Op-Ed | Monday, October 19th: Your Opportunity to Restore Democracy

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Poverty, inequality, terrorism and international trade – this issue is not being discussed in this election

“The very real fear is that one person’s opinion about whether people should blockade a road as part of a peaceful protest in a free and democratic society, or whether a letter to editor supporting one side or the other in the Ukraine or in the Middle East is another person’s promotion of “terrorism offences in general” ~CUPE.

While it’s unlikely someone will be convicted of terrorism simply by taking a side writing a letter to the editor, can you imagine the chill effect of such an Act?  Just consider for a moment the seriousness of the financial, social, personal, legal implications of being tied up in institutional limbo for years while lawyers (or more likely CSIS) secretly discuss the situation.  Would this make you think twice about engaging in democratic discussions, whether public or private?

According to BC Civil Liberties Association, “A demonstration in favour of Quebec separatism that fails to procure the proper permit, environmentalists obstructing a pipeline route or a peaceful blockade of a logging road by an Indigenous community could all be seen as threats to national security.”

They continue, “The Criminal Code already makes it illegal to counsel anyone to commit a terrorism offence and to instruct or facilitate terrorist acts. But Bill C-51 wants to create an additional offence called ‘advocating or promoting terrorism’. It would criminalize speech in support of ‘terrorism offences in general’, and includes no requirement that the speaker actually intends for a terrorism offence to be committed. Indeed, there’s no requirement that a terrorism offence even take place.”

In the worn out words of the Harper government, let me be very clear…Canadian Journalists for Free Expression confirm that Bill C-51 means: 1) your private information will no longer be private – it may be shared among government agencies (and all the intermediaries including private contractors in any country and the media and communication corporations, groups and organizations in between), at home and abroad; 2) innocent words may be interpreted as terrorism; 3) online posts will be censored; 4) protesting could place you under government surveillance; 5) your travel may be restricted without explanation; and 5) your material possessions may be seized.  Hey George, its 1984.

Here’s the twist: Bill C-51, largely dealing with security, is as much a bill to promote market neoliberalism as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, widely promoted as a trade agreement, targets information privacy and surveillance.  Why are these two entities so intimately intertwined?

To understand this, we need to travel back to the beginning of this century when terrorism became a common refrain.

The global response to the idea of terrorism has been nothing if not to provide public funds from each state government as a direct subsidy to private sector commercial interests in the very same manner the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade agreements undercut social and environmental protections at the state level in favour of commercial exploitation. How is this possible?  Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow sum this process up succinctly in their October 16 Guardian opinion editorial:

“Canada is currently facing $2.6bn in legal challenges from American corporations under NAFTA. Current and past challenges have targeted bans against harmful additives to gasoline and exports of PCBs, and a moratorium on fracking. If a future government wants to reinstate our water laws or fulfill a commitment to serious fossil fuel reduction that might be agreed to in Paris, TPP adds a whole new batch of foreign investors to the current group that already have the right to challenge those laws before a private tribunal.”

$2.6 billion is a huge tax burden on the middle income earners who pay the lions share of Canadian taxes.  $2.6 billion is corporate welfare for the global elite. What is not so clear is the fact that these secret negotiations place at risk not only every Canadians right to clean air, water and healthy food, these agreements militate against healthy national legislation by affording any foreign corporation the right to directly sue our government for new laws or regulations that they claim negatively affect their ability to extract profits from consumers.

Indeed, Canadians have to fight tooth and nail for decent wages.  Whenever minimum wage hikes , or worker protections are proposed,  Canadian corporations and corporate mouthpieces…er I mean think tanks… demand the government step away from intervening in the market.  It’s a free market and should not be distorted by the state they claim.  But they forget, or conveniently ignore the fact that without government regulation, markets could not exist.  Then, when that same race to the bottom allows foreign companies to, oh, lets say provide less expensive steel, tubes, or other products to the market, suddenly market intervention by state governments is essential.  Its all in the metaphors we use to frame the issue and who controls the media, medium and message.

What was it Bush said after 9/11 – don’t let this worry you…go out and shop?  That was no tongue-in-cheek oh my gawd did he actually say that (again!) typical Bush mumble-jumble.  It was a very strategic statement to make sure everyone understood “the American way.”

Bush encouraged Americans to “go on living their lives as they were used to doing. And he expressed concern about a nation and an economy paralyzed by fear of terrorists.”

“I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy,” Bush said in an address to the nation on Sept. 20, 2001.  “Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today.” “…and I encourage you to go shopping more” as a distraction from the horror, or that it might make you feel better, clearly drawing the link between the coming ‘war on terror’ and its potential economic impacts.

Those well indebted to continued economic growth and wealth inequality are certainly not going to let a few freedoms stand in their way, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The remainder of us whose jobs depend on us not understanding this issue and are manipulated to believe laws to protect us from terrorists sound good, will come to wonder just what the hell happened?

