Stephen Harper’s Canada III: “We Will Tell You What You Need to Know”

Dear Virtual Editor,

benny steve phone 4 The hits just keep on coming in Stephen Harper’s Canada. In the continuing effort to destroy Canada’s international reputation, the government has just joined the U.S. to block a proposed UN conference on nuclear disarmament in the Middle East. This was done at the insistence of Israel and is yet another example of the Israeli tail wagging the U.S. and Canadian dog. Had it happened, the conference could well have forced Israel to acknowledge publicly its worst kept secret: Israel has nuclear weapons. Israel called the shots, though not even a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Netanyahu phoned Harper to thank him. Perhaps it is a little easier to understand why some of us are less than thrilled with Netanyahu’s campaign to scuttle negotiations with Iran.

I won’t go into detail on this latest exercise in obeisance, but calling out Israel and exploring better paths than Bibi’s has been a subject here before. If this sort of thing matters to you, start with the 29 January 2014 post: Israel, Chilled Speech and…A Tail Wagging Two Dogs. You will find there some Jewish voices you are unlikely to hear in the official narrative. If that works at all for you, go to the 30 July 2014 post: Can the International Community Save Palestinian Civilians?

But today, with the election now on for 19 October, we take a further look at the challenge of overcoming the Harper government’s control over what you are allowed to know. Doing that will take effort on your part; an effort the Tories are betting that you are not willing to make.

The 140 Character Attention Span Challenge

about_banana_colorTo paraphrase the recent observation of a Canadian journalist: When your government enacts a retroactive law to shield the national police force from investigations into wrongdoing, you know you are in a banana republic. The journalist may have called up an unfortunate stereotype of bygone Central and South American countries governed in reality by U.S. multinationals, but the image as a description of Canada’s current approach to transparency is spot on.

As it was in the real or imagined banana republics, secrecy and control of information is a cornerstone of the current Tory government. And no, not every government does it. Not to this degree. Apart from governments in power during actual wars, the Harper regime has no equal in dispensing propaganda and censoring response. The vast majority of Canadians know this. The question is whether they will overcome the obstacles inherent in the parliamentary system and throw the bums out in October.

It may be of interest to U.S. readers to know that Harper was schooled and groomed for office by the extreme right there. One figure, Arthur Finklestein, a right wing political strategist was a particularly effective mentor. Here is a sample of his advice:

* Good politicians will first tell you things that are true and only later begin to mislead.
* Money is important because it determines who gets to hear what.
* Issues do not matter.
* Content has become the victim of speed of communication.
* People only skim the surface of events and really do not want to know deep content.

Anyone who wants to play on Harper’s team must memorize the Finklestein playbook. Let’s start with the 3rd and 4th of the guru’s maxims. The scandal that prompted the banana republic comparison is a perfect example of government reliance on public unwillingness to invest in considering content that cannot be reduced to 140 characters or fewer. Is Finklestein talking about you? Test your attention span. How willing are you to follow the content of this next story and consider its implications?

“Like it Never Happened”

Canada once had a long gun registry, maintained by the RCMP. The Tory government abolished it. No surprise there. They would love it if Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms contained a U.S. 2nd Amendment.

Canada also has an Access to Information Act (AIA) (U.S.=FOIA), and an independent Information Commissioner to watch over its implementation.

post-127-0-91359100-1378739397The Tories introduced legislation to destroy the records collected for the gun registry. Before that destruction bill became law, there were requests under the AIA that the RCMP provide data from the registry. Before the destruction bill became law, the RCMP stonewalled the requests, demanded exorbitant fees to comply, and eventually destroyed the requested records. All of these acts are illegal. The AIA is as much the law of Canada as the long gun repeal. (The RCMP sometimes do good work, but it has been a long time since Dudley Do-Right was saving Nell.)

The decidedly-not-independent Minister of Public Safety is the chief Mountie. At the time the scandal was brewing, the minister was Vic Toews. Vic was a hard line law and order guy–with some exceptions. Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner wrote Toews, advising him that she was investigating RCMP violations of AIA and warning him to preserve the registry data until she was finished. She reminded Toews that even though the records destruction law would come into force, the RCMP was legally required to respond to requests made before that happened and not to destroy pertinent data. Toews ignored the warning and the RCMP destroyed all the data after passage of the act. Where did that leave the federal cops on the question of their illegal acts? Apparently, in need of protection.

Are you still with me?

Enter Bill C-59, a 167 page budget measure. Buried in the bill was a unique provision to protect the RCMP from possible criminal charges. In effect, it decreed that the pre-passage requests never happened. C-59 did that by providing that all registry records are exempt from any request, complaint, investigation, application or other proceeding under that AIA or the Privacy Act related to those records, retroactive to before the records destruction legislation came into force. In other words, lawful requests for information, and the unlawful RCMP acts to thwart the requests in this matter are no longer part of Canadian history. They never happened. The legislation also grants immunity from prosecution to the RCMP and all other actors.
Congratulations on getting this far in the challenge. Would you like to keep going?

