muslims, politics, war on terror

Stingray cellphone-snooping technology needs regulation

Published by CBC News on June 6th, 2016

The Liberal Party has promised parliamentary oversight for Canada’s national intelligence agencies, but the issue of policing and surveillance overreach isn’t just a national problem. It’s a municipal one too, as a recent example concerning gang members in Toronto has proved. About 40 members of the Asian Assassinz gang and a rival crew are on trial, and their lawyers have received an internal RCMP memo proving that police in Canada have used Stingray devices to track and locate suspects’ cellphones.

One major problem is that these Stingrays, or International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI)-catchers, can disrupt and block innocent third-party phone calls made within a certain vicinity. The device mimics cellphone towers and is supposed to attract signals from the suspected parties’ mobile devices, thus allowing the police to tag and perhaps bug the phones later on. But they can also attract signals from phones in the area being used by innocent bystanders. The devices are also supposed to deactivate when coming into contact with 911 calls, but this doesn’t always happen. Defence lawyers are now hoping to put the use of IMSI devices on trial, alleging that it breaks the law by disrupting the public airwaves, and thus infringes on the rights of their clients.

Public should have been informed

The 1985 Radio-Communications Act prohibits incursions on the public airwaves, particularly intrusions that interfere with people’s calls. Yet even the Toronto police have acknowledged that IMSI devices can violate this law, which is why the plan, according to Toronto police Det. Shingo Tanabe in a sworn affidavit related to the Asian Assassinz case, was to limit the use of such devices to three-minute intervals and to steer clear of those trying to call 911.

Citing logs of devices used in the case, defence lawyers are arguing that the police didn’t even adhere to their own rules. According to these lawyers, IMSI devices were used for more than three minutes at a time, thus increasing the chances of serious interference with the airwaves. This kind of use can carry a prison sentence, and it’s not clear yet whether police are exempt from the rules.

More frustrating for the general public is the denial on the part of the Toronto police when asked last year by the media if they were operating with IMSI devices. They arrested the gang members back in 2014, but said last December that, “We do not use the Stingray technology and do not have one.” This conveniently glossed over the fact that Toronto police brought in an RCMP officer who assisted in the case by using a Stingray device.

It’s clear by now that the police focus on catching their suspects prompted them to use methods that jeopardized the public’s safety, in addition to essentially misleading the public into thinking they didn’t even have the tools to pursue such methods.

Impossible to regulate what you don’t know

The document received by the defence that illustrates the use of IMSI technology was disclosed to them by the RCMP, and is a 2011 internal memo that actually warns officers how such devices can break the law. To steer clear of such illegal activity, the memo suggests that officers limit the use of IMSI devices in a way that doesn’t jeopardize public safety. It’s at best unclear whether Toronto police took real precautions to regulate themselves, and the defence alleges there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the contrary.

In fact, federal officers have been using IMSI technology since 2005. Yet only because of media investigations and court documentation related to the Asian Assassinz case, along with another organized crime case in Quebec, has information about the police use of such technology made its way to the public. Prior to the past few months, only police and judges who issued warrants knew about the police’s use of these devices.

How will policy-makers and legislators decide what place this kind of technology has in Canada  if they are kept in the dark? The Toronto police remain reticent on the matter, and, depending on how the Asian Assassinz case unfolds in court, the legality of IMSI devices is likely to be called into question, which will be a real blow to those who want to put the gangsters behind bars. However, that the police used this technology extensively in the first place, without proper oversight, is further evidence that Canada’s post-Sept. 11 policing and surveillance needs plenty of regulation.

Elected officials, particularly those in the Liberal Party who now make up a parliamentary majority, supported hard-core security legislation — Bill C-51, in particular — partly by way of promising that they will apply the right kinds of oversight to intelligence-gathering. But the Toronto case has essentially proved that even they haven’t figured out exactly what they’re supposed to be regulating — let alone how.

