international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

The utter inefficacy of overbearing security laws

Published by the Middle East Eye on February 4th, 2015

Several attacks by Muslim extremists over the past few months in Canada, Australia, and France have re-emphasised the place of “home-grown terrorism” in the political language of the Western world. From Ottawa to Paris, new legislative and financial investments are being made by governments to build up policing and security systems, marketed enthusiastically by their proponents as being vital to public safety. The official rationale given for this ramp-up in policing and surveillance is that such a strategy will mitigate terrorism and radicalisation. Yet, a closer look at the nature of these issues suggests that such overhanded security policies will eventually backfire.

The new anti-terrorism legislation introduced last month in Canada by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party is a case in point.  The “Security of Canada Information Sharing Act” (or Bill C-51, as it’s now known) is the most sweeping set of laws proposed by a post-9/11 Canadian administration dealing with terrorism. It coincides with Canada’s involvement in the bombing campaign against the “Islamic State” (six Canadian fighter jets and two surveillance jets are flying out of Kuwaiti airbases), which has been buttressed by a consistent post-9/11 rhetoric of fear. One way this narrative manifests itself within domestic Canadian politics is through how the threat of radicalisation and home-grown terrorism are being addressed by the government.

Bill C-51 is just the latest example. The proposed bill will, among other things, further expand the powers and mandate of the country’s spying agency, CSIS, while also seeking to criminalise “any materials that promote or encourage acts of terrorism against Canadians in general, or the commission of a specific attack against Canadians”. These laws are being tabled at a time when Canada has already constructed an overweight security apparatus that lacks civilian oversight.

Yasin Dwyer, who worked as a Muslim chaplain with the Canadian Correctional Services for 12 years (and with several terrorism offenders) has noted that the security-heavy approach is tough on crime, but not on the causes of crime. It doesn’t emphasise the need to get to the root of these problems, which, in his opinion, has much less to do with religious belief than with personal grievances and frustrations. Instead, governments are building massive structures to regulate the symptom instead of treating the disease.

Canada is already part of the infamous “5-Eyes” surveillance alliance along with the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and has taken huge steps to enhance the powers of policing and intelligence agencies within its borders. A section of the Snowden archive shows, for example, that the Communications Security Establishment (CSE, formerly CSEC) has been monitoring millions of Internet downloads with a program code-named LEVITATION.

This is just one aspect of what is essentially Canada’s own global surveillance apparatus, which will continue to grow if Bill C-51 becomes law. Documents unearthed by security and legal scholar, Michael Geist, show that Canadian telecommunications companies are disturbingly compliant when talking to the federal government about having to install surveillance and interception systems within their networks, and to divulge user data to the state when asked. Moreover, watchdogs from both inside and outside of government have warned that Canada’s anti-terror laws are endangering basic civil liberties.

The animating idea behind anti-terrorism right now is that more policing/surveillance equals more opportunities to foil terrorism plots before they’re carried out. A window opened in Canada after what happened last October (and after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris) for many politicians in the West to return to a rhetoric of fear in order to climb up the polls. France has invested a large amount of resources into the country’s intelligence apparatus. Canada is doing the same thing. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that radicalisation and the threat of terrorism is on the rise in Canada.

What’s being ignored is the huge pile of evidence against the idea that heavy state security equals a safer public. One of the more thorough studies was done by the New America Foundation, which looked at 225 plots within the US since 9/11 that ended in successful convictions, kills or otherwise. It concluded that only four out of the hundreds of cases had anything substantive to do with the NSA’s massive collection of private metadata. Moreover, studies from security and intelligence organisations such as the Soufan Group have emphasised that the most important way to mitigate radicalisation is to partner with grassroots groups that have a hand on the pulse of the community of interest.

Stephane Pressault, for example, is a Project Coordinator for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) who has worked with a large number of youth throughout Canada. He notes that the process of radicalisation is only truly noticeable by those close to the affected, and that such people should be incorporated into the solution – that security officials should be liaising a lot more with community members who have a sincere interest in public safety.

It is the only recognised way to understand the specific dynamics at work behind the very individualised and multi-dimensional trajectory of radicalisation; it’s impossible to get a handle on if the state is purposefully or inadvertently antagonising such communities monolithically.

And yet this is what’s happening right now between Muslim communities across the Western world and the governments they live under. A direct, though implicit connection is made between foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East and the domestic strategy to mitigate home-grown terrorism. The political narrative underpinning both spheres of policy is one of externalising all evil onto a particular group. In this case, the values that animate Muslim communities living in North America and Europe are being perceived like the ideologies that underpin the “Islamic State.”

This kind of paranoia and antagonism will breed further paranoia and antagonism within these communities, because such a narrative plays right into the hands of Muslims extremists who also promote a “West versus Islam” worldview. It’s exactly this type of mentality that must be avoided, and yet many governments are pushing policies that will only enhance its appeal.

