Tag Archives: Jason Kenney

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

Looking on the bright side – Liberals move to abolish two-tier citizenship

It pains me to admit this, but today I was pleased with Justin Trudeau.

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’m not a big fan of our Boy Wonder Prime Minister, with his signature Sunny Ways™ “change of tone” and his short-on-specifics promises of Real Change™.

I’ve castigated this new government over its lukewarm attitude towards privacy rights in its efforts to “fix” Bill C-51, the Prime Minister’s incoherent and misguided approach to the fight with ISIS, the Liberal Party’s wishy-washy, unexplained, and unjustified support for the corporate-sellout sovereignty-killing TPP, the half-assed reforms of the National Energy Board which leave major Indigenous concerns unaddressed and make the approval of environmentally destructive pipelines extremely likely, and Trudeau’s unwillingness to back down from a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming concerns about the human rights implications of helping to arm such a notoriously repressive regime, among other issues.

A few days following his election, I said that “in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper”, and much to my disappointment, I haven’t really changed my opinion on that score. Though their motivations and their personalities are worlds apart, the two Prime Ministers are ideologically united on far more important issues than most people realize

But it’s tough being all gloomy and doomy all the time. It’s nice to look on the bright side every now and then. And every once in a while, Trudeau gives me a reason to smile.

Now, usually it’s just a matter of him not being as big of a raging flaming asshole as Stephen Harper was, and so really he’s only looking good by comparison. But after a long decade under that terrifying psychopath, it’s actually pretty satisfying when the government doesn’t take the path of maximum assholery.

Cause for celebration? No, not really. But I’m doing my best to look on the bright side today, so bear with me. Continue Reading

Don’t act so smug about Trump, Canada – Islamophobia is a serious problem here too

Image: Zunera Ishaq wearing a colorful patterned niqab. Ishaq’s battle to wear her niqab while she took her oath of citizenship became a central focus in the recent election, just one example of widespread anti-Muslim racism in Canadian politics. (Image credit: CP/Patrick Doyle)

Yesterday, as the first few hundred Syrian refugees since the election began to arrive in Canada, the Toronto Star printed a front-page editorial saying, in English and Arabic, “Welcome to Canada,” telling refugees that they’re “with family now.”

The short piece, which leaned heavily on well-worn and outdated Canadian stereotypes (and a totally gratuitous plug for Tim Hortons), played up the notion that Canadians are, as a group, a welcoming and tolerant people.

There was an almost self-congratulatory tone to the whole thing – an entirely implicit one, of course. But in a week which featured a call from a leading candidate for the American presidency to ban all Muslims from entry into the “land of the free”, the very act of publicly welcoming Syrian refugees takes on a secondary dimension of subtly proclaiming that we are a much more open and accepting nation.

As for Trump himself, his anti-Muslim remarks this week set off a flurry of condemnation from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called for banning Trump and others who “spout hatred” from entering Canada, and Toronto and Vancouver city councillors are working on proposals to remove Trump’s name from high-profile skyscrapers in the two cities. Toronto councillor Josh Matlow went so far as to call Trump a “fascist” on Twitter.

And for many, the contrast between Canada and the United States was crystal clear: Continue Reading

Top secret war: What’s going on with Canada’s military misadventure in Iraq and Syria?

Flying Canadian death machines over Iraq (Image credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera/DND)

Since last October, Canada’s air force has been involved in a coalition of Western and Gulf Arab nations bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq and, later, in Syria. In addition, Canadian Special Forces have been deployed to Iraqi Kurdistan to train the Kurdish peshmerga, who are fighting IS on the ground.

Throughout the past year, media coverage of the conflict has been extremely sporadic and patchy. This is largely by necessity; the military has not exactly prioritized keeping the public informed, especially when it comes to scandalous and controversial events, like the lone Canadian death in the conflict, that of Andrew Dorion, who was killed in what has been described as a “friendly fire incident” this past March. Details of Dorion’s death have remained pretty fuzzy, and the Department of National Defence has so far refused to release a thorough report investigating the incident.

Similarly, DND has remained tight-lipped about ongoing rumours and reports of civilian casualties as a result of Canadian airstrikes. This past week, an investigation by CBC’s the fifth estate revealed that Canada and its coalition partners have been implicated in the deaths of up to six hundred civilians, including at least two airstrikes in which Canadian bombers were specifically involved.

The military brass had little to say on the incident, except that the mission’s commander was not even aware of an internal Pentagon investigation into one of the incidents. Canada continues to insist that our bombers have killed absolutely no civilians with the nearly five hundred bombs they’ve dropped on Syria and Iraq to date.

Given the military’s intransigence and the horrific on-the-ground conditions, it’s difficult for the press to dig much deeper into these allegations, or indeed to report concretely on the state of the conflict.