Photo credit: L’Enfant Metro Station/CC

[http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/stingray-cellphone-imsi-technology-rights-1.3618075]

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muslims, politics, war on terror

Conservatives resort to McCarthyism as criticism of Bill C-51 escalates

Published on March 21st, 2015 by Ricochet Media

Those who pay attention to what politicians say are familiar with the ambiguous way many of them prefer to speak on certain issues. That might be why it’s almost refreshing to hear the unrestrained racism coming out of the Harper Conservatives these days, most of which is directed at Canada’s Muslim population.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has always been part of the Conservatives’ strategy to galvanize their political base, and they’ve recently taken it up a notch in anticipation of this year’s elections. The current administration also has a vested interested in demonizing Muslims since curbing “Islamic extremism” is cited as a top reason for Bill C-51 (the Anti-terrorism Act), perhaps the Conservatives’ worst national security proposal since 9/11.

Muslim groups speaking out against the bill and a large chorus of critics, including Canada’s Harper-appointed privacy commissioner, have been met with open slander that conjures up memories of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt of the 1950s.

When Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, gave expert testimony in Ottawa last week on C-51, he probably didn’t expect veteran Tory MP Diane Ablonczy of Calgary–Nose Hill to ask him to address “a continuing series of allegations” that the Council supports terrorism. But she did, by echoing a load of spurious allegations against the Council that originated last year from Harper’s spokesperson Jason MacDonald. Gardee pushed back, having to defend his group’s reputation at a hearing to which he was invited to speak on the bill. The Council is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Harper and MacDonald.

Yet the Conservatives seem to want to make a real habit out of this kind of politicking, and Muslims aren’t their only targets. Just ask Greenpeace Canada, whose executive director, Joanne Kerr, had to endure the followingquery from Conservative MP Lavar Payne. “The purpose of the act is sharing for national security threats, so it makes me wonder if your organization is a national security threat?” In other words, The bill is meant to stop terrorists, so are you opposing it because you’re a terrorist?

Payne’s questions ran out the clock on the allotted question-and-response time, leaving Kerr no time to answer. Even if she had responded, she would have had to take the time to address the insinuation that Greenpeace Canada opposes the bill because they’re a threat to national security. The BC Civil Liberties Association experienced a similar exchange with Tory MP Rick Norlock, who essentially asked the association’s senior counsel Carmen Cheung if her organization is “fundamentally opposed” to fighting terrorism, since Cheung had the gall to criticize the bill’s lack of checks and balances.

The skillful tagging of Bill C-51’s critics with unfounded and unfair accusations is the Harper Conservatives’ political bread and butter. It’s also the very definition of 21st-century McCarthyism, exercised in a way that deflects the conversation away from the matter at hand or plummeting public support for the bill. Tory MPs used the tactic to such an extent during last week’s hearings that opposition MP Megan Leslie of the NDP got up in Parliament last Friday to ask Ablonczy to apologize for her “disgraceful behaviour.” Of course, Leslie was promptly ignored.

It’s what Canadians should come to expect from the current administration, who have made it quite clear by now that political expediency trumps all else. Heading into last week’s expert testimony sessions, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney referred to those testifying against some of the bill’s provisions as “so-called experts.” These “so-called experts” just so happen to be joined in their opposition to C-51 by former officials of CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, whose powers will be expanded if the bill is passed. Also in opposition are four former prime ministers: Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Paul Martin, and John Turner. All fear that the bill will open doors to abuse.

The most thorough analysis of the bill, conducted by University of Toronto scholar Kent Roach and his colleague Craig Forcese at the University of Ottawa, echo these concerns. The two have put together several backgroundersthat dissect the bill, concluding that many provisions are essentially anti-privacy and threaten to trample all over the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill will allow authorities to arrest people more easily, CSIS to morph into a secret police force (in the words of the Globe and Mail editorial board), and at least 17 federal agencies to share private citizen information with each other in unprecedented ways, all at a time when heavy-handed security laws have not been proven by anyone to prevent terrorism in a substantial way.

