affairs and protests against CANSEC weapons show
By Kevin Shimmin
It began with a welcome by Elder Evelyn Commanda, to the unceded and unconquered territory of the Algonquin nation. Her powerful statement reminded us why we were gathered: “We walk on our ancestors. And the dust of my ancestors is being used for war.” Her protection gave us courage to resist the purveyors of war: “I will be laying down tobacco for you today and tomorrow to welcome you to our territory.”
On May 24 to 25, 2016, members of Homes Not Bombs – along with the Ottawa Raging Grannies, Christian Peacemaker Teams, NoWar/Paix, and Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade – utilized a variety of creative means to protest against CANSEC, the annual war and weapons show in Ottawa. CANSEC has been a blight on Mother Earth for 16 years running, bringing together the world’s worst human rights violators with the producers of today’s deadliest weaponry. The return of a Liberal government has in no way altered the wholehearted support of the PMO for CANSEC. No less than six members of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet enthusiastically participated in this year’s glorification of death and destruction. Having recently signed the export permits on Canada’s $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, Trudeau has signalled he is ready to do business with some of the world’s most brutal regimes.Kevin Shimmin is arrested and charged after occupying Global Affairs on May 25.
Indigenous elders teach us that the key to protecting our peoples and our planet from war and annihilation is to wake up. To wake up to the fact that the production of arms is what makes war possible. To wake up to the fact that millions of people are displaced by wars that are fought with weapons made in Canada. To wake up to the fact that the ongoing history of Canada is one of colonialism, imperialism and militarism. From chemical warfare in Vietnam to helicopter gunships in Sri Lanka to cruise missiles in Iraq, it is weapons made in Canada that have continued to make death and destruction possible. Elder Commanda asks us never to forget that it was uranium taken from Algonquin, Dene, Navajo and Hopi lands that was used for the nuclear bombs that killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and left millions permanently maimed by radiation.Waking up to the fact that Canada is not a peace-keeping nation, and never has been, can be a hard reality for many to face. To see clearly that our nation was created out of violence and continues to spread violence around the world, is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. The alternative, however, is to continue walking around in a dangerous delusion that actively condones war, torture, insecurity and destruction of the natural environment. Healing is urgently needed. For healing to begin, the practice which continues the trauma must be stopped.
On the second day of protests, eight members of the Homes Not Bombs and Christian Peacemaker Teams crew entered the Office of Global Affairs in Ottawa to demand an immediate end to Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. We asked for a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, who signed the export permits for Trudeau. Acknowledging that Dion was with Trudeau in Japan for a G7 meeting that day, we felt it was imperative for him to board the next flight back to Ottawa to address the life-threatening situation posed by the arms deal.
Holding the banner inside Global Affairs created quite a stir
With weapons purchased from its Western partners, Saudi Arabia commits some of the most heinous atrocities in the world today, including torture, beheadings, murder of unarmed demonstrators, and bombings of civilians. The United Nations has condemned the House of Saud for its ongoing war in Yemen, where aerial bombings have targeted civilian neighbourhoods and marketplaces, killing thousands of children, women and men. Video evidence and testimony from dissidents in Saudi Arabia have confirmed that the regime uses LAVs (light armoured vehicles) mounted with machine guns to kill demonstrators – the same type of LAVs that have long been purchased from Canada and a new generation of which is slated to roll off the assembly line in London, Ontario by year’s end. Some of these Western partners, notably Sweden, have been so sickened by Saudi Arabia’s flagrant disregard for human rights that they have halted arms sales to the regime indefinitely.
But not Canada. A few years back, to avoid the scrutiny of congressional oversight in its home country, American weapons giant General Dynamics began lobbying the Canadian government for a lucrative deal with Saudi Arabia. Former war-mongers Stephen Harper and John Baird gleefully obliged. Then, having rid itself of the Harper-Baird brigade in 2015, Canada simply replaced old Conservative war-mongers with new Liberal ones. While the deal was sealed by the previous government, it was the Trudeau-Dion administration that gave the green light to start delivering the next round of LAVs to Saudi Arabia.
A few months back, Dion had a choice. With pen in hand, he stared ominously at three little boxes on the export permits – Yes, No, or Call for Review. Since everyone and their mother seem to know about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, one would assume Dion would check the No box, or, perhaps having a temporary lapse of reason, at least call for a review. Yet, defying all assumptions, defying all of the Liberals’ “sunny ways” proclamations about feminism and gender-parity, the foreign minister checked the yes box for an arms deal with one of the most misogynist regimes in the world. All in a day’s work for Canada’s new leading spokesmen for the arms industry.
So now on this sunny day in May, we were more than willing to wait it out until Dion arrived back in his office, and get this arms deal canceled once and for all. In doing so, Dion could perhaps salvage his own reputation, as he now found himself in the company of war criminals. The opening line of our letter to him offered this olive branch: “we request to meet with you immediately to bring about an end to your complicity in war crimes”. While waiting for Dion, we proceeded to hand out copies of the letter to the hundreds of office workers streaming through the enormous lobby of Global Affairs. Many took the letter with a smile, saying “I know why you’re here” in an unmistakable tone of agreement that the arms deal was an abomination.
General Chaos welcoming his friends from the arms industry, as survivors of war zones try to transform his way of thinking
So, selling arms to countries which purportedly abide by human rights law was a non-starter for us. Our demand for an end to the arms deal with Saudi Arabia represented a beginning, not an end. The cancellation would be an important step towards transforming Canada from a militarized economy to a green and sustainable one. It is a vision of society which most people undoubtedly want for themselves and future generations. As the RCMP and Ottawa police descended on the three of us who were holding our banner of peace and handing out letters, even the guy from Dion’s office appeared to be experiencing a bit of a moral dilemma. While calling on the police for our immediate removal, he quietly whispered to us something quite revealing: “I understand why you are here. It’s a horrible deal. What can I do though? I have to do my job”.
No – you don’t have to do your job. You don’t have to condone and actively participate in the blood-soaked arms industry. You don’t have to repeat the lies of your government. It is not about jobs. It is not about foreign relations. It’s about merchants of death and our active complicity in allowing them to profit from the murder of people at home and around the world. The weapons industry can indeed be stopped – by the act of non-cooperation. It took only three people being arrested and five people supporting us to shut down the Department of Global Affairs and jam the system on May 25. A small committed group of people posed a threat so serious to the government that the lobby was sealed shut after only 45 minutes of us conversing with the department’s workers.and charged after occupying Global Affairs on May 25.
As this goes to press, we are learning that Boeing has met with Global Affairs no less than 10 times this year, in an effort to help the government buy new fighter jets to the tune of $75 million apiece. This, despite the fact that such a purchase is entirely unnecessary for the next decade, according to even the staunchest military analysts. This, despite the fact that new fighter jets would be used for one solitary purpose, as anyone in Syria, Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan can attest to – murdering people from above. By ejecting peace activists, yet welcoming weapons manufacturers with open arms (and behind closed doors), it is clear where the government stands: the demand for peace is simply unbearable to the Trudeau arms brigade. And it demonstrates what can lead to a world that is ultimately free from the clutches of the merchants of death – consistent and spirited nonviolent civil disobedience!
Kevin Shimmin is a union organizer and a founding member of Homes not Bombs.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
By Matthew Behrens
In a major setback to a Liberal government still refusing to repeal the repressive Bill C-51, the Federal Court has found unreasonable the secret trial security certificate against the long-suffering Mahmoud Jaballah, almost 20 years to the day that the Egyptian refugee and his family arrived in Canada seeking asylum from the Mubarak dictatorship. While the written decision for this finding has yet to be released, this hopefully brings to a close an 18-year legal fight that helped spur an international campaign of condemnation against Canada’s use of secret trials, indefinite detention, deportation to torture, and the patently illegal practices conducted by Canada’s spy agency, CSIS.
