Monthly Archives: January, 2016

CSE metadata scandal casts doubt on Parliament’s surveillance-oversight credibility

A protester holds a sign reading “Stop Watching All Of Us”. Below is a stylized eyeball, the pupil of which is a handprint held up in a “stop” gesture. (Image credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

If you’re like most Canadians, you’ve never heard of the CSE.

CSIS? Sure, in a vague kind of way – they’re kind of like the Canadian CIA, right? (Not exactly.) But the Communications Security Establishment lacks the widespread recognition of its controversy-entangled American counterpart, the NSA.

Maybe you’ve heard of them? Or their most famous contractor? His leak of NSA documents got this country – briefly – talking about the CSE this time last year when it was revealed that the extremely secretive agency monitors tens of millions of downloads every day.

The CSE, like the NSA, engages in what’s known as “signals intelligence” – monitoring of phone calls and electronic communications. Unlike the NSA, which famously hoovers up whatever it can get its high-tech cybernetic paws on, regardless of the source, CSE faces some restrictions on its surveillance, the most significant of which is that it is not permitted to monitor the communications of Canadian citizens.

But it’s hard to exclude specific sources when you’re scooping up such massive amounts of information. In practice, CSE collects its intelligence pretty indiscriminately, and then it filters out, or “minimizes”, information pertaining to Canadian citizens.

Or at least that’s the idea. In practice, it turns out that CSE has not actually been doing such a good job at “minimizing” that information, and in fact shared it with Canada’s surveillance partners in four other countries for quite some time. Continue Reading

Open letter to Arif Virani, my Member of Parliament, on the TPP

Image description: A mock “Trojan Horse” with the letters “T.P.P.” written on it is at the centre of a protest scene. Many people are standing around holding signs referring to the TPP, trade, and Fast Track. (Image credit: AFGE/Flickr)

Readers: I’ve finally done something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while – I wrote a letter to my Member of Parliament, Arif Virani, about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. which I’ve reprinted in full below. (I also CC’d this letter to Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.)

Now is the time to be vocal about this atrocious deal. I’d like to urge everybody who reads this to get in touch with their MP about this issue. Unfortunately, the TPP’s approval ultimately comes down to a vote in the House of Commons, so this is one of the most direct ways you can make your opposition to the TPP clear. If you’d like, you can feel free to copy directly from my letter to Mr Virani.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I feel there’s a much more radical critique to be made of the TPP, but I’m also a big believer in speaking to your audience, and I think that people across the political spectrum have good reasons to oppose this dreadful deal, so in my letter I tried to speak primarily to the concerns that many moderates have expressed.

If you’re uncertain who your Member of Parliament is or how to contact them, you can find that information here.)

Continue Reading

New NEB rules aren’t credible coming from a government committed to building pipelines

Image description: a group of twenty to thirty people march down a sidewalk holding homemade signs protesting the tar sands and pipelines. (Image credit: Fibonacci Blue/Flikr)

Image description: a group of around thirty people march down a sidewalk holding signs (mostly homemade) protesting the tar sands and pipelines. (Image credit: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)

Earlier this week, the Trudeau government announced that it would be instituting new principles for ongoing reviews of pipeline projects like Energy East and Northern Gateway by the National Energy Board (NEB). These changes, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna said, were required to “rebuild Canadians’ trust in our environmental assessment processes” and to “take into account the views and concerns of Canadians, respect the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and support our natural resources sector.”

Setting aside the worrying implication that the current review process didn’t already perform basic consultative tasks, there was a troubling indication at the heart of the government’s rhetoric which completely undercuts their insistence that they want to build confidence in the NEB’s ability to reach scientifically sound and community-supported decisions:

[National Resources Minister Jim] Carr said the process will provide pipeline proponents greater certainty about the time involved in reaching decisions.

“If we’re going to attract the investments we need to sustainably develop our energy resources, then we have to better engage Canadians, conduct deeper consultations with indigenous peoples and base decisions on science, facts and evidence,” Carr said.

Did you catch it? It’s surrounded by caveats and reassurances, but it’s there – the assumption that the government must somehow find a way to facilitate the development of energy resources. (Note also McKenna’s statement above that the changes to the NEB process will “support our natural resources sector”.)

