Tag Archives: Cdnpoli

Massive cost of Nuttall & Korody sting raises serious questions about counter-terrorism funding

Image description: John Nuttall, with long stringy hair and unkempt beard, sits in the passenger seat of a car, his head turning towards his left. In the back seat is Amanda Korody, wearing a black headscarf and smoking a cigarette while gesturing emphatically with her left hand. (Image credit: RCMP surveillance)

Image description: John Nuttall, with long stringy hair and unkempt beard, sits in the passenger seat of a car, his head turning towards his left. In the back seat is Amanda Korody, wearing a black headscarf and smoking a cigarette while gesturing emphatically with her left hand. (Image credit: RCMP surveillance)

Back when The Alfalfafield was a brand-new little baby blog, my very first serious post focussed on a Toronto Star investigative report into the alleged underfunding of the RCMP.

The article relied almost entirely on internal RCMP documents asking the government for more money. The documents were provided to the Star by the Liberal Party’s then-finance critic Ralph Goodale, who got in a few good kicks at the Harper Conservatives in the piece. The Star attempted to make the case that the RCMP, faced with limited funds, was being forced to choose between pursuing dangerous terrorists and going after more conventional criminals.

At the time, I called bullshit, pointing to the ongoing trial of the so-called Canada Day bombers, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, as evidence that the funds allocated by the Mounties for combatting terrorism were being poorly spent. Even then, it was clear that the pair of incompetent indigents couldn’t have orchestrated a bomb plot on their own if their very lives had depended on it, and that it was only the intervention of two hundred and forty RCMP officers that made the pressure-cooker plot possible.

Undercover Mounties steered Nuttall and Korody away from impossibly far-fetched schemes, pushed the idea of pressure cookers and a Canada Day detonation date, brought them to a Kelowna hotel for a weekend to teach them how to make C-4 plastic explosive, bought them groceries and cigarettes so they would be able to afford bomb-making materials on their meagre welfare benefits, and left John Nuttall with the impression that his life was in danger if he didn’t go through with the plot.

If Nuttall and Korody were the face of the menacing terror threat facing Canadians, if the threat their ilk posed was the reason that the RCMP was being “forced” to divert scarce resources away from investigations into gangs or white-collar financial crime, if their paranoid/delusional brand of homegrown extremism was the justification for major increases to the federal anti-terror budget, then all this fuss is just so much empty hype and noise.

The RCMP didn’t urgently need more money to combat terrorism; they just wanted more money. And rather than reflexively reaching for our wallets in response to their fear-mongering, we ought to take a good hard look at how reasonable this request actually is.

At that time, the public didn’t have any access to hard numbers on how much the Nuttall/Korody sting had cost. We still don’t have the full picture, but based on recently released figures on overtime pay for the operation, it looks to have been pretty darn expensive: Continue Reading

Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP agree: criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic

Image description: A crowd at a protest. People hold signs reading "Boycott Israel BDS", "Free Palestine", and "Free Palestine - Let Gaza Live!" (Image credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Image description: A crowd at a protest. People hold signs reading “Boycott Israel BDS”, “Free Palestine”, and “Free Palestine – Let Gaza Live!” (Image credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Yesterday’s vote in Parliament on a resolution formally condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement once again highlighted a massive shortcoming of the Canadian party system: on the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, as on many critical issues, Canadians have no meaningful representation in Parliament. And it’s hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that that’s a feature, not a bug, of the system.

The Conservative Party, of course, is continuing in its steadfast and unrestrained embrace of right-wing Israeli politics, in the tradition of their former Dear Leader Stephen Harper, who in a 2014 speech to the Israeli Knesset had some strong words about the BDS movement: Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Security agencies utterly lacking in credibility on security issues

Image description: One of those obnoxious "Keep calm and carry on"-style posters, reading "Keep calm and trust me - I'm an expert".

Image description: One of those obnoxious “Keep calm and carry on”-style posters, reading “Keep calm and trust me – I’m an expert”. (Image credit: Author)

The Ministers of Defence and Public Safety tout the “prominent” and “robust” roles that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) will play in Canada’s retooled military operations in Iraq, but aren’t at liberty to reveal exactly what the two agencies will be doing.

Two former high-ranking national security officials pen an editorial urging the Trudeau government to retain and expand upon new powers granted to intelligence agencies by the controversial C-51, arguing that (unspecified) threats to Canada have “seldom been so high”.