The Conservatives are rushing C-51 through the legislative process with little critical evaluation. Of course, this is by design. The bill’s proponents, including the Liberal Party, have already expanded a bloated security apparatus by passing bills C-13 and C-44, but C-51 may be the worst yet. The post-9/11 era has always been an era of fear — but it’s fear of overzealous governments that truly stands out.

Photo credit: Rally protesting Harper’s C-51 anti-terrorist legislation in Toronto, City Hall, March 14, 2015/CC

[https://ricochet.media/en/357/conservatives-resort-to-mccarthyism-as-criticism-of-bill-c-51-escalates]

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international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

Canada doesn’t need a US-style surveillance state

Published by Al Jazeera America on March 13th, 2015

Thanks to leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know that the modern U.S. security state makes Big Brother from George Orwell’s “1984” look quaint. Thanks to the Conservative administration of Stephen Harper, Canada is heading quickly in the same direction. Bill C-51, currently under debate in Parliament, represents the most sweeping threat to Canadian civil liberties yet.

The Tories have long emphasized the danger of domestic terrorism, but there is little evidence that Canada faces an imminent threat. And only six Muslims were involved in planning terrorism on U.S. soil in 2014, the fewest since 2008. The exact figures for Canada are unknown, but they are almost certainly even lower.

The government’s actual motivation appears to be political opportunism. Last fall, polls showed Harper and the Conservatives badly trailing Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. Then in October, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a troubled Quebec Muslim man, killed a soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Later that month, Martin Rouleau killed a soldier in Quebec. Harper wasted no time in announcing that his administration would quickly pass laws to bolster public safety. Since then, his position in the polls has improved steadily.

C-51 is only the latest step in the expansion of Canada’s security state. In 2011 alone, federal agencies made more than 1 million requests to acquire private user data from Canadian telecommunication companies. The Snowden archive shows that Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has been spying on people in Canadathrough airport Wi-Fi. In December, Bill C-13 became law, allowing police easier access to private transmission data and tracking data. Though it is known popularly as the cyberbullying bill, only a negligible fraction of C-13 refers to the issue; the bulk of it has to do with lawful access. Another piece of legislation now making its way through the legislative process proposes that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) be allowed to operate beyond Canada’s borders.

Bill C-51 seeks to expand state power even further. It would criminalize online speech that “promotes” terrorism, lower the threshold for making preventive arrests and expand the CSIS from an intelligence-gathering entity into what the Globe and Mail calls a “secret police force.” The language around these newly proposed powers for CSIS is quite vague, centering on allowing the agency to “disrupt” operations it finds problematic. The bill also includes the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, which would enable at least 17 government agencies to share information for an incredibly broad range of reasons, most of which have little to do with terrorism.

Current safeguards against invasion of privacy (which date to the 1983 Privacy Act) are no match for such a rapidly expanding surveillance state. Even critics in the government have recognized the need for more oversight. Four former prime ministers, in addition to numerous civil society groups, have warned against the passage of Bill C-51. Even former CSIS Chief Geoffrey O’Brian has voiced his concerns. But the Conservatives put an end to the first round of debate regarding the bill after only a few hours. With a majority in Parliament, they are poised to pass the act in the coming months.

The problem of terrorism deserves attention. But there is little evidence that drastic expansion of police and spying powers would make Canada more secure. After the Snowden leaks in 2013, a New America Foundation study found that bulk collection of metadata contributed to just four of the 225 post-9/11 terrorism cases that ended in arrest or conviction. The study concludes that the U.S. government’s claim that such surveillance is necessary is “overblown and even misleading.”

If given new powers, security forces will likely alienate Muslim communities by encroaching on their civil liberties. This would play into the hands of violent extremists who propagate the narrative that Canada and the rest of the West are obsessed with destroying Islam. It would also make work harder for law enforcement, which relies on cooperation with community members and leaders to identify terrorist threats. The Harper administration’s extreme anti-terrorism policies threaten both privacy and safety. Canada needs a robust public debate to challenge the unexamined ideology of the security state.

