RAMBLE ON: Secret review hearing to review secrets

You would be lucky to hear our civil liberties whimper if you were able to parse through the headlines today.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Not with a bang, but with a whimper, behind closed doors of course.

You would be lucky to hear our civil liberties whimper if you were able to parse through the headlines of dead lions, Donald Trump and oh, let’s say waterslides or something.

A very important hearing was held last week in Vancouver by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the watchdog responsible for the oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The hearing was held after a complaint was filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) who allege that the spy agency, in coordination with the RCMP, were gathering intelligence and spying on democratic environmental groups and volunteers opposed to pipeline projects. If true, that is illegal. Not a great reputation for the upholders of the law, allegedly of course.

The list of groups the BCCLA alleges were spied on includes environmental activist groups the Sierra Club of B.C., the Dogwood Initiative and ForestEthics Advocacy.

Reporters and the public were barred from the hearing, and weren’t even allowed to take photos or ask questions to anyone coming in or out of the hearing, all of whom were sworn to secrecy.

It’s important to note that at this time the alleged spying is just that, an allegation. The secrecy seems shady, and it is, but it’s the age-old argument of weighing the protection of sensitive security information over transparency to the public. You can’t say everything, yes, we understand, lives may literally be on the line. But you can’t say nothing.

Here is where logic becomes the real kicker to me. A direct quote from the outline of the SIRC on the Government of Canada website, which surprised me a bit, goes: “Parliament has given CSIS extraordinary powers to intrude on the privacy of individuals. SIRC ensures that these powers are used legally and appropriately, in order to protect Canadians’ rights and freedoms.”

Did you catch that first bit? Straight from the Supreme Leader’s internet-shaped mouth. Those “extraordinary powers” it’s referring to is Canada’s maple syrup-infused version of the Patriot Act down south, Bill C-51. The purpose of SIRC on the website makes sense objectively, it’s even kind of hopeful in its ignorantly blissful vision of a perfect world. Here we are, that watchdog, some of whom are appointed by the same government that forced C-51 through, are taking the allegations of abuse of those “extraordinary powers” to task. Yeah! Right on! Can we see or hear anything about it? No. Will we? Hard to say.

I honestly can not imagine a scenario where the review board comes to the decision that indeed the allegations are true, and hypothetically right and fair punishment is dolled out to those involved. The aftermath of this scenario would be interesting and far-reaching. If these allegations are true that means that government spy agencies coordinated with police to spy on, literally, a church basement group in Kelowna and an All Native Basketball Tournament. The All-Powerful Harper Government took a page right out of the American history textbook, allegedly. Use act of international terrorism (Parliament Hill attack/September 11th), pass far reaching legislation toting that we need more powers to bring peace and safety to all (Bill C-51/The Patriot Act) and use your new powers to do as you see fit, allegedly.

The media are probably all too busy cheating on their taxes or something, or they would probably ask the Supreme Leader about it, but they would have to fit it in one of their five questions and there are only so many scandals you can ask the guy about.

The quiet trumping of civil liberties is a slippery waterslide to fall down and the only defence is the utmost diligence of the people. It’s an election year folks.

Dale Boyd is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.