Jaballah, who was jailed without charge and tortured on many occasions in Egypt (as was his wife, Husnah, who was twice detained and tortured in front of him), was originally arrested in 1999 under the much criticized security certificate, alleging he was a threat to national security. The problem he faced? He was not allowed to see the secret case against him in a process that allowed as evidence anything not normally admissible in a court of law. CSIS had originally approached him to spy on his community, and he refused. The response of CSIS was clear: cooperate or you will be jailed and deported to torture.
CSIS CAUGHT LYING
Jaballah’s then 11-year-old son, Ahmad, was forced to translate through his own tears one very late night for the CSIS interrogators, whose own translator had fallen asleep and was snoring on the couch well after midnight. Young Ahmad could not sleep anyhow: their family of 8 lived in a small two bedroom Scarborough apartment where the noise of the interrogation kept everyone up. While CSIS agents confidently terrorized Jaballah, they were unaware that Ahmad and his mother had placed a tape recorder in the hallway, figuring it might come in useful. Sure enough, when CSIS was examined in open court much later on about whether they were in the business of extortion and threats, they of course denied that they could ever engage in such an odious practice. When the tape was produced, it went a long way towards obliterating any “credibility” CSIS may have had in the case, and in an almost unprecedented historical moment, the certificate was thrown out after Jaballah spent some 7 months in detention.
Jaballah's three youngest children at the Metro West Jail Sleepout, Summer, 2002
But the nightmare did not end there. As is standard CSIS practice, the spy agency continued asking about Jaballah in the community, putting out the word that they would get him. In August 2001, while leaving the school where he was a principal and his wife a teacher, Jaballah was surrounded by heavily armed RCMP agents whose high-risk takedown was as unnecessary as it was baseless. Once again back in jail, Jaballah was behind bars during the 9/11 attacks, and would not be able to hug his kids for another 8 years. At the first public portion of the secret trial in the fall of 2001, a CSIS agent admitted there was no new evidence against Jaballah, only a new interpretation of the old information that had already been thrown out by the Federal Court as unreliable.
Jaballah faced horrific times behind bars, with long years in solitary confinement, hunger strikes, untreated medical conditions, and the pain of a family growing up without him while fending off terror allegations that could never be disproven because they were secret.
DEPRIVATIONS OF JUSTICE
Along the way, the severe deprivations of justice that were the core of the process – originally solidified under the Trudeau government in the 1970s – produced some remarkable zingers that were accepted at face value by a series of Federal Court of Canada judges (all of whom would later learn that they were lied to behind closed doors). In one instance, a CSIS lawyer argued that Jaballah was a terrorist communications relay expert because when he came to Canada, he not only wasted no time in setting up a Bell phone account, but also carried a cell phone with him while his wife was pregnant, “procured” a fax machine (because Arab Muslims don't simply purchase, they “procure,” usually with eerie music playing in the background), and started learning to surf the internet. Readers with such skills: beware, you may be next.
In another instance, CSIS alleged without foundation that Jaballah was in touch with an overseas terrorist leader because some calls were allegedly made to a suspicious satellite phone from payphones within a 4 km radius of Jaballah’s home, which at the time was situated in the densely populated Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
BIRTHING A CAMPAIGN
I got to know the Jaballah family shortly after his second arrest, and it was here that the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada was born, still fighting 15 years later for an end to the barbaric secret trial process and deportation to torture. It has been a long journey for the men, their families, and communities that live in fear that one of their loved ones could be next. Things really began to turn around in 2003 when the secret trial families started speaking with each other and to the media about their ordeal, and the narrative changed from “terrorist threat” to “secret trial detainees who deserved due process.”
Jaballah's two youngest sons, marching from CSIS in Toronto, 2007
Supporters spent years in court on hard benches as heinous allegations were hurled at their loved ones in the docket, while some of Canada’s top lawyers, including Barbara Jackman, John Norris, Paul Copeland, Rocco Galati (who won the first case) and Marlys Edwardh waded through mountains of litigation trying to declare the process unconstitutional (a battle that was won with a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 2007. Celebrations were short-lived, though, as the Harper Conservatives teamed up with the Liberals to support continued use of secret trials, with some window dressing amendments). There were scores of street demonstrations, sympathy hunger strikes, long-distance walks, lobbying missions to Ottawa, jail sleepouts, and civil disobedience, all of which put a human face on one of this country’s most regressive and repressive policies. A fund started by the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (murdered by the U.S. government as Red Scare sacrifices) to aid the children of detainees contributed to the costs of Ahmad Jaballah’s tuition. With people from coast to coast writing letters to and visiting with Jaballah and other detainees known as The Secret Trial Five, it got to the point where CSIS Director Jim Judd threw up his hands in disgust, complaining these alleged threats were being treated as folk heroes.
. Along the way, any glimmer of hope was always dashed with an equal measure of judicial reticence and compliant media, who continually repeated allegations with no factual basis and refused to ever challenge the court when a judge would say “we’re going into closed session.” Yet the media would fight to open up the same court when one of the detainees asked for private details of their lives to be kept out of the public realm when they felt their lives or those of loved ones were at risk. Even when two of the cases were dismissed – one case (Adil Charkaoui) withdrawn when the government refused to comply with an order to produce some classified information, the other (Hassan Almrei) a victory in which the CSIS case was found unreasonable – the government continued its campaign of selective leaks and community innuendo against the men. In the age of google, it doesn’t matter if you win against CSIS: the taint of the allegation is forever available to anyone who opens a computer screen.
Meantime, Ottawa’s Mohamed Harkat and Toronto’s Mohammad Mahjoub, whose cases were found “reasonable” by Federal Court judges who relied in secret information that could not be challenged, are now fighting deportation to torture in Algeria and Egypt, respectively.
While the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials was ultimately successful in stopping the use of secret trial security certificates – none have been issued in over a decade – many of the court precedents in their cases have been used to insert more secrecy into refugee proceedings and other aspects of government control of targeted communities. Indeed, the process was lifted word for word into C-51 under a number of sections. But as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale considers a review of state security, he would do well to look at the weakness of these cases and the human damage they did to the detainees and their loved ones, all of whom will suffer the ill-effects of the past two decades long into the future.
JUDGE MAKES MISTAKE
In the spring of 2003, the second certificate (the one issued in 2001) was upheld against Jaballah on flimsy grounds as well as ON secret information neither he nor his lawyer ever got a chance to see, much less cross-examine. That set in motion the deportation process, in which the Liberal government of the day (with Immigration Minister Denis Coderre playing an odious role) found that Jaballah faced a substantial likelihood of torture or death if deported to Egypt, but recommended he be sent anyhow for the “safety” of Canadians. Coderre approved his department’s callous finding that "Mr. Jaballah has been detained apart from his children for some time; I cannot therefore conclude that Mr. Jaballah's removal from Canada would deprive his children of his emotional and financial support any more than his current detention has."
One of Jaballah’s legal challenges at the time focused on a section of the immigration act that made him and fellow detainees the only people in Canada who were prohibited from applying for bail. It made Federal Court Judge MacKay wonder aloud one day at the end of a long hearing whether Toronto had its own version of Guantanamo Bay.