This is far from a one-off from Trudeau’s ministers. In fact, it’s been somewhat of a refrain for Jim Carr. Continue Reading

Body cameras, TPS’s biggest response Sammy Yatim shooting, wouldn’t have prevented his death

Image description: A close-up shot of a Toronto police officer, from chin to mid-torso. Attached to their uniform just below the shoulder is a small black camera with a forward-facing screen. (Image credit: TPS)

Image description: A close-up shot of a side-facing Toronto police officer, from chin to mid-torso. Attached to their uniform just below the shoulder is a small black camera with a forward-facing screen. (Image credit: TPS)

As you’ve no doubt heard if you live in Toronto, James Forcillo, the cop who shot and killed Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013, was found guilty this week – not of murder, but of attempted murder.

It’s a sad but true fact that no cop has ever been convicted of murder in Ontario, and many legal observers expected that, given the legal system’s built-in lenience towards killers in uniforms, Forcillo was likely to get off scot-free. It’s better than nothing, a lot of folks are saying. At least he was found guilty of something.

While I see where this argument is coming from, it feels defeatist to me. It feels like it gives up too easily, resigns itself to a certain level of police brutality and impunity.

James Forcillo murdered Sammy Yatim. He had a vast variety of options at his disposal short of shooting and killing the disturbed teenager, and he tried literally none of them. Sammy Yatim’s death was tragic, senseless, entirely unnecessary. In finding Forcillo not guilty on a charge of second-degree murder, the jury was essentially saying that his actions were justifiable. That this is possible, that we aren’t able to legally hold police to higher standards than the general population, is a travesty.

As for the precedent this trial sets, it’s hard to say. Police union president Mike McCormack is convinced that it will have a chilling effect on officers, will make them more hesitant to act in volatile situation, will make us all less safe. There’s a lot of bullshit in the way he’s spinning that, but maybe it’s true that cops will feel slightly less trigger-happy knowing that they may actually face (gasp!) consequences.

To date, the most significant consequence of the Yatim shooting is the implementation of a few key recommendations made by an inquiry into his death by Frank Iacobucci, a retired Supreme Court justice. One of these recommendations was the use of body cameras by frontline Toronto police officers, and a pilot program was launched last May.

In this article, I argued that body cameras are a solution in search of a problem (in that we don’t lack for footage of abusive cops, taken by civilians or surveillance cameras or dash cameras), that they are problematic and prone to abuse, and that body cameras do literally nothing to address the actual root causes of police brutality. Continue Reading

Wednesday Links Roundup 1/27/16

Readers – if you come across any stories you think ought to be included in next week’s links round-up, please send them my way by email (matt@thealfalfafield.com), on Twitter (@thealfalfafield), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thalfalfafield). Also if yer not following me on Twitter and/or Facebook yet, get on that!

First off, some tunes:

And a good chuckle: Yukon Rethinks Its ‘We All Need the D’ Public Health Ad (VICE) Continue Reading

Why 2016 will be a year of victories for the pipeline resistance movement

Image description: Three pipeline resisters are chained to a valve behind a chain-link fence, which bears a sign reading “NOTICE: NO TRESPASSING”. These three brave folks had their first trial session in Sarnia today in relation to the incident in question. (Image credit: The Indignants/Facebook)

Pipelines are having a moment right now.

Even in the darkest depths of the Harper years, I can’t recall a time when tar sands bitumen transportation infrastructure was such a hot-button headline issue. And not in an isolated one-off kind of way, either – barely a day goes by without some prominent national figure making some newsworthy statement about pipelines.

I mean, it’s only Tuesday, and here’s just some of the big news in pipelines so far this week: Continue Reading

The Liberals’ attitude toward the TPP is actually not completely discouraging

Image description: a massively muscled cartoon of the Incredible Hulk, with the captions "Stop TPP" and "NAFTA on Steroids" (Image credit: Phil Ebersole)

Image description: a massively muscled (like, more than usual) cartoon of the Incredible Hulk, with the captions “Stop TPP” and “NAFTA on Steroids” (Image credit: Phil Ebersole)

As you may have heard by now, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland announced today that Canada will be signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership at a formal signing ceremony in Auckland, New Zealand, in early February.

Freeland hastened to add that signing the deal and ratifying it are two different things entirely, and that on the subject of ratification, the Liberals are still far from making up their minds. In all of her rhetoric, she leans ever-so-slightly in favour of ratifying the deal (“Just as it is too soon to endorse the TPP, it is also too soon to close the door…It is clear that many feel the TPP presents significant opportunities, while others have concerns…”), but is careful to always include the contrary viewpoint as a hedge. Her careful phrasing is a massive departure from the pro-anything-trade-related effusion which typified Stephen Harper and his lapdog cabinet (there’s that famous difference in tone yet again).

