Tag Archives: Ralph Goodale

Pre-crime arrest shows Trudeau Liberals intend to leave C-51 mostly intact

Image: A hand holds a cardboard sign reading “C-51 IS TERRORISM – REJECT FEAR”

For well over a year now, Justin Trudeau’s promise to “fix” the “problematic aspects” of Bill C-51 once his party formed government has been the source of considerable uncertainty. Just what exactly does he mean by “problematic”? Which parts will he keep, and which will he amend, and which will he discard? Neither the Prime Minister nor his Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, have been particularly detailed in their public statements on the matter, although careful parsing of their interviews do glean some insights, at least about some things they intend to change.

The government’s focus so far has been on increased oversight of intelligence and security agencies, both by existing bodies and by a new committee of parliamentarians. (Although their major cuts to the budget of SIRC, the body which provides oversight to CSIS, raises serious questions about their commitment to robust oversight.) They’ve made vaguely reassuring noises about protecting “civil” protest and have promised to tidy up the bureaucratic Gordian Knot commonly known as the no-fly list.

But they’ve been silent about privacy concerns, and documents recently released in response to a Freedom of Information request begrudgingly acknowledged that Canadians’ private information has been shared by at least four agencies, one of which had its name completely redacted from the release. Given the responsiveness of CSE to Defence Minister Sarjit Hajjan’s demand that the signals intelligence agency stop sharing information with its foreign counterparts during the metadata scandal which erupted earlier this year, we have to presume that this inter-agency C51-approved info-sharing is happening with the Trudeau government’s blessing.

The government has been equally circumspect as to their plans for the controversially expansive new powers granted to spy agencies like CSIS. In fact, they’ve been frustratingly tight-lipped on the subject of how they have been using these new powers since they formed government last year, and are keeping their predecessors’ instructions to CSIS on how to use these powers top secret. This silence, as I’ve suggested, always seemed to indicate that they intended to leave these issues unaddressed.

And with the arrest of Kevin Omar Mohamed by the RCMP last week, the Liberal government has finally and conclusively tipped their hand – the security agencies’ new powers look to be here to say. Continue Reading

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

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

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

Liberals elaborate on their plans for C-51, and they’re not encouraging at all

Image: A hand holds a cardboard sign reading “C-51 IS TERRORISM – REJECT FEAR”

The shape of Liberal reform of C-51 is becoming increasingly clear, and as I predicted, it doesn’t meaningfully address the most important issues with the law. There are, however, the slightest glimmers of hope for anti-C-51 advocates – which I’ll get to after the doom and gloom, so as to leave you with at least a bit of optimism.

But first, the bad news.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, in his interview last week with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton (who, by the way, is to be congratulated for her appointment as permanent host of CBC’s Power and Politics after doing a fantastic job during last year’s election), gave some indication of what the Liberal approach to C-51 will be:

Goodale is travelling to London next week for meetings on counter-terrorism, violent extremism and cybersecurity. He will also be gathering information about United Kingdom’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament as he prepares to adopt a similar model for Canadian parliamentarians…

The Security Intelligence Review Committee, a civilian oversight body, will remain with an enhanced mandate.

Goodale said the government is committed to repealing key elements of the anti-terrorism legislation known as Bill C-51, including protecting civil protests and better defining “propaganda” and the expanded no-fly list. [my bold]

So, to recap: a parliamentary committee to oversee surveillance agencies, a beefing-up of SIRC, the protection of “civil” protests, and better definitions and parameters for “propaganda” and the no-fly list. Goodale also made clear that the Liberals would make good on a specific pledge to ensure that the law-breaking “disruption” that security agencies are allowed to engage in under C-51 would not include actions which violate people’s Charter rights.

That’s broadly in line with what I was predicting months ago, especially the tightly limited action on police/surveillance agency “disruption”, better known as legalized law-breaking.

But as more details emerge about the new oversight committee which is the centrepiece of the Liberals’s “reformist” agenda on C-51, I’m getting increasingly dour about the whole thing.  Continue Reading

Bursting the Trudeaumania bubble

Look, I don’t wanna be a party-pooper. I don’t wanna piss on anyone’s parade. It’s really wonderful to see so many people being so enthusiastic about federal politics, so inspired by the notion of real meaningful change, and I wish that I could join in on the enthusiasm and excitement.

But I can’t, because as earnestly felt as the swell of goodwill towards the new Trudeau government is, it’s misplaced.

Now first of all, to be clear: it’s obviously fantastic that Trudeau appointed the most ethnically diverse cabinet in Canadian history, as well as the first to feature an equal number of female and male ministers. And I don’t have any patience for those crypto-racist/patriarchal arguments about how cabinet positions ought to be doled out on the basis of merit and not arbitrary quotas. “Merit” is such a fuzzy term, easily defined to mean just about whatever the user wants it to mean, and in a white-cis-hetero-patriarchal-colonizer society, merit has traditionally been almost exclusively an attribute of white cis heterosexual men. (Surprise, surprise.) There’s definitely a place for quotas in an inherently unequal society, because a lot of people who are entirely capable of doing big and important jobs aren’t ever able to try because of systemic oppression.

In fact, good on Justin Trudeau for setting a strong precedent by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet. It will now be incredibly difficult, politically speaking, for any of his successors to go back to male-dominated cabinets of the past.

But representation by members of diverse communities does not inherently mean that the concerns of those communities will be addressed. A lot has been made about the appointment of rookie MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous lawyer and regional chief, as Minister of Justice. And don’t get me wrong – it’s awesome than an Indigenous woman is in a position to do so much to address the injustices that have been heaped upon Indigenous communities by Canadian governments since before this nation was founded, and I sincerely hope that she is able to do just that.

Issues like the ridiculously disproportionate incarceration rate for Indigenous folks, the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the establishment of meaningful nation-to-nation relations using the treaties as a framework, and of course a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, would fall at least partially under Wilson-Raybould’s purview.

All of which is very exciting – but I can’t help feeling cynical. I’ve seen this movie before – a member of a marginalized and oppressed community achieves a position of power in which they can make some meaningful change, and then…they don’t.

The most direct parallel I can think of is Eric Holder, the first black Attorney-General of the United States. Continue Reading

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