The danger of the secret trial process, in which one side sat in secret with a judge, was revealed one day in 2006. We were shocked when, sitting in court, Judge MacKay admitted: "It looks like I made a mistake," in reference to his use of a piece of "evidence" that was one of the key reasons he employed to conclude in May, 2003 that the government's second security certificate against Jaballah was "reasonable." It turns out, in fact, that this "evidence" did not exist. Three years of Jaballah’s life were spent behind bars in part due to this “mistake.”
After the process was unanimously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2007, the Federal Court, working with an Ottawa professor, worked diligently not to abolish the practice and raise the standards, but to introduce security-cleared “special advocates” who have some access to some of the case. But the detainees had no more more clues about the reasons for their detention. While held at the notorious Guantanamo North facility in Kingston, Jaballah and his fellow detainees remained on punishing hunger strikes of between 80 and 160 days, eventually released under some of the most draconian bail conditions in Canadian history, turning families into jailers. Children needed approval from the government to have friends over to the house; a trip to the grocery store involved applying for permission a week in advance. All of this was duly recorded by the CBSA, and shared with CSIS, both agencies admitting this was necessary to continue their investigations, including the logging of solicitor client calls.
Jaballah is now a grandfather many times over. His remarkably resilient family has seen the worst of Egypt and of Canada. Last week, they celebrated the good news, which still felt like a dream. While it is a major stake in the heart of the secret trial process, it is not the end of the line. Mohammad Mahjoub of Toronto and Mohamed Harkat of Ottawa continue fighting deportation to torture after their cases were upheld based on secret information that is not normally admissible in a court of law that they were never allowed to see, much less contest.
We have much work still to do on these and so many other cases, but for now, a brief pause, and a celebration. At long last.
Monday, May 16, 2016
"On May 25 and 26, we will be well-dressed and business-like, indistinguishable from the weapons merchants and the warriors of the Liberal Trudeau government who will be perusing the massive weapons on display and hob-nobbing with some of the world's worst human rights violators," says the communique. "With an ID pass that is a virtual replica of those being used for CANSEC2016, our entry should not be a problem. We will be absolutely peaceful, engaging in dialogue about the Nuremberg Principles, which prohibit wars of aggression. Nuremberg, among many other international laws, is daily violated by the countries visiting this weapons fair, as well as the weapons dealers themselves. By sharing with the CANSEC attendees the international laws that they are violating, we hope to engage in a dialogue about how we can transform our global war economy of $1.5 trillion annually into a caring economy in which we make sure all of our needs are met while caring for the planet."
SNAG2 members say they may also bring in the occasional banner, as well as recordings of the sounds of the victims of CANSEC products, from the crying of children and the wailing of mothers after their homes and schools have been bombed to the screams of those tortured in dungeons around the globe run by the majority of countries represented at CANSEC.
They call the CANSEC gathering an illegal conspiracy that contravenes the Canadian (in)Justice Dept.'s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program, "A person is considered complicit if, while aware of the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the person contributes directly or indirectly to their occurrence. Membership in an organization responsible for committing the atrocities can be sufficient to establish complicity if the organization in question is one with a single brutal purpose, e.g. a death squad." They note this applies to U.S., Israeli, Saudi, British, and other human rights violators who will be in attendance at CANSEC.
SNAG2 also notes CANSEC is an illegal gathering because "it is being held on traditional, unceded Algonquin territory, and it appears the war show organizers have not sought permission from the Algonquin nation for this exhibit.... This is a criminal gathering, a celebration of terrorism, and we plan to be a life-affirming antidote to this disgusting display of the tools of mass murder," the communique notes. "So arms dealers and buyers should not be surprised when they turn around to see someone who looks just like them opening a suitcase with a beautiful banner celebrating peace and justice. If they're not careful, they might even get a hug. Sometimes weapons dealers just need to be loved out of the very bad place that they find themselves in to sell such horrifying machinery of murder."
While Homes not Bombs is not familiar with who may be members of the nonviolent SNAG2, the communique states: "We are the children of The Spring Nuremberg Action Group, which in the spring of 2003 shut down Canadian Forces Base Downsview because the Canadian military, while participating in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, refused to allow copies of the Nuremberg Principles onto their base." SNAG2 notes that in 2011, an attempt to present Nuremberg principles at the CANSEC weapons fair, then held at Lansdowne Park, met with 12 foot high fences and heavy security.
The SNAG2 communique concludes: "There may be massive delays as a result of our appearance at CANSEC, because everyone's ID will no doubt have to be double and triple checked, and there are so many ways of getting in that they may have to erect a massive fence around the perimeter. But these are minor inconveniences compared to the real, terminal damage done by CANSEC and its buyers. We believe our unarmed agents of love and compassion being onsite over those two days might change some hearts, minds, and spirits."
While Homes not Bombs is not sure who SNAG2 might be, they wish them well in their nonviolent efforts.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The Faces of War Will Return to the CANSEC entrance on May 25, 2016
Canada's largest annual weapons bazaar opens on May 25 in Ottawa.
The world's worst human rights violators, including the U.S., U.K., and the beheading regime of Saudi Arabia, will be there.
In addition to welcoming the world's leading weapons manufacturers, CANSEC will also host companies that profit from border controls, militarization of police forces, refugee interdiction, the prison-industrial complex, and mass surveillance. It's a toxic gathering celebrating repression, racism, and war.
Join us for a day of nonviolent action to close the most violent annual gathering in Canada.
Wednesday, May 25, 7:30 am to 1 pm, EY Centre, 4899 Uplands Drive, Ottawa
*****Also, join us the night before at the War Criminals Welcoming Walk, May 24, 5-7 pm.
Starting at 5 pm at York and Sussex (Ottawa, Byward Market area) on Tuesday, May 24, General Chaos, the much decorated man of colonial adventure, imperial hubris, and high-priced weapons industry consultation, will lead a walk to welcome delegates to CANSEC16 (aka TerrorismFest16), one of the largest weapons bazaars in North America, and host to an international array of guests from Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, the UK, the USA, and multitudes of other human rights violating nations. Won't you join the General as he welcomes his brother war-criminals-in-arms? Being a Canadian, he may allow a few speeches about human rights and ending violence, but he knows the score. As a Trudeau appointee to a new panel advising the government on how best to smooth over the unsavoury elements of sales like the $15 billion blockbuster to the world's leading beheading regime, Saudi Arabia, General Chaos "gets" that he must spout the usual euphemisms about human rights while supplying those who would violate them.
So stretch your legs, bring your noisemakers and musical instruments, and "welcome" the weapons buyers who will swarm over the CANSEC16 site at the EY Centre the following day. And if you can join us for some of the May 25 protest, running 7:30 am to 1 pm, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or (613) 267-3998.
General Chaos, who will welcome his war criminal friends on May 24 from 5-7 pm.
"We are determined to revitalize Canada’s role in peace-keeping." Justin Trudeau at the UN, March 16, 2016
"Dion quietly approved $15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia in April." Globe and Mail, April 12, 2016
Despite a change in government, the Canadian warfare state continues undisturbed, and even better served by the Liberals, who have signed off on a $15 billion sale of killer armoured brigade vehicles to the leading beheading regime of the world, Saudi Arabia (which is also committing horrific war crimes against the people of Yemen). Meantime, the Canadian weapons industry continues to supply the world's leading sponsor of state terrorism, the U.S., to the tune of billions annually. Justin Trudeau and Stéphane Dion have sent a clear message to the death merchants of Canada: carry on as you did under Harper, and don't mind our occasional human rights rhetoric. It won't apply to Canadian weapons dealers whose bottom line relies on the overseas market of supplying the tools of torture and terrorism to dictatorships and juntas, as well as those "democracies" that support them.
