On Friday, the Harper government announced a wave of “anti-terrorism” legislation which will dramatically increase the power of the country's repressive forces. Supposedly justified by the shootings on Parliament Hill last year, the new laws will give CSIS the power to “intervene and disrupt threats to national security at home and abroad”, restrict the movements of suspected 'terrorists', stop them from boarding a flight, disrupt money transfers or electronic communications, allow government agencies to share information like passport applications with intelligence agencies, increase the amount of time suspected 'terrorists' can be detained without charge, and allow courts to order the removal of material deemed “terrorist propaganda” from websites registered in Canada. It will also create a new offence, 'promoting terrorism', which will not require the advocacy of any particular act.
Although the Ottawa shootings have provided the pretext for this legislation, it has to be understood as part of a wider effort by the Canadian state to suppress dissent that in many ways has very little to do with the alleged threat of 'Islamist terrorism.' It's not hard to see how the provision on 'promoting terrorism' could be used to criminalize any expression of support for official enemies, including liberation movements called terrorists by the Canadian government (whose list of 'Terrorist Entities' includes Palestinian resistance groups like the PFLP and anti-imperialist forces like the FARC in Colombia). But this new legislation will also be used against domestic dissent. In the past few years, we've seen the Canadian government spying on moderate Indigenous rights advocates, infiltrating activist groups and inventing a 'conspiracy' around the G20 protests, and declaring environmentalist groups and others opposed to the tar sands and pipelines to be 'eco-terrorists.' The Harper government has already deployed the rhetoric of 'terrorism' against any group that questions or poses an obstacle to its policies.
Canada's police and intelligence forces have always been used to repress those who challenged the entrenched inequality and injustices of Canadian capitalist society. The RCMP was created in the 1870s as the strong arm of colonialism in the West. Its authority was extended across the country in the 1920s in response to the growing militancy of the working class, and devoted much of its energy and resources from the 1920s onward to persecuting the communist movement. By the 1970s, the RCMP had files on 700,000 people. When even right-wing politicians had to admit that the Mounties' repressive measures got out of hand in the 1980s, CSIS was created to formally separate intelligence and policing. Granting police-like powers to CSIS, as this new legislation does, reverses this, but is also simply another instance in the long history of repression by the Canadian state. This history also shows that democratic rights were won through struggle. There is an immediate need to mobilize to block these dangerous changes.