Over the span of seven years, I met Justin Trudeau on three occasions. Each time marked a different point along his political trajectory, one that would eventually lead him (spoiler alert) to 24 Sussex.
The first was back in 2006, when he held a talk at the University of Western Ontario in support of Glen Pearson’s by-election bid. Justin was a run-of-the-mill private citizen then, his enigmatic personality showing signs of great prowess. But fuck all that noise. His hair was beautiful, and that, more than anything else, showed how great he would be. The smell of that morning’s shampoo, with its undertones of strawberry cheesecake, made his arguments about Quebec and the constitution that much more digestible. Or maybe I was just baked.
The second time was at the always overpriced Mahony and Sons bar at the University of British Columbia in and around late-2008. Justin walked onto campus like Van Wilder, his budding celebrity status eclipsing that of local MP Joyce Murray, which is not much of an accomplishment since a half-eaten piece of melba toast could give her a legitimate run for her money. Trudeau was asked by a supporter when he was planning to seek the Liberal leadership, and he responded rather angrily that “I’m not even thinking about that.” Yeeeah, sure bud.
The majority of the people were identical, walking lock step to the drumbeat, wearing flashes of red and climbing over their grandmothers to get a leg up.
The last time we met was after he announced his bid for the Liberal Party leadership in mid-2012. Trudeau came to the event to deliver his stump speech, the same one he gave when he first made his announcement. The large hall accommodated hundreds, quite the contrast from the tiny classroom in London, Ontario some five-plus years prior. What should come as a surprise to no one, he edged out Joyce Murray in the final round of the leadership race — a close-call if there ever was one.
In many ways, his upward trajectory through the party was mirrored by my own steady decline in involvement with politics. My attempts to get re-acquainted with the “natural governing party” were futile, largely because I couldn’t convince myself to enter back into the echelons of unprincipled political hackery. The majority of the people were identical, walking lock step to the drumbeat, wearing flashes of red and climbing over their grandmothers to get a leg up. I was quite fond of my grandmother, so I decided against it. Instead, I opted for the life of a malcontent writer. At least, that’s what my tinder profile says.
These moments will be relayed at a later date to future generations, all of us huddled together tightly, presumably around a dinner table or trash can fire, as I regale listeners in tales of the ‘good old days’ when the brunette version of Fabio was our leader.
There was one occasion at UBC which I missed, circa March 2015, that turned out to be quite the hoot. I had taken my talents to Southern Ontario, but read about the account from Althia Raj, the Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Huffington Post.
Man, whoever said progress was a slow process wasn’t talkin’ about J-T, he’s a P-I-M-P!
You see, J-T rolled onto his old campus like he had done many times before, courting voters and taking selfies. Except this time, the safe space loving students shed their blankies, walked up to the microphone, and had the nerve to repeatedly ask the Liberal leader about his party’s unprincipled support for Bill C-51.
He grew frustrated, which tends to happen when you ask a politician questions that show how unprincipled they are. Despite opposing the bill, Trudeau noted that he didn’t want to politicize the matter. Instead, he assured voters that, if elected, his party would alter the bill they voted in favour of.
After more than a year and a half in power, the Liberals have finally gotten around to it. Man, whoever said progress was a slow process wasn’t talkin’ about J-T, he’s a P-I-M-P!
Well before Justin Trudeau got grilled at UBC, your favourite nerd Edward Snowden showed up in Hong Kong and pulled his best impression of Daniel Ellsberg. Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, we have a better idea about the Five Eyes alliance (Canada, America, UK, New Zealand, Australia) and the extent of global surveillance.
Canada’s close relationship with the US is no secret, and the Snowden documents underscore just how deep it goes. An internal newsletter for the NSA’s most important division, Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID), dated December 20, 2004, talks about the relationship between the Communication Security Establishment (CSE), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Canadian Special Liaison Office (CANSLOW). The latter, CANSLOW, wrote the newsletter to let SID know they actually exist, showing that even with the NSA, Canada’s cute inferiority complex never takes a break.
Like having sex without protection, this had the chance of burning you and causing discomfort well into the future.
In January 2015, the Intercept reported on the existence of LEVITATION, a dragnet surveillance program that monitors up to 15 million downloads a day across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. Ron Deibart, director of University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab, likens the technology to a “giant x-ray machine over all our digital lives.” An operation codenamed ATOMIC BANJO enables CSE to tap directly into internet cables, bypassing file-sharing companies to get the information.