Photo credit: Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper/CC

[http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/utter-inefficacy-overbearing-security-laws-1302351023]

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politics

Opposition Mounts as Harper Guts Census

Published on:
http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=526

A census is a tool used by a country’s government and major businesses to respectively tailor services and products to the corresponding population. In Canada, a democratic state, the census holds utmost importance in that regard as a vital communiqué between the people and their elected officials. Taken every five years, it is, as noted by Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “The mother ship of all surveys.”

Given the weight of such a public survey, it wasn’t surprising that many veterans in the Canadian “statistics community” were baffled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to no longer make the census a mandatory obligation, but a voluntary one. The head of Statistics Canada (Stats-Can), Munir Sheikh,  arguably the country’s top statistician, has resigned over the matter, and rebuked the Harper administration in a highly publicized letter, stating that a voluntary census won’t work. The statistics that a voluntary census yields will be the consequences of “self-selection”, making it incomparable with previously collected statistics. The same goes for Ivan Fellegi, Sheikh’s predecessor, who also rebuked the Tory decision.

“Others upset include: the Federation of Canadian Municipalities; Atlantic Provinces Economics Council; City of Toronto; Canadian Association for Business Economics; Canadian Economics Association; Canadian Association of University Teachers; Canadian Institute of Planners; Canadian Council of Social Development; even the National Statistical Council (that acts in a consultative capacity for StatsCan),” according to Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star.

The official reason for the decision to make the census voluntary came from Industry Minister Tony Clement, who calls the census “coercive and intrusive.” Another stated reason was to “protect the privacy of Canadians.” However, Harper has had a difficult relationship with Stats-Can since in the past, gutting or changing several other smaller surveys, including the The annual Workplace and Employee Survey, The Survey of Financial Security, and The annual Survey of Household Spending. These were all political decisions, congruent with the Harper administration’s apparent habit of secrecy and obfuscation.

Moreover, ever since Stephen Harper came to power, Stats-Can employees have privately confessed that the agency had shifted in focus, “away from social issues and towards more economic subjects,” reports the Globe and Mail. This certainly points to a more coercive way of managing information by the Tory establishment, who are tilting the methodology of Stats-Can’s data-analysis, thus changing its analytical objectives altogether.

The decision to basically gut the census is just another extension of how the Harper government likes to fiddle with the machinery of government, tailoring its dynamics to fit a “Tory mindset”, so to speak. The Harper administration has gutted numerous NGOs, prorogued parliament (twice), and  spent $1 billio- plus on the G8/G20 summits,  among other deeds. Eliminating a key pillar of Canadian democracy almost seems to make sense when seen in context, and hardly surprising.

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Sense and Nonsense of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

Published on:
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=506

This past Canada Day, both Ontario and British Columbia joined Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick as the latest provinces to accept the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) system. The HST combines the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) into one, single sales tax. For Ontario and B.C., the tax comes to 13% and 12% respectively.

The reason for harmonization is threefold: (1) To increase investment in provincial businesses, thus making them more competitive, (2) to create more jobs, and (3) to eliminate hidden taxes incurred throughout operational costs. Adopting the HST will also mean that products that were exempt form the PST will now incur the 7/8% “PST” under harmonization, although some products will be exempt altogether. This process of exemption/inclusion, however, is highly arbitrary, and lacks a democratic basis.

Reactions to the HST have been mixed at best. The NDP have roundly condemned the tax, claiming that it is a tax grab that will help provinces accumulate up to 3.5 billion dollars in revenue, the purpose of which is unclear. Public opinion in both Ontario and B.C. have been vastly negative, with estimates of 90% in both provinces against the tax.

The more conservative-minded C. D. Howe Institute has long been advocating for an HST, citing the aforementioned reasons, and claiming that the HST is harmless to average households given that it is “revenue neutral”. However, the most interesting report probably comes from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think-tank that has done extensive research on the HST, and the role that it is likely to play in Canadian provinces.

The CCPA believes that the HST will hurt modest to middles class income households. Consider that “The BC government is proposing an HST credit of a maximum $230 for individuals with income up to $20,000, and $230 per family member for fami­lies with incomes up to $25,000.” This means that “an individual with $20,000 or less in income would have to spend more than $3,285 per year on the previously ex­empt goods and services listed below in order to be worse off.” These low thresholds may benefit some of the poorest citizens, but middle class families will incur much more tax with the HST.

The CCPA also believe that having increased jobs and business competitiveness as a result of the HST is greatly exaggerated. Cutting operating costs does not necessarily increase investment in businesses, especially when the tactic also includes laying off workers. Rather, investment is based on the future estimations of profits and sales.

It is most important that the revenues incurred with the HST be used for progressive purposes, much like the Scandinavian models. In the Nordic countries, the HST is a progressive tax that helps to build communal infrastructure and social welfare. What Canada intends to do with the HST is still largely opaque. Moreover, the provincial governments should increase the threshold for credit, and decrease it in a slower fashion as incomes increase.

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