And so it falls once again to people like us to say NO to the weapons trade. That NO must NOT be a call for "export controls" or "arms control" or "weapons limitations," but a clear and precise demand for the only thing that makes sense: disarmament. One way to stop mass murder, carpet bombing, and other atrocities is for Canada to stop producing the tools of terrorism. In addition, anyone concerned with climate change recognizes that one of the world's worst emissions producers are global military forces, which remain exempt from climate change agreements.
PROTESTING CANSEC: WHAT IT WILL LOOK LIKE
We will be organizing transportation to and from the site, so consider how long you can stay (with that in mind, pack a lunch, bring snacks and water)
We will be hanging lots of banners on the fences. Consider making some artwork that is representative of resistance to war.
We will read aloud the reports of human rights groups, the testimonies of the disappeared and detained, the stories of survivors who have lived in terror under the bombs that come from Canada. We will nonviolently, lovingly lay siege to CANSEC16 by telling our own stories and refusing to buy the myths of militarism and CANSEC’s glorification of terrorism and barbaric cultural practices. We will build a large graveyard to commemorate victims of CANSEC’s exhibitors, guests, and hosts. We will sing. We will speak our truth. At the same time, we will refuse to engage in any acts of violence, whether physical or verbal, and will not seek to humiliate CANSEC16 attendees or those hired hands patrolling the vicinity.
1. Coming from out of town? Let us know if you need billeting.
2. Can you provide transportation to help people get to the EY Centre (next to Ottawa airport)? Can you put up out-of-town visitors in your Ottawa home? Can you help provide food and water on the day of the event? Contact email@example.com or call 613-267-3998
3. Can you donate to help us meet our costs? Cheques can be made out to Homes not Bombs and mailed to PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0
4. Can’t make it? Send us a poem, an essay, something that you want shared at our day-long speakers’ platform. Let us know if you would be able to organize a vigil in your community art a weapons manufacturer, a federal office, etc.
5. Consider endorsing our event.
More information: Homes not Bombs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-267-3998, http://
Sponsored by: Homes not Bombs, Nowar/Paix, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, Raging Grannies, and Country Music Fans Against War and Repression.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
(the following story appears in the March 10 edition of NOW Magazine)
By Matthew Behrens
Last month, Norman Shewaybick trekked 17 days along 550 km of treacherous ice roads from Thunder Bay to his Webequie home, hauling a full oxygen tank to highlight the crisis afflicting Northern Ontario’s First Nations health care.
“It’s not about being a hero, it’s about saving lives, and how our health system isn't doing its part for us,” says Shewaybick, a high school teacher and grandfather of 6. Joined by his sons and two other supporters, what Shewaybick calls “a healing journey home” was inspired by the deathbed promise he made to his wife of 26 years, Laura Jean, whose respiratory distress last October could not be properly treated because the local nursing station ran out of oxygen. Her passing at age 51 marked another casualty of what critics call a two-tiered medical system in which Indigenous people continue to suffer from inadequate health care.
“She was loved by so many, and many still grieve,” says Shewaybick. “I will miss her for the rest of my life. My grandkids come here and keep asking, ‘Where’s Grandma?’”
The oxygen tank Shewaybick brought home was symbolic of basic medical devices such as defibrillators, x-ray machines and other diagnostic equipment that are often in disrepair or wholly absent from northern First Nations communities. That serious problem was highlighted February 24 when leaders of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority declared a public health emergency to address “needless deaths and suffering caused by profoundly poor determinants of health” as well as “a level of health care that would be intolerable to the mainstream population of Ontario.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler personally hands a copy of the emergency declaration to Justin Trudeau, but no response yet from the PMO.
The Sioux Lookout region is home to 33 First Nations communities, 80% accessible only by air, with a total population of 30,000. The emergency declaration was built on a litany of misery, with over 600 documented suicides since 1986 (a conservative estimate that does not include countless more serious failed attempts); “rampant” prescription drug use and opioid addiction; chronic diseases like diabetes (with the highest amputation rates in Ontario); severe obstacles to basic child health screening and, when diagnoses are produced, poor access to treatment; lack of proper diagnostic equipment and depleted stocks of basic medications; staff who are not fully trained; and jurisdictional spats over which level of government covers what service.
Shibogama Health Authority director Sol Mamakwa likens his 8 years of work in northern communities to a war zone in which multigenerational trauma and the debilitating legacies of residential schools – combined with alarmingly high rates of substance abuse, mental health issues, and physical disease – have become a toxic mix with severe consequences. He finds “the status quo has become acceptable and normalized. We have 10-year-old children committing suicide, and our people are living week to week with these serious issues.”
While he does not begrudge them, Mamakwa notes “we are a community about the same size as the number of Syrians who just came to Canada, and it would be great to receive the same sympathy and the same access to health care, to housing, to education.” Instead, the communities he serves are caught in a “jurisdictional black hole” between the federal government and Queen’s Park which, instead of providing desperately needed services, “play ping pong over the health of our people.”
Mamakwa points out health care bureaucracies appear more interested in cost-cutting, noting that despite the vulnerabilities faced by young people, these northern communities can access a resident pediatrician only 5 days per month.
The plight of Sioux Lookout children was highlighted last October by Canadian Family Physician’s peer-reviewed study on incidences of acute rheumatic fever (ARF), long considered a disease of the past. Physicians documented the role of inadequate and crowded housing as well as health care system deficiencies in contributing to at least 8 ARF cases, with an average age of 9 years. Two 4-year-old children died, and the remainder were left with rheumatic heart disease. Despite determining the ARF rate was more than 75 times higher than in the non-Indigenous population, the report barely caused a ripple on the federal election campaign trail.
One of the authors of that report, physician Michael Kirlew, has worked in the north for 9 years. Speaking to NOW just after he gets a patient on a Medevac, he’s furious at the conditions he sees on a daily basis, noting federally-run nursing stations are “providing a standard of care that is far, far inferior to what other Canadians receive in almost every single respect. There’s no checks and balances, and mechanisms for accountability are virtually non-existent. Care is being routinely denied to people, under the non-insured benefits system, which really serves as a gatekeeper to care to decide which patient is or isn't going to get what they need. It’s just egregious. And we also have bacteria that take advantage of social determinants like lack of housing and clean water, so it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Kirlew has also worked in Haiti, Guyana and other overseas locations, and “people’s jaws drop when they hear about these types of situations in Canada. So we need a fundamentally different way forward that is not based on the dynamics of an unequal system that is steeped in 350 years of colonialism. The patient, the community, and its values need to be at the centre, and the system we have right now fails on all three of those points.”
Despite the obstacles, some health care practitioners and community leaders are cautiously hopeful that political rhetoric about a respectful nation-to-nation relationship will translate into concrete action. At last week’s First Ministers meeting in Vancouver, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler personally handed a copy of the emergency declaration to Justin Trudeau, reminding the PM of the urgency to address the crisis. While Fiddler hopes to chat soon with federal health minister Jane Philpott, he’s already heard from provincial minister Eric Hoskins, in addition to receiving offers of support from a number of corporate players as well as the Red Cross and Heart & Stroke Foundation.
“I think they’re starting to realize the gravity of the situation,” he says, noting that symptoms of the crisis were further documented in a damning 2015 federal Auditor General’s report. “They found Health Canada does not take into consideration the needs of our communities when allocating their resources. Right now, the funding we get is based on the Indian Health Policy from 1979.”