One year later, CSE temporarily suspended metadata sharing with its Five Eye partners after it was revealed that information, like email addresses and telephone numbers, was passed on without protecting it. Like having sex without protection, this had the chance of burning you and causing discomfort well into the future.
Bill C-51 was an unmitigated disaster. Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but only if you enjoy civil liberties violations, Charter breaches, eating babies, free speech curtailment, vast information sharing, and tripping old people. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and notable academics weren’t fans of Bill C-51. But what the hell do they know? Besides, TERRORISM!
After the prophecy was fulfilled and young Trudeau took his rightful place on the throne, a few amazing things happened: the sun finally came up after years of darkness, Michael Ignatieff’s horses stopped eating each other, owls quit killing falcons, and the Liberal Party actually tried to keep their promise.
The Liberal Party recently tabled the 150-page Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters after lengthy consultations. The bill introduces a revamped national security and intelligence review agency—complete with an intelligence commissioner—whose jurisdiction extends to all government departments. Outside of Cabinet confidences, the body can access a wide range of information, including legal documents prepared by lawyers. Agency regulation, oversight by ministers, and external review are all covered, and so is hearing complaints about the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and CSE.
having rules subject to the constitution is a great way to ensure they’re actually lawful!
The likes of Craig Forcese, Kent Roach, Wesley Clark and Sukanya Pillay have come out to commend aspects of Bill C-59, including the oversight superstructure. Bill C-59 replaces the problematic “knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general” provision with “counseling another person to commit a terrorism act”. This is a straight forward change, since advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences IN GENERAL makes absolutely no fucking sense, and would probably leave otherwise innocent people in the cross-hairs.
Other positive steps include repealing secretive investigative hearings, and reining in CSIS’s disruption powers to ensure they are compliant with the Charter. The latter is a crazy and novel thought, because having rules subject to the constitution is a great way to ensure they’re actually lawful! Who would’ve thought that upholding the Charter could be a legitimate platform point? We’ve certainly come a long way.
Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways.
Wait, not so fast! Who do you think you are, Prime Minister Kim Campbell?
Whatever positive developments have come out of Bill C-59 must be balanced against expansive surveillance capabilities embedded into the bill. Details matter, especially when it comes to civil liberties. Here’s the Geist.
Michael Geist was one of many who wrote about what an absolute shitshow Bill C-51 was. Much of his criticism focused on privacy breaches and creation of the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act (SCISA).
Hacking other countries, accessing information from domestic internet providers, and disrupting communications are all fair game.
Geist delves deeply into the details of Bill C-59, noting that CSE will fall under quasi-judicial control. The intelligence commissioner must authorize certain activities prior to CSE proceeding, which ensures independent oversight. This is in contrast to the previous framework that had the minister of national defence as the sole discretionary authority. Regrettably, there are no appeals mechanisms to this new quasi-judicial control, and it is bound by secrecy—only the government and the intelligence oversight agency are provided with its reasoning.
Geist notes that “better oversight alone does not effectively address the privacy-security balance.” The glaring omission in Bill C-59 deals with information sharing within the entire governmental apparatus, leaving it barely past the threshold of Privacy Act compliance. The mandate granted to CSE gives it both defensive and offensive capabilities, as well as giving assent to operate at home. Hacking other countries, accessing information from domestic internet providers, and disrupting communications are all fair game.
Broad activities and the expansive definition of infrastructure showcases Canada’s willingness to engage in global hacking, not to mention the surveillance and acquisition of network communications. While some checks are applied on domestic surveillance, it is by no means comprehensive.
Interestingly, all this talk in the bill about lawful offensive capabilities totally ignores that CSE has been engaging in such activities already. The Intercept, back in March 2015, reported that CSE hacked into networks in Europe, Mexico, the Middle East and North Africa. But that’s old news.
Justin’s got a lot of work to do. His days of getting paid to show up in support of by-election candidates in the country’s foremost party school are over. Governing is hard work, and like a diligent beaver he’s made strides with Bill C-59, building a nice dam to restrict the flow of criticism. But he should watch his tail.
Seriously, he should. Our friends at SID wrote a newsletter about beaver tails in June 2003, explaining the mystery behind these tasty treats. They noted that “beaver tail is indeed a pastry,” which is “very warming on a cold winter day,” concluding with an ominous note in parentheses: “but not recommended for those on a low-carb diet”.
Beware Canadians: manifest destiny is real!