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9 Reasons Why 2013 Was a Slow and Painful Year for Freedom In Canada

Earlier this year I wrote an article attempting to cut through tired, rhetorical pandering in order to shed some much-needed light on the ways in which the Harper government has been overseeing The Slow and Painful Death of Freedom in Canada.
 
Since then, there have been many more reasons to fear that our Prime Minister is doing everything in his power—and some things outside of it—to twist this country into a true north suppressed and disparate. And in an attempt to keep the discourses of discontent going strong into 2014 and beyond, I’ve put together an introductory list of what I see to be the 9 Reasons Why 2013 Was A Slow and Painful Year For Freedom in Canada.
 

1. Bill C-13, ‘Cyberbulling’ Legislation. Introduced under the thinly disguised banner of anti-cyberbulling measures, the new bill will amend key parts of the criminal code in order to extend police power—streamlining the process of obtaining warrants to intercept private communications, enabling the tracking of individuals if a crime is suspected, and expanding wiretapping from telephone data to any digital activity. In short, bullying tragedies are being exploited to push through previously struck down legislation (such as Bill-30), that will force Internet Service Providers to surrender our personal information to government agencies with absolutely no civilian oversight.

2. Bill C-56, The Combating Counterfeit Products Act. Championed as a measure to protect intellectual property, closer scrutiny reveals that the bill is but an attempt to push the extensively discredited Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)—an agreement rejected by EU member countries for its invasiveness—in through the backdoor. Attempting to cover everything from pharmaceuticals to art, the bill would legislate new invasive border measures including seizure powers without court oversight in instances where a government official ‘reasonably’ believes there may be some risk to a dangerously flexible conceptualisation of ‘public safety.’

3. Bill C-309, No More Protest Anonymity. Largely considered to be a response to the G-20 protests in Toronto, the bill amends the Criminal Code of Canada in order to impose an up to 10-year prison sentence for anyone wearing a mask at a loosely defined ‘tumultuous demonstration.’ And with a very low burden of proof, the mask ban will make it much easier to arrest all sorts of activists and much more difficult for them to defend their right to protest before the law. Since protests can go from legal to illegal in seconds, putting participants at risk of arrest, the bill is clearly a legislative attempt to discourage Canadians from exercising their constitutional right to free assembly.
 
What the TPP's really all about. Image Credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr
 
4. The Trans-Pacific Partnership comes to light. The TPP is a proposed and all-encompassing trade deal being discussed between over a dozen countries including Canada. And while negotiated in total secrecy, Wikileaks has recently released a leaked version of the intellectual property chapter, which confirms the US is using the agreement to export extreme monitoring legislations much more oppressive than international norms. If our government bends to US pressure, we will see a complete surrendering of control over intellectual property, and this will intensify Internet regulation, expand border seizures, increase healthcare costs and introduce criminal liability for non-copyright infringement—all our fears rolled into a single agreement.
 
5. Putting a muzzle on science. According to a 2013 report, Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the government is making a concerted effort to “prevent the media—and through them, the general public—from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the pubic debate on issues of significant national concern.” Beyond tight communication controls, the Harper Administration has also eliminated high-profile research labs, scientific institutions, and other data gathering organisations, and as such, when taxpayer-funded scientists are permitted to address the general populous, they are forced to follow pre-approved talking points regardless of what their research and expert opinions may be telling them.
 
6. Snowden shows us our surveillance state. While Snowden’s PRISM revelations rattled the foundations of American democracy to its core, in Canada they revealed that the Harper government has implemented a surveillance program of their own modeled after the NSA. The CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada), a secretive government agency that employs 2000 people, has an annual operating budget of half a billion dollars, operates under almost no judicial oversight and is armed with enough raw computing power to shift through all our metadata—essentially a record of who we know and how well—allowing the government to map our social networks, patterns of mobility, professional relationships and even our personal interests.
 
7. Fracking ignores Indigenous land claims. From Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeine to the Keystone XL it has been a tumultuous year for the Idle No More movement, yet it has been protests in New Brunswick that embody what has been at the heart of many resource development battles across Canada—the Harper government’s unwillingness to honour legally-binding First Nations legislation. As such, demonstrations against highly destructive fracking practices continue to be brutally quashed, even though according to leading constitutional experts, under Canadian law aboriginal peoples must be consulted and accommodated when resources are extracted from ancestral lands.
 
"Responsible" Government. Image Credit: Su Bee Buzz/Flickr 
 
8. Mike Duffy unveils a culture of corruption. For the Harper Administration, the Senate spending scandal is a nightmare. Harper’s former Chief of Staff is now under investigation for bribery, newly leaked emails reveal the Prime Minister knew about the agreement beforehand, and more and more Tory senators are being accused of forging expense claims and other breeches of the public trust—revelations that have shown Canadians that the Harper brand of politics mocks our rights and freedoms by refusing to hold politicians to the same standard of responsibility as average citizens, whilst being unwilling to assume any accountability for the actions of his government.
 
9. Income and barriers to expression. In 2013 Statistics Canada reported that while 83 per cent of Canadians use the Internet, the increased costs in wireless prices has created a digital divide where only a quarter of low-income Canadians can afford to use Internet wireless services. This means poorer and more marginalised Canadians are forced to rely heavily on public spaces such as libraries to use the Internet, making their access to information, expression, and communication contingent upon easily accessible and publically funded spaces—spaces that are disappearing as the Harper Administration continues to relentlessly cut community Internet access programs.
 
Extensive top-secret surveillance systems compromised our trust and democracy as repressive policymaking muzzled scientists and crushed Indigenous land claims. Bills C-13, C-56, and C-309 exploited our fears as the TPP chipped away at our freedoms. A culture of corruption unravelled as marginalised Canadians were systematically stripped of reliable Internet access. All things considered, 2013 turned out to be what I think we can safely call a slow and painful year for freedom in Canada and around the world.
 
Yet thanks to these same events, we’ve also got a better idea what our government is up to. It’s important to remind ourselves that power only rests with a corrupt and exploitative administration only as long as Canadians allow it to.
 
Image Credit: alexindigo/Flickr

Adam is a PhD student in political science at York University in Toronto, where his research explores the nexus of…

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