The Auditor General also found that only one of 45 nurses working in the area had completed all five mandatory training courses, while some 30 separate deficiencies identified by Health Canada itself had not been addressed. In addition, even though Health Canada had defined the scope of essential services necessary for remote nursing stations, there was no proper assessment to ascertain whether they could be provided under existing infrastructure.
“One of the residences at a nursing station that we visited had been unusable for more than two years because the septic system had not been repaired,” the AG report found. “Consequently, health specialists cancelled their visits to the community.”
Indigenous leaders point out that solving the current crisis in Northern Ontario, as well as other communities across the country suffering similar health care challenges, goes beyond possible funding increases in the federal Liberals’ upcoming budget. Indeed, it will require modernizing outdated policies, community-based consultations, and a holistic approach that, for example, considers colonial legacies, implements the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, respects Indigenous cultures, and tackles racism.
That was the finding of a landmark 2015 Wellesley Institute report, “First Peoples, Second Class Treatment,” which concluded that “Indigenous peoples experience the worst health outcomes of any population group in Canada, underscoring the urgency and importance of understanding and addressing racism as a determinant of Indigenous health.”
That rings true for Mamakwa, who says “cultural safety is really important, and it doesn’t mean putting a piece of woodland art in your doctor’s office. People need to learn who we are, our history, and how institutions like education, health care and prison can sometimes be very racist. People also need to recognize that we are Ontarians, Canadians, First Nations people who are a part of this country. Right now, we don't just need health care. We need care.”
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
(The following was delivered by Maureen Bostock, of Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation, to Perth Town Council on March 1, 2016. While Perth is celebrating its 200th anniversary, the Algonquin people have lived in this unceded territory for some 8,000 years. The establishment of the Town was in contradiction to British law and the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which stated that no land could be granted to settlers without a prior agreement between First Nations and the Crown.)
Thank you for the opportunity to address Mayor and Council. I am speaking today on behalf of a local ad hoc committee made up of settlers, recent immigrants and members of local Aboriginal communities.
The 200th Anniversary celebrations taking place in Drummond/North Elmsley, Beckwith, Tay Valley townships and the town of Perth offer us an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between settlers, immigrants and First Nations people going back beyond the 200th anniversary year of 1816 to the time of first contact.
This was not an empty land but a homeland. The settlers were welcomed and befriended and helped through the early years of settlement. And in exchange the newcomers took over more and more of the traditional territory – pushing aside Algonquin people with little regard for the cultural, material or spiritual needs of the Algonquin people or the land that sustained them. From At Home in Tay Valley, The Omamiwinini, a chapter written by Paula Sherman quotes Kaondinoketch an Omamiwinini leader from 1840 addressing a council meeting: “Our hunting grounds that are vast and extensive and once abounded in the richest furs and swarmed with deer of every description are now ruined. We tell you the truth, we now starve half the year through and our children, who were accustomed to being comfortably clothed, are now naked. We own, brother, that we are partly the cause of these present misfortunes; we were too good and generous; we permitted strangers to come and settle on our grounds and to cultivate the land; wood merchants to destroy our valuable timber, who have done us much injury, as by burning our rich forests, they have annihilated our beaver and our peltries, and driven deer away.”
The chapter also records the Omamiwinini people’s response to the actions of newcomers: “When they came across Philemon Wright cutting down their sugar bush in the early 19th century, they were quite upset, and questioned him about his actions. From what I can tell from the documentary evidence and oral tradition around the incident, Wright lied and told them he had papers given to him by the Colonial Office. This was untrue as it turns out; he was a land speculator from Massachusetts and had no such papers. While the Omamiwinini people found it difficult to understand how he had “acquired” these lands, they didn’t question the truth of his statement. To do so would have been an insult and disrespectful. They did not lie. Instead, given that he was already there, they chose to welcome and incorporate him into already existing protocols for relationships with neighbours.”
The land on which we stand was then and continues to this day as unceded Algonquin territory. No agreements have been signed to state how the land shall be shared. It is a fundamental truth of our collective history that the Perth settlement was established in contradiction to British law and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which stated that no land could be granted to settlers without a prior agreement between First Nations and the Crown. The Proclamation was ratified at the Treaty of Niagara in 1764 where delegations from Indigenous peoples from across what is now southern Ontario met and exchanged wampum belts with a representative of the British Crown. Through this peace process the Algonquin people agreed to share the land but did not then nor ever since surrendered their title and rights to the land. The history of broken treaties began almost immediately as the Crown granted parcels of unceded land to reward soldiers for their service.
On June 3rd, 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its report on the legacy of Residential Schools in which the documentation of the brutal treatment of Aboriginal children in Residential Schools led to a greater truth: that reconciliation requires that we understand the truth about the way in which Canadian society continues to perpetuate the colonialism and racism of the settlement of this country and that reconciliation requires us to commit ourselves on a national, regional and local level to respectful, responsible relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
In the Calls to Action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the responsibilities of all levels of government including municipalities have been addressed:
#43 We call upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
#57 We call upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Since the publication of the report of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has welcomed the findings and urges its members to endorse the report. Municipalities such as Vancouver and Fort St. James have passed resolutions similar to the one we present today as a first step towards reconciliation. The Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism (CCMARD) identifies the importance of “promoting respect, understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity and the inclusion of Aboriginal and racialized communities into the cultural fabric of the municipality” in its toolkit for municipalities.
Therefore we present the following resolution:
Whereas the 200th Anniversary celebrations taking place in Drummond/North Elmsley, Beckwith, Tay Valley townships and the town of Perth offer us an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between settlers, immigrants and First Nations people going back beyond the 200th anniversary year of 1816 to the time of first contact;
Whereas when the Europeans arrived, this was not an empty land but a homeland; the settlers were welcomed and befriended and helped through the early years of settlement yet, there was little regard for the cultural, material or spiritual needs of the Algonquin people or the land that sustained them. As their lands were increasingly settled the Algonquin people were denied secure access to a land base to sustain themselves;
Whereas the land on which we stand was then and continues to this day as unceded Algonquin territory. The land was not acquired by lawful process under British law and was given to settlers in contravention of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764. This is a fundamental truth of our collective history;
Whereas in the Calls to Action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the responsibilities of all levels of government including municipalities have been addressed;
Therefore be it resolved that the Town of Perth:
a) formally acknowledge that the Town of Perth is on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin nation;
b) endorse and implement the Calls to Action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission;
c) that the following declaration be read out at the opening of all official meetings of the Perth Council and public events: “We hereby acknowledge that the Town of Perth is situated on unceded traditional Algonquin territory and with this acknowledgement comes respect for the land, people and the unique history of the territory.”
d) that as well as recognizing the Algonquin nation’s ongoing contributions to our communities, the Town of Perth takes upon itself the responsibility to include and celebrate Algonquin history and culture as part of the 200th anniversary celebration.
e) And that the town of Perth issue a proclamation on June 21st National Aboriginal Day each year as an expression of an ongoing commitment to reconciliation and cultural inclusiveness.
Monday, February 29, 2016
By Matthew Behrens
Among the Harper era’s most destructive legacies is a toxic stew of repressive “anti-terror” laws that, in building on similarly repressive measures brought it under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, extended major new powers to Canadian state security agencies CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service), CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada), CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) and the RCMP, among numerous others. Last year, Justin Trudeau infamously voted in support of C-51 (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015), claiming his support of the law was necessary to ensure his electability.