Bill C-51 opens up the ability for security, police and military forces to extract private information for the benefits of national economic gains through its emotive and charged metaphors.  Green Party leader Elizabeth May has publicly warned that the newly proposed bill would create a secret police force in Canada. The “anti-terrorism bill itself is unnecessary, seeing as there are already laws and judicial systems in place that allow us to deal with any supposed threat.” Indeed, Edward Snowden, who has exposed intimate insights of how state spy agencies operate, insists that state tools of intelligence and security should be limited to surgical strikes, used in the most targeted way in order to achieve their purpose.  Craig Forcese, a leading expert on national security law worries that Bill C-51 is the “most radical law” that he has ever seen in Canada. He isn’t the only one.  Many, many others are concerned about the new bill’s powers to give more powers to CSIS for broad spying efforts.  Rather than just a focus on threats, the bill opens the flood gates to “monitor entire populations, nations, entire classes of people, without regard to the impact that such actions have on those affected. This is happening in complete secrecy, it is being collected away from public debate and therefore public consent, and this takes away from the public’s ability to maintain control and accountability.”

Michael Geist, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, notes that “new rules on corporate lawsuits  [included in the TPP]could result in more claims by foreign corporations against the Canadian government over national policies or court decisions (pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is already suing the government for $500 million over Canadian patent rulings) and an extension in the term of copyright beyond the international standard would lock down the public domain for decades and potentially cost Canadians hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”

Of course, it is common knowledge that trade agreements are largely a transfer of wealth from consumers to corporations, and power from citizens to corporations, but Geist connects the privacy/security debate to the TPP concisely: “One of the most troubling, but largely ignored effects of the TPP involves privacy. Privacy is not an issue most associate with a trade agreement, however, the TPP features several anti-privacy measures that would restrict the ability of governments to establish safeguards over sensitive information such as financial and health data as well as information hosted by social media services.” (say goodbye to any Sault efforts to build their data centre on Old Garden River Road) The combined effect is that other state governments and global corporate entities will have access and control over Canadians’ health, financial and other information, along with social media and other websites Canadians use for personal and business purposes.

Why would the Harper government insist on such draconian legislation for terrorism and trade?

Let’s consider a few facts: “Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life.” This despite the corresponding fact that the worlds wealthy wastes half of all food produced globally each year.  The result is another less known fact:  “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.”  Now consider that “66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.” and a ‘mere’ “$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.”

On a global basis, $3.2 billion is small change.  In Canada alone, we spend upwards of 16 billion on military each year, with the current government boosting that by spreading out an additional 12 billion to the military over the next decade. How much do we spend on fighting terrorism?  Canada spends $500 million alone on the war against ISIL, and another $13 Billion to fight terrorism in 2013 alone, of which $3.1 billion were unaccounted for.

And this spending doesn’t include all that spent on police forces, RCMP, and private security forces and services in Canada.

Well, you say, terrorism must be heinous for us to be spending $30 billion taxpayer dollars each year to support this terrible ‘war on terrorism’, and to be allocating such huge sums to the federal budget for military operations and equipment and personnel to combat this creeping terror war?  Heck, if we ‘only’ spend $4.9 billion on all development aid which includes that to help improve nutrition and prevent child deaths from starvation, terrorism deaths must be in the hundreds of millions annually.

Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps not.

Global Deaths Per YearThe number of global terror events has remained constant until about the year 2000.  Each year, the number of innocent deaths from terrorism has remained steady at about 0.5% as deaths from child malnutrition alone – 14,000.

And what is Canada’s share of that 14,000? Two.  Yes, to address two deaths (ever!), we’re spending $25 billion a year.  To address 3.1 million children deaths, we’re spending $4.9 billion a year. Somehow disgraceful doesn’t begin to describe this irrational Terrorism Deathsallocation of resources.

So why the human psyche focus on terrorism? Simple, its sudden, unpredictable (well, sort of) and sensationalistic.  In other words, it sells.  It sells the military industrial complex. It sells neoliberalism. It sells inequality. Children dying doesn’t sell quite as well (unless you’re Bono, Princess Di or Angelina Jolie).

The effect of all these actions means Canadians are less free and more anxiety ridden in our everyday lives.

In an ironic twist of the divisive terror knife, Canadian suffer under a government regime that has encouraged our daily activities to continue on the face of terrorism, yet orchestrated laws that strike fear into every Canadian undertaking everyday activities.  Or it should at least.

While our political parties fortify their war on terror to support the military-industrial complex, real issues of freedom and safety go unnoticed in this election debate.

Bill C-51 authorizes CSIS the power to disrupt threats that undermine the security of Canada by “unlawful means” including interference with the economic or financial stability of Canada or its infrastructure.

