Tag Archives: Surveillance state

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

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

RCMP chief’s illogical, incoherent arguments for eroding online privacy printed unchallenged by Canadian Press

RCMP chief Bob Paulson wants your private information (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP chief Bob Paulson wants your private information (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP Chief Bob Paulson (no, not that Robert Paulson!), apparently unsatisfied with the massive increase in powers the Mounties received under C-51, spoke Wednesday on the force’s “need” to access people’s Internet subscriber information without a warrant, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling barring the police from doing exactly that.

I wrote in September about the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs’ identical demand, issued in conjunction with demands to allow them to search the mail and seize people’s phone numbers without warrants, part of a troubling trend among law enforcement agencies of ceaselessly asking for more and more powers.

Paulson, speaking before a panel at Securetech, a trade show put on by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, put on a master-class in fallacious argumentation, which the Canadian Press was only too happy to stenographically regurgitate into newspapers across the country.

I’d like to take a look at some of Paulson’s more preposterous points, starting with this little gem of a false analogy:

“I’m all for warrantless access to subscriber info,” Paulson told a security conference in Ottawa, comparing the process to his beat-cop days of entering licence-plate data into a computer and coming up with a vehicle owner’s name.

“If I had to get a judge on the phone every time I wanted to run a licence plate when I was doing my policing, there wouldn’t have been much policing getting done.”

The level of sheer stupidity which forms the foundation of this argument is unbelievable.  Continue Reading

C-51 keeps getting worse the more we learn about it

This is the inaugural post in a new series: National Security Sundays. Each week, I’ll be doing a deep dive into issues related to Canada’s surveillance agencies, law enforcement, or armed forces. Today, we’re taking a look at a story that what hot this spring but which hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves lately, the 1984-esque surveillance law C-51.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I’ve managed to pinpoint the lowest level to which the Conservative Party stooped in the recent election campaign in their desperate attempts to drum up enough fear and terror and anti-Muslim hatred to squeak back into office.

There were, I’ll concede, a lot of candidates for the Lowest Low, from their anti-niqab hysteria to their “barbaric practices hotline” to their cold bureaucratic indifference to the plight of refugees. But, for me at least, the Conservatives hit rock bottom on September 24, when they announced that they were laying charges under the recently-passed C-51 against a Canadian man, Farah Mohamed Shirdon, who left Canada in early 2014 to fight for the Islamic State.

Shirdon, charged in absentia, couldn’t have been prosecuted without the vital provisions of the government’s glorious Combating Terrorism Act, crowed a boastful Jason Kenney in a press release so self-congratulatory and hubristic it has to be read to be believed. One key quote:

The video of this individual burning and shooting his Canadian passport to express his violent hatred for Canada shocked many Canadians – and demonstrates how those who engage in terrorism betray the bond of loyalty and allegiance with Canada.

This one sentence has the whole Conservative Party reelection strategy, encapsulated perfectly. It uses loaded buzzwords designed to create indignation, fear, and hatred, says “Canada” and “Canadians” far too many times, conflates symbolic gestures with meaningful action, and baldly asserts the widespread prevalence of opinions which are in actuality much more marginal. It sets up a glowing ideal of Canadian patriotism and then demonizes and Others anybody who fails to live up to it, attempting to create a sense of solidarity among all “decent” folks. It’s truly a disgusting masterwork of divisive rhetoric.

But that’s not what’s most egregious about the charges laid against Shirdon. The truly outrageous aspect of all this is that Shirdon was almost certainly dead when the RCMP announced the charges. Continue Reading

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs wants radical new powers

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs held their annual confab last week, putting out their typically terrifying wishlist of civil-liberties-violating 1984-esque changes to the Criminal Code that they’d love to see made.

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of these policy proposals, though, how’s about a little bit of context?

Police-reported crime severity index, 1998-2014. Courtesy StatsCan.

What we see here, clear as a bell, is that over the past two decades, crime of all types has dropped significantly – in some cases, massively. This is particularly true of non-violent crimes. While violent crimes have certainly decreased, the rate of non-violent crime has been in freefall since around 2002.

Incidentally, experts are pretty divided as to why this trend, which is a pretty global phenomenon, is happening at all. (One interesting hypothesis is that the presence of lead in gasoline led to the spike in crime rates we witnessed from the sixties through the early nineties, while its removal has led to the subsequent die-down in crime, although this theory also has its critics.)

All of this is neither here nor there, though. The point is that the Chiefs were meeting in the context of an ongoing and massive drop in reported crime of all varieties. What was their response to this situation? A recommendation that police departments be downsized and their funding decreased?

Hardly. Continue Reading

ICYMI – CSIS agents infiltrated Vancouver mosques, and way overplayed their parts

My very first post here at The Alfalfafield, way back in April(!), detailed the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, two accused terrorists in British Columbia. I’ve been following the story closely ever since, and with the sudden insertion of CSIS into the drama in the last week, it seems about time for an update.

In case you’re too lazy to click through and read my summary of the events leading up to the trial (henceforth acronymized as ICYTLTCTARMSOTELUTTT), here’s a quick run-down: Nuttall and Korody, two impoverished recovering heroin addicts, were the subject of a 240-Mountie “investigation” which culminated in an “attempt” to bomb the B.C. legislative buildings in Victoria on Canada Day 2013. I use scare quotes for “attempt” because the plot never had any chance of succeeding, as the pressure-cooker “bombs” the couple planted had previously been rendered inoperative by the Mounties controlling the operation.

The pair were recently found guilty, but their sentencing has been delayed while the trial judge considers the question of whether they were entrapped by the RCMP. To a totally-not-impartial outside observer like myself, this seems like a foregone conclusion: the two recent converts to Islam had the most half-baked of plans, proposing wild schemes like hijacking nuclear submarines or building and launching missiles at the Parliament Buildings, or, failing that, Seattle, which they mistakenly believed was ten times closer to them than it actually was. The actual scheme they eventually carried out was pushed on them by undercover cops who alternately bullied and flattered the pair, cajoling them to consider more practical and easily achievable goals, including specifically urging the use of the explosive C-4 inside pressure cookers at the BC Leg on Canada Day. The RCMP even paid for the couple to have a weekend getaway at a Kelowna hotel, where undercover cops gave them detailed instructions on how to use C-4, instructions it’s hard to see them getting elsewhere. In short, this is a plot that could never have existed absence the active involvement of over two hundred cops. Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.