During the federal election, the Liberals promised to revisit C-51 with amendments they felt would make it more palatable. More recently, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has hinted at a consultation process, committee hearings, and even a broader dialogue on state security issues. While it sounds like a typical Liberal plan (a good listen before they go ahead with their preordained agenda), it nonetheless provides us some space to raise serious questions about the current and traditional role of CSIS, the RCMP, and CBSA, among other agencies, in violating the rights of targeted, vulnerable communities.
Given that the 1984 creation of CSIS from the ashes of the scandal-plagued RCMP Security Service did not change the dynamics of repression in Canada (most former Mounties simply moved their desks to the new CSIS), now would be a propitious moment to discuss dismantling CSIS as an ultimately lawless, dangerous outfit. As this column has repeatedly documented, CSIS has undertaken a sweeping series of illegal and unethical activies over 30+ years: complicity in torture; defiance of court orders; lying under oath to judges; illegally recording lawyer-client calls; terrorizing targeted communities; acting as ISIS recruiters; targeting labour unions, peace activists, Indigenous people, and environmentalists; and a lengthy list of other practices which have endangered the lives of many Canadians. Despite this, CSIS gets an annual free pass and an occasional love tap on the wrist from its watchdog, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC).
Indeed, the work of those who struggle to end the real threats to our collective security – climate change, war and Canada’s booming armaments business, a grossly disproportionate income inequality, a deeply-rooted colonial racism, and an epidemic of violence against women – would be a lot easier if we weren’t constantly the focus of investigation by the likes of CSIS and the RCMP. Think of how the heroic Cindy Blackstock was viewed as a security threat for exposing the wretched living conditions of Indigenous children. Members of Canada’s Arab Muslim communities could certainly sleep better at night too, not having to worry that their children were being coerced into spying on the community as a sign of their loyalty to Canada. And without an active CSIS, the number of terror threats coming to trial would decrease significantly, given how many of those cases are either initiated by or facilitated by agents of the Canadian state, perhaps no more clearly than in the Nuttall entrapment case currently being heard in BC.
Beware the Window Dressing
But instead of questioning the mandates and core practices of these secretive, unaccountable outfits, efforts are already underway to save the system by putting up some nice-looking window dressing and further entrenching a parallel system of secret government. While there is no evidence that repeal of C-51 and the whole slew of post 9/11 “anti-terror” legislation would harm the security of Canadians one whit, some members of the academic-security complex are exercising a preferential option for the powerful in trying to design face-saving measures to keep C-51 intact.
Out front in narrowly framing the issue as one of technical and legalistic details are professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese, who, despite providing much good research on state security measures over the years, nonetheless write in their 2015 book False Security that “we have rarely opposed such laws, although often urged refinements and improvements. And even with C-51 and the earlier 2015 law, Bill C-44, we did not dispute their purported objectives, merely their means and omissions. Our focus has always been on repairing 2015’s security laws, not burying them, something that has put some distance between us and some rights groups that we work with and admire.”
Herein lies the danger in whatever national discussion about C-51 and the broader state security environment will ensue: our goal should not be making a fundamentally oppressive network of invasive, privacy-busting, human rights-violating agencies work more efficiently.
While polls indicate most Canadians opposed C-51, Roach and Forcese appear to have taken it upon themselves to save the law with a discussion paper and proposed legislation that is currently making the rounds in Ottawa. “Bridging the National Security Accountability Gap” calls for increased levels of state security review via a “Super SIRC” that would have an expanded review mandate for more government agencies, a secret committee of Parliamentarians, and an “Independent Monitor” who would, in the words of the proposed law, hold office part-time “during good behavior.” In theory, it's an interesting idea, and one much needed, especially for agencies like CBSA, which has no review process whatsoever. But a siloed focus on after-the-fact review fails to question the state security narrative that continues to do so much up-front damage to so many individuals, families, and communities.
Worse still is the fact that expanded review does nothing to ultimately hold agencies accountable: there is no discussion of creating the capacity to lay charges against agency officials for the wrongdoing that ruins lives. Nor is there any infrastructure proposed that allows independent officials to step in and stop an operation that is acting illegally and at great risk to individuals whose lives are in peril because of shoddy “intelligence” work, exaggerated threat assessments, false labeling, and other systemic problems that have marked CSIS since its birth.
Perhaps most problematic is the fact that Canadian citizens who have been targeted for torture and continue to live with the horrific aftermath are not front and centre in this proposal. Indeed, any honest attempt to bring accountability to the system would insist on having individuals like Abdullah Almalki, Maher Arar, Ahmad El maati, Muayyed Nureddin, Abousfian Abdelrazik – all tortured with Canadian complicity – playing a key role in all meetings and discussions about how to control what is a shockingly corrupt system operating with complete impunity. But none of them are even mentioned in Bridging the National Security Accountability Gap.
Instead, the tone of the document is almost a consoling sop to CSIS and their spy brethren. Forcese and Roach soft-pedal their approach with anodyne language, noting state security agencies “may stray into patterns, policies or groupthink impairing their effectiveness.” By using the qualifier “may,” they ignore the substantive public record that such dynamics constitute standard operating procedure. “Such practices,” they continue, “may result in either overreactions causing human rights abuses or underreactions causing security failures.” Again, the qualifier “may” ignores the well-documented record of such human rights abuses over the past two decades. They state such agencies have “sometimes misused” their powers, as if it were an aberration rather than a daily practice. They don't call for repeal of these powers; they simply want to see more documentation of them. In all such instances of problematic state behaviour, they conclude, “Review can counter this tendency.”
Review Cannot Help Today’s Targets
But review does not help the pour soul trapped in an overseas Syrian or Egyptian dungeon, being tortured based on questions coming from a Canadian agency, as happened in at least half a dozen cases since 9/11. Review is retrospective. It does not rein in, much less stop, abusive practices, especially when findings are not used to prosecute and, where appropriate, punish the acts of secretive officials whose decisions imperil people’s lives.
While we must start somewhere when it comes to reining in and disarming these agencies, these academics’ approach seems more concerned with CSIS’ feelings than those of the victims of state security policies. Indeed, their approach to dealing with agencies marked by a lengthy history of incompetence, dishonesty, and reckless disregard for human life, is a pitifully low standard: “trust, but verify.” What has CSIS, the RCMP, CBSA, and their assorted security agencies done in the past that allows them such a long leash? In a democratic, transparent society, shouldn’t any position short of abolition be based on the much higher standard for secretive, unaccountable agencies: mistrust, question, assume illegality based on patterned behavior over several decades, seek opportunities to hold officials legally accountable, and ensure they do no further damage? But Roach and Forcese’s bias is clear: in stating “review can contribute to an agency’s legitimacy,” they fall into the same trap as SIRC, which time and again sees itself as a liaison between CSIS and the public, trying to explain away CSIS behavior. As SIRC wrote, for example, in 1995, “Our aim is to provide a steadily broadening and deepening public base of information about what CSIS does, why those activities are necessary, and how well the Service carries them out.”
SIRC’s understanding of its mandate makes them sound more like a PR agency for CSIS than a watchdog tasked with rooting out problematic behavior.
Assuming for a moment that review is one answer to the problems we face, Forcese and Roach correctly argue that review should be independent of government and the agencies they review, but herewith lies another conundrum: the only people who will be appointed to conduct review processes will need to be security cleared by that very government. Will someone with the most intimate knowledge possible of the workings of these intelligence agencies, and hence the ability to properly question the workings of these outfits – say one of the returnees from torture in Syria and Egypt – be allowed onto the review committee? In case you are unsure of the answer, keep in mind that the Liberal government is continuing to fight the legal claims of three Canadians tortured abroad with Canadian complicity – Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin. All suffered intense harassment in Canada and torture overseas during previous Liberal governments.
