Secret Trials, Blackmail and Other Adventures

Panel Investigates the Human Rights Cost of National Security

Photos Julia Jones

In the Hands of Canada’s Secret Service

Secret trials, blackmail and other “dirty tricks” were on the table at “CSIS: Who needs them?” an event held at Concordia’s Hall Building over the weekend.
Panelists, offering first-hand accounts, spoke about the history of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, kicking off the People’s Commission Network Popular Forum on national security on Saturday morning.

Sharing the panel were Laurentian University professor and editor of Whose National Security? Gary Kingsman, lawyer Yavar Hameed, Kanehsatake activist Clifton Arihwakehte Nicholas and Palestinian-rights activist Marie-Ève Sauvé.

Hameed, who acts as counsel for Muslims and Arabs in CSIS investigations, is currently representing Mohamed Mahjoub, one of the last remaining security certificate cases in Canada.

Security certificates allow for permanent residents and refugees in Canada to be imprisoned indefinitely on secret evidence, with the presumption that they are connected in some way to a threat to national security.

Evidence is not disclosed to the defendant or their legal counsel, and once a judge upholds the certificate there is no access to an appeals process. The result of an upheld security certificate is deportation, often to countries where the defendant faces torture.

“The security certificate is really the showcase of everything oppressive, everything ideologically coercive about CSIS and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration,” said Hameed. “In some instances, that individual is not even a legitimate target of concern.”

Hameed said the use of security certificates against the Muslim and Arab community post-9/11 was largely based on “guilt by association,” which includes CSIS’ ideological targeting of people with religious ties, community leaders, people active in their Mosque and charitable organizations.

“These communities are targeted for their marginality because they live on the cusp, in situations of precariousness,” he said. “This is something that CSIS knows and that the Canadian Border Service is aware of.”

Nicholas, who was involved in the 1990 Oka crisis, experienced first-hand the way CSIS targets vulnerable communities. He said he was interrogated and blackmailed, received threatening phone calls, and claims there have been many police operatives in his community.

“Immediately after 1990, we had a lot of people coming into the community as infiltrators, disguising themselves as non-native supporters, trying very hard to get into the community,” he said. “I remember one individual who we had caught. We ransacked his vehicle and found RCMP accreditation and different passes, recording devices, phone numbers and a whole slew of pictures. This was a recurring thing.”

These “dirty tricks,” says Kingsman, who spoke about the historical foundation of CSIS, are at the core of the Service’s tactics. CSIS emerged in the mid-eighties after the RCMP’s secret surveillance and infiltration tactics—which included planting bombs, stealing subscription lists and burning down buildings—came under extreme public scrutiny. When the RCMP’s intelligence service started losing its legitimacy in the 1970s, CSIS was created to replace it.

According to Kingsman, most of the initial employees of CSIS were, in fact, former members of the RCMP who continued to target the same groups of “subversives,” including lesbians and gay men, unions, women’s activists and solidarity movements with struggling people in the developing world.

“The ideological practice of national security is based on identifying certain groups of people as being national security risks or enemies of the state and thereby expelling them from the fabric of the nation,” he said. “Once people are successfully identified as a national security risk, they lose all of their democratic and human rights and are basically cut out of the fabric of the nation state.

“Basically what the notion of subversion does is criminalizes and mandates surveillance against completely legal activity, which the state believes might, down the road, lead to illegal activity,” said Kingsman.

Sauvé attested to this, stating that she wasn’t the only one targeted by CSIS around anti-Olympics and G20 organizing, but her friends, family and colleagues were targeted as well. She argued for a response of absolute non-cooperation with CSIS officials.

Historically, there has been important mobilization contesting the legitimacy of the existence of CSIS based on concerns of democratic accountability. In 1996, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers was successful in getting the Canadian Labour Congress to adopt a resolution calling for the abolition of CSIS. Kingman said Canadians need to return to these types of measures.

“I think we have to realize that we absolutely have to abolish CSIS now,” said Kingsman. “We can see that national security and CSIS systematically deny people democratic and human rights. They have become and they have always been a threat to our security, a threat to people’s security.”

- Meagan Wohlberg

Rewriting Canadian Identity

Addressing Canada’s history of human rights violations, panelists spoke to Concordia students at the Hall Building Friday for “Whose Security? Our Security!” a three day conference on the relationship between national security and civil liberties.

Friday’s speakers discussed the discrimination of racial minorities within Canada, and what they refered to as the Harper government’s attempts to exclude these minorities from main-stream society and from treatment allotted to regular citizens.

“[Neo-conservatives] are rewriting the core script of what it is to be Canadian,” said Ian Mackay, professor of Canadian history at Queen’s University, and one of the panel’s speakers. “Canada used to have free speech and right of assembly.”

Mackay continued his brief lecture in saying that the parliamentary democracy has been reduced to a pale shadow of what it once was. He referred to the G-20 summer, meek media responses to systematic intolerance of visible minorities, and named Omar Khadr as an example of discrimination when describing “the scope of the ominous campaign of the right-wing takeover.”

“This country was once known romantically and idealistically, perhaps even unrealistically, as the peaceable kingdom; it will henceforth be called a warrior nation,” he said.

Ellen Gabriel, president of the Native Women’s Associations of Canada, was another one of the panellists on Friday.

Gabriel touched briefly on the fight against residential schools and named the Oka Crisis as a historical rallying point by which Native Americans were to model resistance against the government.

“We have been demonized by the church, demonized by the state; we have been demonized by the media. We have had our human rights violated, and that is state terrorism,” she said.

Gabriel named the “fear and greed” of our society, and specifically our need for energy security, as the ultimate catalysts in the perceived downfall of our country.

“When you can no longer feed yourself because you have destroyed the earth so much, only then will you realize that you can’t eat money,” she said.

Mona Oikawa, Associate Professor in the Race, Ethnicity and Indigeneity Program at York University, was another of the speakers.

She discussed the mistreatment and internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII, as well as the dispossession of their lands and the incentives provided by the Canadian government for deportation. “The treatment of the three groups was based on a relational racial hierarchy,” she said.

“The internment of Japanese Canadians was a security regime that relied upon the prior idea of Orientals as racially inferior to Europeans,” she continued, pointing to the fact that neither Italian nor German Canadians were sent to work camps in Canada during WWII.

All four speakers opined that with many of the national security policies adopted by the Harper Government, Canada is drifting further and further away from its reputation as a peaceful nation.

j-asmine papillon-smith

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 22, published February 8, 2011.