The attacks on Canadian soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa couldn’t have come at a better time for the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. As I write in the wake of the two shocking incidents, conspiracy theorists are already spinning worldwide webs of intrigue.
And who can blame them?
Just as they were preparing to unwrap new, invasive “anti-terrorism” legislation, along come two incidents that appear gift-wrapped for the Harper Conservatives. In each, a soldier died needlessly, tragically, at the hands of clearly mentally disturbed people who had latched on to a hateful ideology as a way to explain away the failures in their personal lives.
Now Harper is using these incidents to push legislation that will fundamentally change Canada, and, not coincidentally, help secure his hold on power.
Yet to be unveiled, early reports of the legislation suggest that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) wants the power to take advantage of the so-called “Five Eyes” spy network to which Canada, the United Kingdom, America, Australia and New Zealand all belong. The service wants more power to track Canadians they believe have been radicalized, and to take more advantage of anonymous sources.
However, powers already exist for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute Canadians who try to leave the country to fight for a terrorist organization. That raises the question of why Martin Rouleau-Couture was not apprehended well before he carried out his attack in Quebec. In addition to those powers, the law establishes secret courts to compel material witnesses or accomplices to divulge information about prospective terror attacks.
But there is little question, as the prime minister made clear the night of the attack in Ottawa, that he intends to play on Canadians’ fears to go even further. Harper wasted no time profiting from the events in a well-rehearsed speech to the nation that will no doubt play a prominent role in Conservative advertising during next year’s election.
We have already seen illegal information gathering against groups that Harper perceives as his enemies – including injured Afghanistan veterans angry over service cuts by the Conservative government.
So there is little confidence that this government will only use these powers against legitimate would-be terrorists. Indeed, government ministers have already called environmental groups “terrorist” because of their opposition to oil-sands pipeline projects. It’s not a stretch to believe the government is already spying on legal citizen’s groups.
In the US, former Nation Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden leaked information demonstrating how intelligence agencies expanded into political and industrial espionage, then into using the laws of their Five Eyes allies to circumvent national laws to gather information on their own citizens.
What’s next? New laws to allow security agencies access to information on computer servers, personal devices, bank accounts and anything else? There is nothing to suggest this government won’t use this information against its political opponents to ensure it remains in power, and further degrade our democratic ability to shape our nation’s direction.
Throughout it all, we will be treated to a steady diet by the Conservatives’ right-wing media allies of hate and fear. Orwell’s novel 1984 will seem like a prequel to what’s coming.
But we still have a chance to avoid this future. Until these attacks, the Conservatives appeared headed for certain defeat in next year’s elections. Now, more than ever, Canadians need to remain strong in the face of the threats against them.
There is an alternative future, however. And I was inspired by the words of opposition leader Thomas Mulcair in his address to the nation on the night of the attack in Ottawa.
“We woke up this morning in a country blessed by love, diversity and peace. And tomorrow, we will do the same,” Mulcair observed. “These acts were driven by hatred, but also designed to drive us to hate. They will not.”