But the concerns of the victims of CSIS and the RCMP are not what makes this proposed legislation tick. Rather, it is making sure the spies are comfortable. That is why, in proposing a secret committee of state security Parliamentarians, Forcese and Roach suggest that it be a small group, since that may make it easier to earn “the trust of intelligence agencies in relation to dealing in sensitive information.” But isn’t it CSIS and the RCMP who need to earn our trust, not the other way around?
Shutting Down Whistleblowing
In addition, Forcese and Roach seek with their proposed legislation to tie the hands of this secret group of MPs, denying them the Parliamentary Privilege they might otherwise enjoy to act as whistleblowers if they see something untowards taking place behind closed doors. As even these academics have acknowledged, much of what is secret is kept under wraps not for security reasons, but to avoid embarrassing the government and the spy agencies. But such a prohibition on Parliamentary privilege makes sense if, as the authors point out, the point of review is to enhance the legitimacy and image of these organizations. Thus, to save the hide of CSIS, Forcese and Roach propose that MPs on the committee who feel something needs public disclosure will face a difficult challenge: breaking an oath of permanent secrecy and being subject to charges which could land them in jail for 14 years.
The academics also state that government should not have a unilateral veto over what is disclosed. Agreed, but then their proposed legislation does exactly that. In a section on the secret committee’s annual report, they give the Attorney General the power to keep certain information from public disclosure. Imagine this scenario: the MPs learn that CSIS is complicit in the ongoing torture of a Canadian citizen in an Egyptian dungeon. They wish this to be made public. CSIS objects and then goes to the Attorney General. The Attorney General then goes to Federal Court to argue that under the Canada Evidence Act, the information should not be disclosed and, further, that a hearing into the reasons why must be held in secret as well. Such Canada Evidence Act proceedings can take years. The transparency, accountability, and democratic oversight that is the purported point of review is thus stuffed into the ever-expanding secret bureaucracy of state security. The poor soul in an Egyptian prison does not benefit, and any MP who speaks publicly risks jail, thanks to the legislation proposed by Mssrs. Roach and Forcese.
The problem in calling for expanded review with a “Super SIRC” under these circumstances has long been identified even by those with a preferential option for the powerful. Even Wesley Wark (who is far from a radical critic of CSIS) notes a good working relationship with a spy agency “can distort the critical faculties and independence of a review body. It can also lead to the over-valuing of the relationship between reviewer and reviewed at the expense of the review body’s public function.”
That has certainly been the case with SIRC, which started out fairly critical of CSIS in the early years, but has since turned into the author of an annual gold-star, happy face report card. While SIRC has occasionally done some very good work – its staff have written some excellent reports identifying serious problems with CSIS – it operates under the dynamic identified by Wark: they will point out individual problems, but fail to condemn structural abuses and question the broader agenda. In their 1991 annual report, SIRC wrote “our criticisms are no longer based upon strong and fundamental disagreements with the CSIS view of the world [emphasis added]. They are far more the results of differences of opinion regarding the day-to-day implementation of CSIS policies than, as in the past, our opposition to those policies themselves.”
SIRC recommendations are not binding on CSIS, which can disregard them with impunity. But let’s assume, though, that the notion of review is a viable approach to the state security conundrum. Can it prevent abuses? The answer would appear to be a very strong “No!” Simply look at the lack of action following the new SIRC report which identified CSIS improperly accessing without a warrant personal taxpayers’ Canada Revenue Agency files. No one has been arrested and charged, much less demoted or dismissed. For all we know, the practice continues, because SIRC does not have the power to put a stop to it, much less the resources to stay on top of the issue.
A Case Study of Review’s Limitations
As another case in point based on real-life circumstances, let’s examine the lengthy CSIS record of trading information with torturers that led to the rendition and torture of Abdullah Almalki, Maher Arar, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. All of this was documented by two judicial inquiries where government witnesses shrugged their shoulders, claimed that the post-9/11 terrain was new to them, and that such unfortunate incidents were unavoidable.
Such claims were patently untrue, as this case example shows. Concerns about CSIS relationships with human rights abusers go back over several decades. In its early years, CSIS clearly wished to trade information with torturers unimpeded by what George W. Bush et al. would later condemn as antiquated notions of international law and the Geneva Convention. In 1989, SIRC raised concerns about the CSIS disbanding of a Foreign Liaison Branch which, SIRC said, acted as "an intermediary... [that could] ‘blow the whistle’ on the inappropriate dissemination of information abroad."
What followed is a decade’s worth of unheeded warnings and concerns. In 1991, SIRC declared quite clearly: “We continue to be concerned about relations with states having an undesirable human rights record.” But in classic SIRC-style, the deference shown to CSIS is frustratingly supine, since “we recognize the desirability of maintaining limited agreements to ensure that CSIS receives information about emerging threats to Canada’s security.” Apart from the fact that the definition of threats to the security of Canada is so over-broad as to include just about anything – and there are countless examples throughout SIRC reports of over-exaggeration and wrongful labeling of alleged threats – there is no further comment about the problem of receiving torture-tainted allegations. What, exactly, was the desirability of maintaining relations with Assad’s butchers or Mubarak’s brutes?
Did the concern cited in SIRC’s 1991 report change CSIS behavior? No. The review for 1992-93 noted an example where CSIS “appeared to act without full and prudent regard for a ministerial directive…to ensure that particular caution was exercised when providing information to countries that do not share Canada’s respect for democratic or human values, especially where the information concerned Canadian citizens or permanent residents. In this case, the Service communicated to a foreign agency the details of an individual’s plans to travel to another country and, possibly, to meet with members of a group associated with terrorist activity. The latter belief was based solely on the uncorroborated beliefs of an informant, and was disclosed even though the Service was aware of reports of human rights abuses by security forces in that country. The individual’s full identity was not known to the Service, neither was his citizenship status or any information on his previous involvement with terrorist activity, beyond his believed fund-raising on behalf of the extremist group engaged in the conflict. We consider that the consequences for the individual and his family, had they been identified when they arrived in the foreign country, could have been extremely serious and that a potential tragedy was avoided more by good luck than good judgment. Fortunately, in this case, they were not identified and returned to Canada safely.”
It should not provide much comfort to anyone that CSIS got away with it and that a potential tragedy was avoided because of good luck.
Did CSIS practices change when they escaped by the hair of their chinny chin chin? No. In the review for 1993-94 – in language that would form a cornerstone of the two judicial inquiries into Canadian complicity in torture led by judges O’Connor and Iacobucci over a decade later – SIRC again reiterated its concern about “the possible consequences to individuals whom the Service draws to the attention of authorities in the region we audited. Adverse information about someone deemed to be an extremist can have absolutely devastating consequences to that person and his or her family. The accuracy of the information provided by CSIS must be a paramount consideration, as well as the importance of the investigation itself….We were interested to note that the Service saw fit to provide information to agencies about persons who the Service did not see as engaged in terrorist activities.”
CSIS responses as always included patting their SIRC reviewers on the head, assuring them of good intentions, and moving on to engage in the exact same dangerous practices. In 1994-95, CSIS entered into new arrangements with countries in Latin America and Africa with dismal human rights records. “The Committee had serious reservations about the new arrangements with these two agencies, based on recent, publicly available information. CSIS said that it relied on information from Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the human rights issue in these countries. We believe that the Service should also consider information from other sources, in view of the potential for abuse of the information it sends overseas.”
