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General · 27th November 2013
Ray Grigg
The Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is the federal government's special spy agency created in 2001 to combat terrorism by providing relevant intelligence to appropriate officials in Ottawa. More secret than the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), CSEC is now a $400 million-a-year organization with 2,000 employees. Its attention, however, has wandered from spying on terrorists to gathering information on Brazilian mining and energy ministries, then giving this information to competing Canadian corporations. But CSEC, it seems, has also been spying on environmentalists, then sharing this information with corporations whose projects might be compromised by the constraints imposed on ecologically dangerous practices.

News of this association between CSEC and corporations surfaced through information leaked to the media by Edward Snowden, the former employee of a contractor to America's National Security Agency (NSA). The close co-operative relationship between NSA and CSEC revealed that Canada was spying on Brazil. More disturbing than the embarrassing Brazilian exposé, however, has been the revelation that since 2005, CSEC, in the company of both the RCMP and CSIS, has been meeting and briefing Canadian resource corporations about the activities of environmentalists who are critical of resource exploitation in Canada. (Elizabeth May, “Can You Keep a Secret”, Island Tides, Oct. 24/13).

Through a Freedom of Information request, The Guardian newspaper, according to Green Party MP Elizabeth May (Ibid.), procured a heavily redacted agenda of one such meeting hosted by Enbridge, the energy corporation that is encountering heavy environmental resistance to its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the controversial project that is intended to move Alberta bitumen over pristine wilderness to tankers on BC's coast at Kitimat. Enbridge provided the coffee, refreshments and meals for this May 2013 meeting. The agenda included such items as “cyber security initiatives”, “economic and corporate espionage”, “threats” to energy infrastructure, “security of energy resources development” — particularly in BC — and “challenges to energy projects from environmental groups”.

Where national security is involved, these subjects are appropriate areas of exploration between such state agencies as CSIS, CSEC and the RCMP. But meetings of these spying and policing agencies with corporations — particularly corporations heavily invested in controversial projects — suggest the existence of a clandestine and devious dysfunction in Canadian political and economic activity. An assault on the integrity of open and transparent democratic processes in this country has implications that are obvious and disturbing. The compelling conclusion is that these government agencies are in collusion with corporate interests against the legitimate activity of ordinary Canadians who are merely attempting to safeguard Canada's natural ecological treasures from oil spills, mining pollution, climate change and other environmental threats.

This is an unsettling development because it suggests that the distinction between government and corporation in Canada is now too thin to be separated — what's deemed good for one is deemed good for the other. Public concern is incidental, inconvenient and obstructionist; public involvement is only required for the occasional formality of elections.

The apparent collusion between the agencies of government and the interests corporations is just one more indication of the recent restructuring of Canada's information landscape. A June 2012 Environics survey of 15,398 government scientists revealed that 90 per cent of them “do not feel they can speak freely about their work to the media,” said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada. “But,” he added, “it is even more troubling that, faced with a departmental decision of action that could harm public health, safety or the environment, nearly as many scientists — 86 per cent — do not feel they could share their concerns with the media or public without censure or retaliation” (Globe and Mail, Oct. 22/13).

This feeling of repression, paranoia and fear is spreading beyond the community of Canadian scientists, abetted by the wholesale evisceration of environmental legislation and the crippling of agencies charged with enforcing the remnant of these laws. At the root of this contagion is a Prime Minister who is attempting to micromanage the reach of government, control information flow, manipulate public opinion and even censure science for the economic benefit that is supposed to accrue to Canadians through the success of corporate endeavours. This is the same Prime Minister who felt significantly dictatorial to say he will refuse to accept an American “no” to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline intended to move Alberta bitumen to the refineries of America's Gulf Coast.

At November's Conservative Party Convention in Calgary, the Prime Minister was perfectly clear that his obsessive determination to make Canada a nation of resource extraction would not be thwarted by ecological concerns: “In this party, we will not accept that environmental protection must stop economic development” — a threat he did quality with, “We must have both,” but given his government's abysmal environmental record, “both” can only mean “one”.

The drastic methods used to reach this single objective are so contrary to the most fundamental environmental principles, and the compulsive agenda is so transparently obvious to thoughtful Canadians, that the collective effect is a growing national nervousness. The Prime Minister has increased this tension by offering an even more ominous comment in a candid conversation with Noah Richler, reported in the National Post (May 5/12): “You won't recognize Canada when I'm through with it.” Indeed.