Last year American whistle-blower Edward Snowden proclaimed that Canadian intelligence agencies have the “weakest oversight” in the Western world and compared the Canadian government’s Bill C-51 to George W. Bush’s post-9-11 U.S. Patriot Act.
Canada became a surveillance state under the Stephen Harper Conservatives. In 2014, for example, it came to light that the Government Operations Centre was monitoring residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, including Indigenous Peoples, residents of the Island’s west coast who opposed fracking, and fishermen who were protesting shrimp quotas. This ongoing problem is further complicated by multiple transnational intelligence sharing agreements, in place since World War II, that remain largely unknown to the general public.
Indeed, the rise of the surveillance state is a global phenomenon that cannot be separated from the rise of the internet. But in Canada, because of the lack of any credible oversight, it has played out in a very specific way. This has everything to do with what the Canadian public knows—and more importantly, does not know—about Canadian intelligence agencies.
Canada’s new and highly invasive so-called anti-terror legislation came into force last year with the support of then-Opposition Leader Justin Trudeau and the Liberal caucus. The Trudeau Liberals knew that in order to win the election they would need to undo—or at least promise to undo—much of the damage done by their predecessors. They would have to address the alienation felt by Canadians from having a government that used national security as an excuse to trade away its citizens’ freedom and civil liberties.
Unfortunately, they have yet to repeal or even reform Bill C-51, and recent terrorist attacks in Europe, the U.S, and here at home in Canada have provided the perfect backdrop against which to further delay the process. On August 10, for example Aaron Driver, a 24-year-old Canadian citizen who was allegedly plotting a terrorist attack in the southern Ontario town of Strathroy, died in a confrontation with police who were following up on a tip from the FBI.
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