CSIS Ignores Human Rights Violations
In that same review, SIRC raised concerns about how CSIS assessed the risk of human rights abuses in particular countries, noting “two assessments did not appear to take into account the recent, publicly available information from human rights observers who noted an increase in the reports of arbitrary imprisonment and torture, the latter sometimes involving elements of the security intelligence establishment of the foreign country….We noted too that the CSIS assessments did not address allegations of corruption within the security intelligence establishment and overlooked significant political incidents in the country which took place in 1994. Our concern was that by not considering these information sources, the Service did not present a balanced view of those agencies with which it exchanges information. CSIS responded that it has no mandate to investigate human rights abuses....SIRC’s position is one that we have expressed previously: the Service should avail itself of up-to-date, publicly available reports from reliable non-governmental agencies and the agencies of other states. CSIS would then be in a position to consider a wider range of views about the agencies with which it shares information.”
Along the way, SIRC repeatedly raised concerns about the failure of CSIS to log exchanges with foreign agencies, which made it difficult for SIRC to conduct its audits (and easy for CSIS to hide unsavoury information about its practices). They raise the issue of “the absence of a paper trail to indicate what was or was not shared with the foreign agencies.”
In other cases, SIRC examined instances regarding foreign agency requests “based on the actual or suspected presence of some Canadians in a region in conflict. [Counter-terrorism] Branch stated that it was sensitive to the issue of providing information to a foreign agency and assured us that both HQ and the SLO were conscious of the possible consequences of responding to the foreign requests. But we were left uneasy about the cases, not the least because the Canadians posed no threat to Canada's national security and due to the foreign country's cloudy human rights record.”
So, SIRC once again raised the possibility that CSIS sharing of sensitive information about Canadians traveling abroad could have catastrophic consequences. Did this change CSIS behavior? No. In 1995-96, we see that CSIS shared information with a foreign agency “about the family members of a person who was of interest to the Service. Furthermore, the information that CSIS gave to the foreign agency appeared to violate a restriction on the types of data being provided to services in the foreign country.”
Did this change CSIS behavior? No. In 1996-97, SIRC found that CSIS “provided adverse information about a person to two Federal Government departments and to an allied intelligence agency” that described the individual as a "witting agent" of a foreign intelligence service, “a potentially damaging statement not substantiated by the documentary evidence we saw. In addition, the authority to investigate him was not properly approved; it did not take into account his immigration status, as required by policy. CSIS later rectified the error.” Again, the problem inherent in SIRC is clear: it can discover such problems, but it does not explain how, exactly, CSIS rectified the error, what damage had already been done, and how SIRC will not have to repeat such concerns in subsequent reports.
CSIS Refuses to Change Practices
That same year, SIRC, in auditing an overseas CSIS post, “found that despite poor human rights situations and political instability generally in many of the countries in the region covered by the post – in addition to high levels of corruption in some cooperating agencies – these organizations continued to receive [favourable CSIS ratings].”
Did THIS change CSIS practices? No. The train of defiance and willful blindness continued in 1997-98, with “an instance where the Service’s sharing of information with a foreign intelligence service was questionable,” while, in reviewing an overly broad request “from a Canadian law enforcement agency to ask several allied intelligence services to conduct records checks on more than 100 people suspected of being involved in transnational crime,” SIRC found “the grounds for some of the requests to be of doubtful validity. For example, one person about whom information was requested was said to have been ‘caught shoplifting.’”
In the years immediately prior to 9/11, CSIS continued business as usual, with SIRC issuing its annual scold that CSIS “should take all possible care to ensure that the information it provides is not used to assist in the violation of human rights.” The fact that such cautions continued to be issued means that CSIS clearly acts as its own judge and under its own laws, and that these problems must be systemic given that SIRC annually finds them even in the minor spot checks it conducts (they are spot checks given how SIRC’s limited staff and budget prevent it from conducting comprehensive annual audits).
In the years following 9/11, when Canadians were being tortured in Syria and Egypt and secret trial detainees here at home were being detained based on information coming from those same torture regimes, SIRC reviews of CSIS exchanges with overseas agencies sounded like a broken record. A typical reminder to CSIS emphasized the spies “will need to exercise vigilance to ensure that no information received from an agency is the product of human rights violations, and that no intelligence transferred to an agency results in such abuses.”
Despite subsequent judicial inquiries and court decisions documenting CSIS and RCMP complicity in torture, those agencies continue to operate under Harper-era ministerial directives allowing them to trade with torturers. But even when such express permission was not provided, CSIS took it anyhow, as indicated by the SIRC review reports.
Throughout SIRC reports is the language of the stern but kindly teacher, one who provides their ward with important disciplinary direction but has no authority to enforce decisions or to mete out legal consequences. In 2001, when CSIS was lying to an Ontario court judge in a warrant application based on information it knew had been obtained in the torture of Canadian Ahmad El Maati, SIRC was busy holding the hand of the then 17-year-old agency, reminding them that “CSIS should strive for the utmost rigour in its warrant acquisition process, ensuring that allegations in the affidavit are factually correct and adequately supported in the documentation.”
What to do?
Clearly, Canada’s state security agencies continue to act outside the limits of the law, engaging in legally questionable operations and bullying behavior that terrorizes communities at home while risking lives abroad. Tackling this issue requires a far more critical approach than that proposed by the academic pair who were made media heroes in the anti C-51 fight, even though they do not support its repeal.
Perhaps a far better approach is to question the mandates of these agencies and their interpretation of the world. Professors Roach and Forcese, knowing what they do about the abuses committed in the name of security, are shamefully applying a bandaid to cover up the pus when what’s really needed is to lance the boil of state security in Canada.
Instead, their proposed legislation creates additional layers of secret government while accepting the C51 definition of activities that “undermine the security of Canada.” For those with short memories, that definition is so overly broad that it likely includes every reader of this column. Its lowlights include those whose activity “adversely affects the stability of the Canadian economy, the financial system or any financial market in Canada without reasonable economic or financial justification.” This section is aimed at Indigenous people resisting exploitation of their lands and pipeline expansion (as well as those brave souls who have shut down Line 9 over the past few months). It also focuses on anyone who “damages property outside Canada because a person or entity with an interest in the property or occupying the property has a relationship with Canada or a province or is doing business with or on behalf of the Government of Canada or of a province,” which likely is aimed at those resisting Canadian corporations engaged in toxic mining despoiling overseas Indigenous lands.
The definition also applies to peaceniks and anyone who “impairs or threatens the military capability of the Canadian Forces, or any part of the Canadian Forces,” and anyone who “interferes with the design, development or production of any weapon or defence equipment of, or intended for, the Canadian Forces, including any hardware, software or system that is part of or associated with any such weapon or defence equipment.” Clearly, this is aimed at anyone trying to stop the production and sale of armoured brigade vehicles for the beheading regime of Saudi Arabia.
If we do have a real consultation on state security, perhaps we can start by tearing up this ridiculous definition of threats to security and naming the true threats that imperil our future. Step one is repealing C51 and much of what came before it. Another step is refusing to buy into the false narratives of national security expounded by state security agencies as well as all political parties in the House (all of whom thoughtlessly use the term “radicalization” without an appreciation for the damage it does to targeted communities). Anything less will only perpetuate the human rights violations that Roach and Forcese’s secret MPs and Super SIRC will cogitate over behind closed doors while everyone else, including the direct victims, will be left in the dark.