Some observers are skeptical of this prevarication and feel certain that, after the whole elaborate public-consultation listening tour show is over, the beholden-to-Bay-Street Liberals will use their substantial majority in the House of Commons to push the deal through.

Initially, I have to confess, that was my suspicion. However, the Libs seem more wobbly on this with each passing month. Back in November, I pointed to incoming Agriculture Minister and Liberal good ol’ boy Lawrence MacAulay’s declaration of support for the TPP as a major indicator of which way the party was leaning. However, parsing Freeland’s carefully equivocal statements over the past several weeks has led me to conclude that she’s either got an extremely strong poker face or she is legitimately uncommitted to passing this deal. Continue Reading

CSIS urges judge in B.C. terror case to let them present their evidence secretly

Image description: John Nuttall, a bearded white man with stringy brown neck-length hair, is in the passenger seat of a car, looking towards the driver (not pictured). Nuttall alleges that he was radicalized and pushed into violent jihad by a CSIS operative. (Image credit: RCMP/Project Souvenir)

Image description: John Nuttall, a bearded white man with stringy brown neck-length hair, is in the passenger seat of a car, looking towards the driver (who is not pictured). Nuttall alleges that he was radicalized and pushed into violent jihad by a CSIS operative. (Image credit: RCMP/Project Souvenir)

CSIS was back in court again last week fighting to keep the details of its involvement in a B.C. terror case under wraps, saying that a public examination of its behaviour would threaten national security and put lives at risk.

This is the second time this month that CSIS has requested an extraordinary closed-door session of the trial, with the media and public shut out. And this time, they went one step further:

[A] lawyer representing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service argued some of the information is sensitive enough to national security that part of the closed-door proceedings must also exclude both defence and Crown lawyers, with only intelligence agency lawyers and the judge present.

“Submissions would have to be provided on that basis or not at all,” Donaree Nygard told the judge in Vancouver.

“The circle of privilege must be maintained. … My client is willing to open up the privilege to your ladyship, but no further.”

This extremely unusual demand comes at a critical juncture of the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, who were found guilty last June of terrorist offences in relation to their plot to plant pressure cooker bombs on the grounds of the B.C. legislative building on July 1, 2013. Continue Reading

Site C land defenders face injunction in battle to stop dangerous dam project

Image: A sign reading "Keep the Peace" with the words "Site C Dam" in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

Image: A sign reading “Keep the Peace” (with the words “Site C Dam” written in a read circle with a line through it) is attached to a birch tree on an embankment overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

For the past several weeks, a group of land defenders has been occupying territory in the Peace River Valley on which the government of British Columbia intends to build a massive hydroelectric dam, known as Site C.

Though their presence has been an impediment to work essential to the dam’s construction, the protesters were, up until recently, begrudgingly tolerated by the authorities.

However, on January 20, despite B.C. Hydro’s statements that they were trying to negotiate a peaceful and mutually agreeable resolution to the occupation, the utility went to court to seek an injunction that would require the land defenders to immediately vacate their encampment or else face steep punitive damages.

As these land defenders await the next phase of their struggle to block this dam’s construction, it’s worth looking back on why they’re there and what this fight is about. Continue Reading

The missing context in Energy East debate: the climate can’t afford more tar sands extraction

Image description: An extremely unflattering photo of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, his face distorted in an expression of disgust. The National Post chose this photo to illustrate its story on Coderre's opposition to Energy East, just one of many petty attacks on the mayor.

Image description: An extremely unflattering photo of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, his face distorted in an expression of disgust. The National Post chose this photo to illustrate its story on Coderre’s opposition to Energy East, just one of many petty attacks on the mayor. [Image credit: Postmedia]

A furious feud has exploded between Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and a group of prominent Western politicians. There have been personal insults, below-the-belt jabs, aspersions cast on prominent politicians’ integrity and intelligence, and a whole lot of aggravation. What’s missing from all this argument, though, is some much-needed context.

The whole flap blew up pretty quickly yesterday, after Coderre, in his capacity as president of the Montreal Metropolitan Committee (MMC), a regional grouping of 82 municipalities, announced the group’s formal opposition to TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline.

The MMC consulted the public extensively on the issue over the past year, and Coderre cited widespread concerns about the environmental impact of a potential spill in explaining the committee’s position. Additionally, Coderre and other Montreal-area mayors felt that the cities were not being adequately compensated for assuming the risks attendant with having the pipeline run through their cities.

It didn’t take long for folks out west to get outraged over Coderre’s announcement. Continue Reading

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