Of course, we know broadly speaking that Islamic State is still right where it was a year ago, and that airstrikes seem to have been largely ineffective. There’s been some speculation that the coalition of bombing nations isn’t actually all that enthusiastic about defeating IS, and is not bombing them as often or as vigorously as it would be if it were serious about this. (I looked at one specific example of that in my article “The ISIS racket“.) Continue Reading

“A difference of tone”: in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper

“The biggest difference between a party led by me and one by Stephen Harper will be one of tone.”

Justin Trudeau

Our soon-to-be-sworn-in Prime Minister spoke those words way back in April 2013, when he was in the midst of the Liberal leadership contest, and that was the moment when I was officially done with him.

Not that I didn’t have issues with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “tone”, or his “style”. (And let’s just take a moment to savour that phrase: “former Prime Minister Stephen Harper”. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Add a “disgraced” at the beginning for maximum enjoyment!) Harper’s “tone” was pretty consistently condescending, bullying, mean-spirited, and paranoid. A change of tone in politics would be pretty nice, I suppose.

But if “tone” is the biggest change we get when Justin Trudeau moves (back) into 24 Sussex, then all this hullabaloo about “real change” amounts to nothing but a steaming mountain of bullshit. Because “tone” was the least bad thing about Harper’s tenure in the PMO.

Unfortunately, in many respects, our PM-to-be’s platform aligns with the outgoing Conservative Party on several critical issues.

Let’s look at a few of them, shall we? Continue Reading

“#PeopleLikeNenshi”, “old stock Canadians”, and plausibly deniable racism

In 1963, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and dark-horse Presidential candidate, made his position on one of the major political issues of the day crystal-clear, saying, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

You could get away with that kind of thing back then – equating integration with tyranny and explicitly embracing a violently racist policy.

These days, a politician who openly expressed this kind of view would be unable to command much mainstream support. Even Wallace was unable to ever expand his political base out of the American South. But racist politicians haven’t disappeared; they’ve just learned how to make plausibly-deniable racist statements.

The Harper Conservatives’ 2015 campaign has been a master-class in subtly coded racism. And though we who follow these stories closely may think their sneakily derogatory statements aren’t gaining traction, it’s easy to be in a bit of a social media bubble on this issue. If you’re reading this, you’re probably relatively young, and you’re probably living in a city, and you’re therefore probably not considered a likely Conservative voter. When Conservative candidates say these are-they-or-aren’t-they-being-racist kind of things, they’re not talking to you.

To take the most recent example, currently trending on Twitter: Earlier this week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi did an interview with the slimy Evan Solomon on the ongoing niqab furor. (ICYMI, here’s my post from last week on the issue.) Nenshi, in typically blunt fashion, didn’t hold back on the question of Conservative dog-whistle statements. On the question of the niqab, he said, “This is unbelievably dangerous stuff. It’s not fun anymore. And you know, I spoke with a group of – I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech, with all these people from small-town Alberta, I stood up and I said this is disgusting and it’s time for us to say stop it. It’s time for us to say this is enough.”

He also spoke of the danger of trying to politicize the niqab, saying that the message that it sends to Muslim youth is that they will never be truly accepted as Canadians, at exactly the same time that they are being targeted by “deradicalization” campaigns that aim to convince them of the exact opposite. And speaking on the tenuous nature of multiculturalism, he even got kinda poetic: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland was actually terrifying

Fear and loathing, my friends.

These two are the foundation of the Conservative campaign. Fill the electorate full to the brim with fear and loathing. Get them all fired up about threats both imagined and grossly exaggerated. That is the path that the governing party has to reelection – a campaign of terror and hatred, directed predominately against Muslims, to appeal to all the old racist white people who are most likely to turn out and vote.

But the truly terrifying thing is that it seems to be working.

I wrote earlier this week about the manufactured controversy surrounding the niqab which is being cynically pushed both by the HarperCons and by the Bloc Quebecois. The Prime Minister has elevated a complete and total non-issue – a few Muslim women’s choice of wardrobe for their citizenship ceremonies – into an existential threat to Canadian “values” and “heritage” and a bunch of other dog-whistle crypto-racist terms.

The niqab debate has been simmering away for quite some time now, and it was to be expected that the subject would come up in the first French-language debate of the campaign. But yesterday, the Conservatives injected another nasty bit of xenophobia into the election in a way that was clearly premeditated and which they obviously hope will play to their advantage.

Canadian citizen Zakaria Amara, convicted of terrorist offences in relation to the “Toronto 18” plot, was stripped of his citizenship by the federal government under the controversial new law, Bill C-24. This law allows the government to remove Canadian citizenship from people with dual citizenship who are convicted of treason, terrorism, or espionage. Four other men were given notice by the government that their citizenship may be revoked; they have sixty days to challenge the revocation. Opposition leaders Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau both oppose the bill, arguing that it creates two tiers of citizenship.

The odious Minister of Defence Jason Kenney, on the other hand, was in full-on attack-dog mode following yesterday’s announcement. On Twitter, he averred that Amara “forfeited his own citizenship”, a line he doubled down on in a press conference:  Continue Reading

“Prime Minister Doug Ford.” Think about that, and tremble with despair.

