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The Surveillance State

Volume 49, Issue 2: March/April 2015

This issue, planned and edited by CD collective member Corvin Russell, is about the surveillance state. in his lead article, “Privacy and Democracy: What geeks understand that the left doesn’t,” Russell writes that “Where surveillance is most effective is not in preventing violent terror threats, but in monitoring and controlling peaceful democratic dissent that authorities deem threatening to vested interests.”

Surveillance in the form of spying and infiltration goes back a long way. In this issue, Lorne Brown describes the history of surveillance and criminalization of communist and labour organizing in Canada from the time of the Winnipeg General Strike to the 1930s.

Similarly, Tim McCaskell talks about the low-tech surveillance methods employed against gay men prior to 1969, when the Criminal Code was amended so as to make legal certain sexual acts between consenting adults: Gay men picked up in a bar raid or a washroom bust would be asked to disclose contacts in order to “get off easy.” If they betrayed their contacts, they would in turn be surveilled, visited, entrapped and asked to inform on others.

Also in this issue, Tia Dafnos surveys the myriad government agencies and programs set up in recent times to monitor indigenous activism.

Targeted surveillance is one thing. Bulk surveillance, so dramatically revealed by the likes of Edward Snowden, is another. For Corvin Russell, mass surveillance radically undermines the foundation of democracy because it eliminates privacy: “Privacy is essential to freedom of association and the right to organize, it is essential to our ability to think unorthodox thoughts and to share these thoughts with trusted others.” The game changer for surveil- lance is that most conversation has shifted to the internet and other technologies where it is “eaves- dropped, recorded and archived for unknown future uses…” Writes Russell, “this radical shift in power relations between people and the state has occurred without significant resistance or debate, except from politically engaged geeks.”

The only solution to mass electronic eavesdropping, according to Russell, is encryption which “protects the privacy rights we have won from the state over the centuries and erodes the ability of states and large corporations to practice social control through surveillance and eavesdropping.” But it is only effective if “everything that transits on the internet or over the phone is encrypted end-to-end, all the time.”

Fear Serves Harper Well

Dimension had planned this issue before Stephen Harper announced his intention to introduce his secret police bill, Bill C-51. Contrary to his pronounced intention, the goal of this legislation is nothing less than to instill terror and fear in the populace, undermine opposition and destroy dissent, the very foundation of a democratic society. The Conservatives are stirring up anti-Muslim paranoia, exploiting two tragic incidents involving lone individuals with mental health issues to raise the specter of Islamic terrorism coming to our shores. By alarming the population with fears of jihadi terrorists under every bed and around every corner, Harper is trying to scare voters into voting for him. But perhaps the bigger targets still are environmentalists, the so-called “anti-petroleum extremists,” as a leaked RCMP document called them.

“Like the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s,” writes John Pilger in his article posted on the CD web site, “big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent, repetitive media and its virulent censorship by omission.”

A petition to reject this reckless bill has collected well over a million signatures and on March 14 thousands of Canadians hit the streets all over the country to demonstrate their opposition to the bill. Obviously more is needed. Let’s stop this crypto-fascist before it’s too late.

Table of Contents


  • To Be or Not To Be: A Critical Year for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • Greek Breakthrough Inspires, But Also Raises Many Challenges
  • Around the Left in 60 Days
  • Mixed Messages In The Struggles of US Labour
  • Polluted People
  • The FTQ Has the Right to Wage Political Campaigns

The Surveillance State

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