So What?

For a start, here is what. Can the government retroactively protect destruction of any records it does not wish to see revealed? As Legault has said, there is no ElectionsCanadaCartoon-Gary_Clement-National_Postreason this precedent could not be used to retroactively erase an investigation into election fraud. Funny that example should come to her mind. If the gun registry story was a bit hard to follow, as the government hopes, the robocall scandal should be a bit easier to grasp.

Canada also has a body to administer and oversee elections: Elections Canada. It tried to investigate some very suspicious doings in the 2011 election that brought the Tories their “majority” government. There is strong circumstantial evidence, not conclusive, that the Conservatives tried to tamper with that election. Contrary to what many believe, cases based on circumstantial evidence are often quite persuasive. Here are just some of the circumstances reported by Michael Harris in Party of One:

* In the election run-up, thousands of pre-recorded phone calls were made to voters in more than half the ridings in the country, including several that the Tories narrowly won. The caller, often purporting to be from Elections Canada, falsely advised the voter of a change in the location of the polling station. Other calls, selected from a list of voters unlikely to vote for the Conservatives, purported to be from opposition parties. They were made at times of the day or night designed to annoy the voter.

* The phone numbers were selected from a Conservative Party of Canada database. They originated with a tech company called Rack Nine that had the technical capacity to make 200,000 calls per hour and conceal their origin. Rack Nine works exclusively for Conservative Party Candidates.

* Elections Canada, with only limited powers, tried to conduct an investigation. It was difficult, to say the least, to get through the highly sophisticated and technical means employed to conceal the identity of the maker of the calls, or the identity of those who orchestrated them.

* The Tories first denied any knowledge and joined in the general outrage. As the circumstantial evidence piled up, they tried other diversions but eventually settled on a new message: It was all the work of one rogue staffer. The government enlisted sympathetic media to get this narrative out, including the help of Sun News VP Kory Tenycke, now the government PR man.

* Two suspects were campaign workers Andrew Prescott and Michael Sona. When Elections Canada sought to interview Prescott, he immediately called the party’s political director who told him to be quiet until she could get him a lawyer. The lawyer was Arthur Hamilton, the official counsel of the party. Meanwhile, the party stonewalled every attempt at contact from odd man out, Sosa.

* Unfortunately, Elections Canada gave Hamilton complete access to the investigation, including the right to participate in witness interviews and control over the timing of Prescott’s interview. Surprise. Sosa became the only person convicted of an offence.

damage-control600pxThe Harper government soon made sure that it would not have such a close call again. Not yet on the scene was the genius who might have recommended a piece of retroactive legislation similar to C-59. That would have been one way to make the Elections Canada data on robocall wrongdoing disappear. Still, the measure they chose was effective enough. The Tories passed the laughably titled Fair Elections Act.

Although Harper solidly resisted an official inquiry into the robocall scandal, an advisory commission that included a former auditor general, a former supreme court justice and prominent political leaders recommended that Elections Canada be given greater investigative tools, including subpoena power. Instead, the act removed investigative authority altogether. Further, the act forbids Elections Canada from advertising to promote election turnout, or even to warn about election fraud. That should do it.

Now do you see why the obscure little vignette about the RCMP, the gun registry, and control of information is a big deal?

You are doing great. Now the final plateau in the challenge.

“A Message from the Government of Canada”

If you still have doubts about the arrogance of the Conservative Party of Canada, check out the fine print in the TV ads extolling all sort of great things the party is going to do for you. The fine print says “proposed legislation” or “subject to parliamentary approval”. Nothing wrong with that kind of partisan spot, EXCEPT that the voice over tells you that this is a message from the government of Canada and does not tell you it is really a Tory campaign ad that is being paid for with your money. The party controlling the government is only authorized to use public money to provide information about existing programs. That little legality does not trouble the disciples of the Finklestein school of electioneering.

I close with this.

You may have seen on Facebook a Conservative Party ad that asks you to vote yes or no on supporting Harper’s government. It will do you no good to click no–you get directed to the same propaganda. But there is a comment section. One recent critical comment suggested that C-51 (the phony “anti-terror” bill) has doomed the government in the coming election. In reply, a supporter said: “Harper is doing a good job. Enough said.” But that is the point. It is not enough said. Exactly why would any Canadian support this government? If you can come up with reasons, send them here as a comment. As long it embodies Canadian civility, I promise to post it.

Facebook Twitter Email

Comments are closed.