The long knives are already out for Stephen Harper as he struggles to contain the rapidly metastasizing Duffy scandal and faces down an increasingly intransigent NDP lead in the polls. Although anonymous Conservative Party insiders are insisting that the Prime Minister would try to hang on as leader of a minority government and quite possibly run for reelection, there’s little doubt that Harper would be interested in once again being Leader of the Opposition in the event of a Conservative loss this fall.

And already, potential rivals for the Conservative leadership are positioning themselves for a run.

The Walrus pointed out in long form last fall what many political observers have long known to be true – Jason Kenney wants Stephen Harper’s job. For those unfamiliar with Kenney, he’s your pretty standard-issue Conservative boogeyman – a terrifyingly uncompassionate human being, uniquely ill-suited to his five-year term as Minister of Immigration:

In his five-year stint at Immigration, the longest of any minister’s in history, he managed to pull off a precarious balancing act: boosting the number of newcomers, among them thousands of cut-rate temporary foreign workers, needed to fill the yawning corporate maw, while brandishing the lexicon of a law-and-order zealot who cast asylum seekers as guilty until proven innocent. Staging showy crackdowns on alleged human smugglers, marriage fraudsters, and whole classes of refugees he branded as “bogus,” he used such inflammatory language that it has changed the terms of the national debate. “What Kenney has done is create this whole new vernacular,” says Philip Berger, co-founder of a national physicians’ campaign against Kenney’s cuts to refugee health care. “It’s creating a terrain of hostile attitudes to refugees.”

Currently the Minister of Defence, Kenney’s latest schtick is serving as a cynical cheerleader for our extremely limited war non-combat operation in Iraq and Syria. As I wrote in “The ISIS racket“:

I don’t think the political elite have much interest in actually defeating or degrading ISIS. They do, however, have an interest in looking tough – there’s an election this fall, after all! – and getting tough on terrorists never polls poorly. The fact is that this is a very complex conflict, full of regional and sectarian rivalries which confuse even people who have lived there their whole lives. If the HarperCons think a couple CF-18s and some military advisers to the Kurdish peshmerga are gonna make even a trivial difference in this conflict, they’re dumber than they look…

More likely, though, is that they’re cynically manipulating political instability in Iraq and Syria for political points at home in what’s shaping up to be a tough election. The war on ISIS is pretty much win-win – if it goes well, Harper & Co. (and especially Kenney, who’s got his eye on Harper’s job if and when Steve calls it quits) get to brag about Canada’s contributions to the glorious non-combat operation, but if ISIS takes more territory, they can hammer on the theme that now more than ever it’s important to oppose this terrorist menace. And all the while they can steadfastly ignore and evade questions about the effectiveness and realism of their chosen strategy, and bash any opposition leader who questions them as unpatriotic and soft on terrorism.

But as depressing as the notion of a Kenney-led Conservative Party may be, it pales in comparison to this: Continue Reading

ICYMI – Canadian troops are being sent to Ukraine this summer

The great journalist I.F. Stone may or may not have once said that he loved reading the Washington Post cover to cover, because you never know where you’re going to find a front-page story. In the increasingly fragmented journalistic landscape of the Internet Age, that’s more true than ever – the important stories have to fight with the celebrity controversies and the manufactured political scandals and the short attention spans of the public in order to get noticed, and more often than not all they’re able to muster is a day of coverage before they’re submerged by the relentless news cycle.

So starting this week, I’m going to be devoting Mondays to dredging these critical but overlooked stories back to the surface, and giving them the critical examination they deserve.

The first story I’d like to highlight is one that passed me by entirely when it first broke. I only became aware of it during Stephen Harper’s Russia-bashing European vacation last week, and even then only because I did some digging.

So, in case you missed it, here’s the headline from April 14:

Ukraine crisis: Canada sending 200 trainers for Ukraine military

Troops to leave this summer for [“]lower-risk[“] operations at bases in western Ukraine

(My scare quotes, of course.) And the details: Continue Reading

The ISIS racket

The fall of Ramadi to the Islamic State over a pretty-much-done-with-this-shit Iraqi army earlier this week has helped to clarify a few aspects of this latest twist in the ongoing, never-ending, self-perpetuating “Global War on Terror”.

Before we dive in, let’s let b over at Moon of Alabama bring us up to speed on this conquest:

The Islamic State took Ramadi with the help of armored bulldozers and some 10 suicide vehicles. That many of the nominal defenders of the city had no real will to fight also helped. But there is another important actor that allowed it to happen. In the critical 24 hours the U.S. coalition which had promised to defend Iraq and to defeat the Islamic State launched just seven air strikes and all only against minor ISIS targets around the city. That’s like nothing.

Pretty much. Which kinda puts the lie to US Secretary of Defence Ashton Kutcher Carter’s furious denunciation of the Iraqi army on the Sunday morning political love-in yesterday: Continue Reading

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