Through the curiosities of circumstance, Nigel Clarke finds himself marooned in Ottawa, the capital of the socialist haven of Canada. Thanks to The Progressive Army and co-conspirators who must remain nameless, Nigel is able to smuggle his thoughts on life behind the curtain to the outside world each week.
To read last week’s correspondence click here.
Why is it that those with the least to say are often those speaking loudest and most invasively?
While I sat in a neighborhood café earlier this week, a man at the table next to me began what I at first assumed was a Ron Burgundy impression. Noisily, he illuminated the secrets of the universe. As he spoke, it became abundantly clear to me, and to the rest of the patrons staring at him with grimacing faces, that he had no idea what he was talking about.
He confidently muddled the affiliations of national and international politicians. He was emphatic, yet confused as to the plight of the local sports team. He told a suicide joke and made a half dozen overtly sexist comments. I wondered if he was going to start explaining how “San Diego” meant “a whale’s vagina.”
Perhaps his most hilarious musing was a theatrical derision of Canadians from small-town Quebec for being “radical left-wing hippies.” I am no expert on the complicated English/French relations in Canada, but even I am aware that rural Quebec is among the most religious, traditional, and conservative areas in the country, if not on the continent.
From the café we were sitting in, it would take approximately 15 minutes to walk into the province of Quebec. The man’s ignorance of his neighbors was relatively shocking.
Later, he revealed that his father was in the midst of concluding business in Dubai, before heading to New York City and, finally, Hong Kong. I suppose it is possible that the insular lifestyle of a legacy kid could explain a total lack of knowledge about the world.
He closed the conversation by announcing that next week he was to graduate from university and immediately move 3000 miles (excuse me, 4500 kilometers) to Vancouver, British Columbia on the west coast of the country. When his acquaintance asked, “Why?” – the first words she had spoken in over 30 minutes – he responded that his father had gotten him a job; a high-ranking position, disproportionate to his experience level or grades. The job was with CSIS – Canada’s NSA.
In 2012, the government of Revered Leader Stephen Harper – Trudeau’s predecessor – sought to introduce a Canadian version of the Patriot Act, featuring warrantless surveillance, a vague definition of terrorism, and so on. It is fitting that Harper was the person to do this, as by that point he was seen as something close to Canada’s Bush; detested by large portions of the country, militaristic, pro-oil, an infringer of rights, etc.
However, the Harper government fell short of the Bush administration in one crucial area – marketing.
The Bush administration called their legislation the Patriot Act; a delicious piece of propaganda implicitly portraying opponents as unpatriotic or, perhaps, treasonous.
Harper’s legislation, on the other hand, was called the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.” Critics pointed out that the content of the bill at no point made mention of “children” or “internet predators.” This problem was compounded when a member of Harper’s cabinet told opponents they could “either stand with us or the child predators.”
This threatening use of propaganda was so over the top that it turned many people off. The antagonized public organized a movement of opposition to the bill, eventually causing the government to withdraw the legislation from consideration.
But, in 2015, with “Trudeaumania” building momentum, the Harper government, in its last days, again attempted to create the Canadian Patriot Act. Having learned their lesson, this time they called it the “Anti-Terrorism Act,” or, more popularly, Bill C-51.
The nondescript name and surreptitious presentation somewhat dampened public engagement, and, with the support of Trudeau’s Liberals, the bill was passed. Bestowed with the ability to ignore fundamental rights, CSIS became a mighty government agency and the modern Canadian surveillance state was born.
This has gone as you might expect.
I opened the Canadian national newspaper the other day to a curious article. Evidently, it had been revealed that in downtown Ottawa – location of the Canadian parliament, foreign embassies, diplomats, government officials, and many journalists – people were being illegally surveilled using something called an IMSI-catcher; a device which allows the user to read text messages and listen in on phone calls.
The most interesting part of the article for me was that it simultaneously presented the use of IMSI-catchers as an egregious invasion of privacy and a crime, while also mentioning that CSIS uses the very same technology and methods.
It drew to mind a number of stories I have seen since coming to Ottawa.
There was the report that CSIS was tracking travelers via airport Wi-Fi. There were accusations (still being investigated) that CSIS was surveilling the conversations of journalists. Activists have asked if tweeting about a pipeline protest will have them designated as “terrorists.”
I will not belabor the point. The tentacles of an unleashed surveillance state are sadly predictable.
Back in 2015, after providing the support necessary for the passage of Bill C-51, Justin Trudeau campaigned for national leader, like his American spirit animal Barack Obama, as the anti-surveillance candidate; promising to amend or repeal the legislation.
Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Trudeau has not acted, and the tentacles have gripped tighter. Going forward? Well, my American friends might remember waiting for Obama to dismantle their surveillance state.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” So said Thomas Jefferson (allegedly).
Perhaps the implication of this quote is that some temptations are too great for those in positions of power to resist.
I think of Revered Leader Trudeau entering office as something of a savior figure, and now, not two years into his rule, turning rapidly into a public villain. I think of his multiple pay-to-play scandals. I remember his administration in its infancy selling weapons to countries he explicitly promised not to sell to during the campaign, then having his Foreign Minister (similar to U.S. Secretary of State) mock the public for believing such an asinine promise. I think of his new pipeline projects and his support for global trade deals.
And I think of a man sitting down at the controls of a powerful surveillance infrastructure he had previously condemned, and coming to believe himself to be its benevolent overseer.
Many Americans are appalled by the thought of Donald Trump at the reins of their monstrous surveillance infrastructure, and he is an easy and deserving target. Similarly, those of an alternate political ideology were appalled with President Obama in the same position – one only need think of the ongoing scandal over whether the Obama administration surveilled Trump during the campaign.
The real problem is the existence of the apparatus, not whether it is overseen by Trump or Obama, Nationalist or Socialist, a popularized hero or villain.
Eternal vigilance – the kind that thwarted the first (poorly marketed) attempt at creating the Canadian Patriot Act – may be implicit in socialist ideology through direct participation, but it is not automatic in the functioning of “socialist” Canada, nor, for that matter, the “patriotic” United States.
Unfortunately, when public vigilance is missing in either country, there are those willing and able to take advantage.
I must end this week not with revered leaders, but with the man in the café; so overtly ignorant of the world around him, yet set to assume a position of power within an organization which, thanks to Bill C-51, has the ability to surveil and/or destroy anyone they see fit.
Perhaps he is reading this now and realizing it is about him. Perhaps he will choose to snap his fingers and make this my last correspondence.
Read More: Correspondence from Socialist Canada