Photo: Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Quebec Chamber of Commerce/CC

[http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/3/canada-doesnt-need-a-us-style-surveillance-state.html]

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international affairs, middle east, muslims, politics

Justin Trudeau and the Reality of Political Impotence

Published by The Islamic Monthly on August 27th, 2014

When Justin Trudeau, the popular leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, entered Missisauga’s Verdi Hospitality Centre on the night of August 11th, several dozen protestors holding Palestinian flags had already gathered near the parking lot outside.

A tenuous ceasefire between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, seemed to halt, for the moment, Israel’s latest incursion into Gaza, otherwise known as Operation Protective Edge. Over 1,800 Palestinians hadperished (among thousands injured) since the beginning of the operation, and Gaza continues to be subjected to an illegal Israeli blockade.

“We’re here to challenge and protest against Canada’s stance on the situation in Gaza,” said Raed Ayad, a protestor who also sits on the board of Palestine House, a local NGO representing the Palestinian-Canadian community.

Unfortunately for Trudeau, initial plans of celebrating Eid-al-fitr with the Muslims of Mississauga under more light-hearted circumstances had to change. Circumstances seemed to dictate a more politically charged event, and Trudeau was under some pressure to deliver.

Still, part of it was due to the Liberal Party’s own doing. About a week or so after Protective Edge took off last month, when dozens of Palestinian corpses (most of them civilians) were already piling up, Trudeau publicized his official view on the matter in a short press release:

The Liberal Party of Canada strongly condemns Hamas’ rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and its rocket attacks on civilians.

“Israel should be commended for having accepted the ceasefire proposal, and demonstrating its commitment to peace. The Liberal Party of Canada, and many in the international community including the United States, the U.N. Security Council, and the Palestinian Authority, had urged a ceasefire that could have ended the tragic civilian loss of life in Gaza and the suffering of Israelis under terrorist attack.

“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately.”

There is no mention of Israel’s disproportionate use of violence, or the unlawful siege. The fact that a massive raid into the West Bank, which killed five Palestinians, prompted the initial rocket fire by Hamas also went unspecified. The statement seemed to place the fault of the entire invasion squarely on the shoulders of Hamas, which refused to agree to a ceasefire at the time, given Israel’s unwillingness to lift the blockade (among other circumstances).

“Trudeau hasn’t condemned any of Israel’s war crimes and it’s a shame on the Muslim community to celebrate Eid with him when ten kids were killed on the day of Eid,” Ayad said.

It’s safe to say that, like Ayad, a large segment of the Muslim community wanted an explanation from Trudeau. One Liberal organizer even said, with regret (though in confidence), that he’d “rather have no statement been made at all” than live with the short blurb that Trudeau’s people posted on his website.

In other words, tension was in the air. Trudeau’s dinner was going to have to be more than just a generic meet-and-greet. At the very least, his speech had to address the situation in Gaza—and perhaps his one-sided statement as well, if people asked.

“We want a clear-cut condemnation of Israel’s conduct from the political opposition in Canada,” said Joan MacNeil, Toronto coordinator for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a Montreal-based NGO. “There’s been a lot of hand-wringing from the Liberals and all the candidates should know that people will be looking back on this issue when it’s time to vote next year.”

MacNeil was one of about 800 guests inside Verdi hall that night and works on Middle East policy for a living, so it can’t be said that she represents the average attendee, who probably isn’t as savvy on the Palestinian issue as she is.

Nonetheless, the average person observing the Muslim community could be forgiven for predicting that a crowd of concerned (perhaps even adversarial) Muslim attendees would show up to face down Trudeau and his hardcore supporters. The stage seemed set for a serious exchange to take place.

Trudeau is a central figure in Canadian politics at the moment, and, according to the polls, his party is gaining serious momentum in lieu of next year’s general election. If all goes wrong for the reigning Conservative Party (and for the New Democrats), the 42-year-old Trudeau may end up being Prime Minister in less than a year. This was a rare, golden opportunity for Muslims who attended the event to let him in on their woes and demands. Such a chance isn’t going to present itself again for some time.