What have experts on security, surveillance, democracy, and law, privacy commissioners and former prime ministers have to say about C-51?  “While minor amendments to the bill have been suggested, amendments cannot repair such an extensive and dangerous piece of legislation…This law will detrimentally impact our social frameworks, democratic values and fundamental rights… Our security agencies currently possess wide-ranging powers to address security threats, and the need for this broad legislation has not been demonstrated…Bill C-51 is fundamentally flawed and the proposed amendments do little to mitigate the erosion of our rights and freedoms if it is passed into law.”

Bill C-51 has been widely condemned by security experts, privacy law scholars, civil rights organizations, and former Supreme Court justices for expanding surveillance powers without restraint or any adequate justification.  By silencing the Privacy Commissioner on Bill C-51, Harper demonstrated his disdain for informed citizens.

Glenn Greenwald put it this way: “If you are a Canadian citizen, you have a greater chance of dying by being struck by lightning; or by going to a restaurant and eating a meal that will give you an intestinal disease; or by slipping in your bathtub, hitting your head on the ceramic tile than you do dying in a terrorist attack,”

According to Environment Canada, “Canada averages over 2 million lightning strikes are each year.  And, despite our relatively short lightning season, 9 to 10 people are killed and between 100 and 150 people are injured each year by lightning in Canada.   This compares to an average of 57 deaths per year in the United States.”  Greenwald is correct – 2 terrorism deaths (unlikely to have been the result of terrorism) have occurred in Canada, ever.  But “9 to 10 people are killed” each year in Canada from lightning strikes.  Seriously, you do have a greater chance of dying from lightening than terrorism in Canada.

Yet the budgets for Environment Canada (which provides crucial weather prediction and statistical climate data, education and communications on environmental matters), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and seniors programs have actually been radically reduced!  In the case of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 75% of its funding was lost over two consecutive annual budget cuts.  While the US military observes that climate change is one of the greatest threats to security on the planet, Canadian authorities, namely the RCMP, claim that it is climate change activists that are the greatest threat to Canadian security.  Hogwash!

Not to put too fine a point on the matter, “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” has also served as an election weapon for the Harper government.  By ramming it through parliament, the Act allows the Conservatives to shield many of their xenophobic, homophobic, gynophobia (hatred of women), freedom-hating, equality-distaste, party candidate-speaking or independence, and economic failures with a single word: niqab.

As Harper has maintained, the niqab is an equality issue against the face-covering veil.  Well, if this is an equality issue, or a women’s issue, where’s the inquiry for the missing and murdered indigenous women?  Do they not deserve some equality?

If this is about honour killings?  Well, aren’t those kinda illegal in Canada already?

This legislation demonstrates “the federal government’s insistence on wasting money on “pointless court cases” that … don’t have a “snowball’s chance in hell of winning.””

These bills are about creating “a vulnerability at a very fundamental level” in Canada for Muslims, women, First Nations and indigenous peoples, and just about anyone else, including those radical environmentalists and social activists, in Canada and abroad.  It’s the tactics of divert and divide. It’s caustic.  It’s unhealthy.  It supports arguments for anti-terror legislation.  And it undercuts Canadian freedoms.

And that’s really the crux of the matter isn’t it?  Tie up the courts, fill the airwaves, control the media, with spurious, time consuming ludicrous illegal debates and hassles so that real movement, critical action by the federal government that is decades past due on child nutrition, housing, seniors, health, poverty, climate change, the environment, First Nations issues (of which there are many), simply doesn’t get done at all, gets done haphazardly, or completely falls of the radar. Heck, there’re not even registering in this longest most expensive election in Canadian history.

And true to form of the Conservative leader, party candidates consistently snub important debates that may be controversial, or on topics they are simply told not to speak about.  Can you say controlling?

Let’s make the niqab, bill C-51, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act an issue: if politicians aren’t willing to show their faces at debates without a legitimate reason, then they too shouldn’t be elected.  If politicians are unable to explain how they will reverse this slide towards a police state, neoliberalism, and radical divisiveness in Canada, they aren’t suited to governing.

So why so much attention to creating a bill and costing Canadian taxpayers with sweeping powers that undercuts Canadian rights and freedoms?  It comes down to “activities that undermine the security of Canada” which specifically includes “the economic or financial stability of Canada.”

Taken together, international trade deals and terrorism security laws expand global structured inequality: “market capitalism.”

The ‘war’ on terrorism is a diversion, an affront to the updraft of resources from the poor to the rich.  It is an expansion of inequality; the growth of poverty.

Inequality is the root of poverty.  That makes these deals a health crisis – a direct and indirect attack on the health of Canadians.  We will never eliminate poverty in any form until inequality is eliminated.

Bill C-51, other security legislation and international trade agreements have been widely criticized. If we want to eliminate poverty in Canada, we need to start by eliminating the politicians that substantiate inequality, then transform the laws and agreements that enable neoliberalism to exist. The only option for Canadians is to elect members to parliament who promise to repeal these anti-democratic pieces of legislation as their first steps towards restoring democracy in Canada.

October 19, 2015 might be the last opportunity in Canada to do this

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