In the wake of a pair of high-profile scandals at CSE and CSIS, officials reassure a worried public that the difficulties were the cause of “inadvertent” errors or the behaviour of a “rogue” lone (now-ex-)employee, and that when it comes to privacy concerns, people don’t really have anything to worry about.

How are we to assess these stories and others like them? The occasional dispatches we mere mortals receive from the lofty milieu of those with above-top-secret clearances are always glaringly incomplete, with key details replaced by an index finger coyly placed upon a smilingly tight lip. It’s often implied that if we just knew all the details, then of course we’d see things their way, but since for obvious reasons certain facts just can’t be revealed, we’ll just have to trust them.

But there’s a strong case to be made for doing the exact opposite – to treat each and every claim made by a national security official, a government minister, or a private-sector apologist for the surveillance apparatus with extreme skepticism or disbelief. Because of informational asymmetry and perverse incentives, the public has effectively no ability to objectively assess the claims of intelligence and security agencies, and no compelling reason to accept on faith alone that we aren’t being deceived in some way.  Continue Reading

100 days of (mostly cosmetic) Real Change™

Image description: Justin Trudeau stares intently into the camera, smiling slightly. In the top left is the Liberal Party logo. At the bottom, in white letters over a red background, it says: “I’m voting for real change”. The word “real”, unlike the other words, is in a hand-printed-esque font. (Image credit: Justin Trudeau/Twitter)

Though it’s hard to believe, it’s now been one hundred days since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office. The hundred-day mark has held symbolic significance ever since U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term in office, in which he made a big show out of accomplishing certain campaign promises in his first hundred days.

Since then, the milestone has become an inflection point for new administrations, after which they cease to be new and begin to be judged in earnest on what they have done rather than what they have promised to do. When looking back on the first few months of a new government, one is often able to clearly see the priorities, methods, and style which will come to characterize its entire term in office. (One hundred days is, after all, not a trivial length of time, amounting to around 7% of the government’s term.)

So what can we discern about the Justin Trudeau government, looking back at the events which have transpired since that sunny November day on which he and his cabinet were sworn in with much pomp and celebration? The answer necessarily varies by issue, but one general trend is abundantly clear: in its first hundred days, the Trudeau government has demonstrated a commitment to changing the tone and style of politics in Ottawa, but that change has, with only a few exceptions, not been matched by a corresponding shift in the substance of the government’s policies on most major issues.  Continue Reading

Reforms of the pipeline review process have literally satisfied nobody

Image description: A banner reading "NO PIPELINES" is suspended from pine trees in a forested area. (Image credit: YouTube/Kahsatstenhsera)

Image description: A banner reading “NO PIPELINES” is suspended from pine trees in a forested area. (Image credit: YouTube/Kahsatstenhsera)

The Liberal government’s release of new guidelines for the pipeline review process a few weeks ago was meant to end furious feuding over the future of Canada’s oil and gas sector. The National Energy Board (NEB) reforms came hot on the heels of a nasty debate over Energy East, as the rejection of the pipeline by Montreal-area mayors was absurdly spun as a threat to national unity. The reforms were also delivered in the context of continual pressure on the new government by activists frustrated with Trudeau & Co’s delays in following through on campaign promises to fix what was widely viewed as a broken process.

The reforms, announced at a joint press conference by Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, aimed 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.”

But if the government expected their announced reforms to actually create trust in the NEB process or to do anything to cool down the overheated pipeline debate, they must be sorely disappointed. Two weeks later, it’s now clear that their proposed reforms have satisfied literally nobody, and the squabbling over pipeline proposals looks set to carry on indefinitely.

Just look at the wave of opposition to various proposed pipelines that’s arisen in the days since the government tried to calm everybody down with their (hastily-thrown-together?) reform package:  Continue Reading

Comedy of errors at CSIS highlights incompetence of surveillance review body

Image description: an outline of a keyhole against a black background. Through the keyhole is a blue eye looking directly at the camera. In the top left is a crest of a red maple leaf surrounded by a blue circle.

Last week, with the release of an annual report by the Security Review Intelligence Committee (SIRC), we got a rare glimpse into the normally secretive world of Canada’s spy agency – and the barest outline of a farcical comedy of errors emerged.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is very protective of its privacy – see their attempts to engineer a top-secret closed-doors no-defence-lawyers-allowed court session discussing their alleged involvement in a high-stakes terrorism trial – so it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full story of what transpired. But from what’s been revealed to the public already, there’s some serious cause for concerns, both about CSIS’s ability and willingness to respect Canadians’ rights and about the government’s ability and willingness to create effective oversight for intelligence agencies. Continue Reading

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

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

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

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