Opinion Letters

Democracy in crisis

Last year, after revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter made a shocking statement. He said “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” The statement, however, was lost in a media landscape preoccupied with celebrity gossip and advertising.

Canadians often tend to be self-complacent about such remarks, but Canada’s democracy has revealed itself to be every bit as dysfunctional.

Last June, I wrote a letter to MP Rick Norlock about U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, who went into exile after uncovering the largest state surveillance program in human history. At the time, revelations that the NSA was collecting citizens’ personal information on a massive scale sparked global outrage and commentary.

My questions to Mr. Norlock were simple: given that Canada’s main ally was engaged in these unconstitutional activities, did Canadian authorities have previous knowledge of this? Was Canada involved? Was private data on Canadian citizens and institutions also collected?

After several e-mails, phone calls, and even visits to his local office, Mr. Norlock chose not to respond.

Nonetheless, these questions were answered. Not through traditional democratic avenues, but by subsequent leaks of classified documents to the press (leaks severely denounced by governments in both Canada and the U.S.).

We’ve since learned Canada was heavily involved in these U.S.-led, unconstitutional programs. At the G8 and G20, Canadian authorities collaborated with the U.S. agency to conduct surveillance in Canada. We later learned that Canada was collaborating with NSA in order to collect information from the Brazilian government, not for national security, but on behalf of international corporate mining interests.

Most recently, it was confirmed that Canadian officials can also access metadata, giving state bureaucracy the unchecked ability to access private e-mails, telephone calls, and other personal information on a massive scale. This is the subject of Orwellian fiction, and surpasses even the infamous East-German Stasi in scale and potential for abuse.

What’s more, the Canadian Government did everything they could to make sure public did not find out about this. The whistleblower is considered a felon, facing charges under the U.S. Espionage Act (an Act which Barack Obama has used more than any other president in U.S. history). The Canadian Government voiced support for this this stance.

Canada’s current government was elected at a time of political crisis, on a platform promising transparency, whistleblower protection, and democratic reform. However, they’ve since been privy to perhaps the greatest violations of civil liberties in Canadian history.

The fact that it takes whistleblowers to answer questions posed to elected representatives; the fact that Canada’s national press is more interested in celebrity gossip than matters of national interest; the fact that Canada considers whistleblowers criminals, are all clear signs: Canada too has no functioning democracy.

Craig Frayne, Cobourg

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