That’s precisely why Trudeau’s night at Verdi deserves to be called a real embarrassment for the Muslim community.

To be completely clear, it wasn’t an embarrassment for Trudeau and the Liberals, who did what they had to do. They had put together a lavish setting, brought out a sizeable crowd, and set up an interactive encounter with “Justin.” Numerous Liberal candidates showed up, and, along with a general layout of the party’s agenda, were presented to the crowd.

The organizers even had Trudeau walk to each table to (in theory, anyway) speak to every attendee. But, alas, therein lay the rub.

Instead of taking the chance to field some tough questions, those in attendance transformed a relatively democratic setting into something quite comical.

Right after Trudeau’s speech, in which he specified the importance of a “Palestinian state” vis a vis Israel’s security, among other niceties, the audience decided to make a total fool of itself.

As Trudeau began to make his way to the first of many tables, a crowd of about two-dozen people instantly surrounded him. Many of them already had their smartphones on camera mode and were placing their faces next to Trudeau’s. That set the tone for all that followed. This human vortex around Trudeau soon grew into a mini mob. It eventually became impossible for anyone to try and penetrate these layers of human fencing around Trudeau, as this author tried to on three occasions, foolishly. When those who had had their fill finally took a seat, new well-wishers immediately rose up to take their place.

But, in keeping with the laws of physics, the number of people around Trudeau was inversely proportional to the length of each individual encounter. No prolonged question-answer period could have taken place amidst this truly chaotic spectacle. Anyone placed in the wrong spot at the wrong time could easily have been victimized between numerous tables and chairs. Even those sitting down and enjoying their meals weren’t safe from unguarded body parts doing battle for Trudeau “selfies;” buttocks were constantly hitting the heads of those trying to eat their food.

One lady shouted “Where’s the security?” as several bearded men almost got into it with one another as each jockeyed to shake Trudeau’s hand. Those responsible for the Liberal leader’s safety (and, presumably, the safety of everyone else), could only keep calm and mutter “don’t touch him” between elbows, body-checks, and other fanfare. In retrospect, how the night unfolded without half-a-dozen more fisticuffs/brawls is quite mysterious.

“It was unfortunate that many people didn’t remain in their seats as per the organizers instructions,” said Omar Alghabra, a former Liberal MP who’s running for the Mississauga Centre seat in next year’s election. “He [Trudeau] was supposed to visit all tables to engage in conversations with guests, but so many were impatient and didn’t allow others to have any form of meaningful conversations.”

And so it went on for several hours until Trudeau (Elvis?) shook his last hand and left the building. No doubt the entire event could be perceived as a giant commercial for the Liberal Party. Whatever lengthy, meaningful dialogue seemed to have taken place with other Liberal candidates and organizers after Trudeau left. As to the handful of folks who were lucky enough to get a word in with Trudeau himself, they were just that: a handful. It was a golden opportunity and, as far as the bulk of the attendees were concerned, the largely Muslim crowd let it slip through their fingers.

A serious democracy implies a public that’s genuinely interested in shaping public opinion and policy. This interest and awareness should, in theory, increase for whichever community if its people come to realize that they lack the ability to influence power and to improve their own interests.

The Muslims of Canada constitute one such community in the post-9/11 era. Those in power, including Trudeau, will only take the grievances and needs of certain groups seriously if prompted to do so. If Muslims trip over themselves to please politicians, they only guarantee their own political irrelevance.

Given what has happened to the Muslim community under Stephen Harper, in addition to the wreckage that is the Middle East, there’s no good reason why those who attended the dinner didn’t seize the opportunity to truly question Trudeau. Instead, their presence and conduct amounted to one of the more hilarious, and sad, showings of political servitude in recent memory.

This can’t be what the community needs. Muslims in Canada must place the worthiest of candidates in the seats of power, and to influence their political direction. There’s no way for that to happen if they don’t take their civic duties seriously.

[http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/justin-trudeau-and-the-reality-of-political-impotence/]

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