Friday, April 13, 2007

Spies and Us

Last week, the Montreal Mirror published an article concerning the
surveillance and of the Arab / Muslim community by the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service (CSIS):

The Mirror published a letter of response from CSIS. Three letters
of response supporting the original article were also published.
See below.

[Re: “Spies at work,” April 5]: Stefan Christoff’s article is inaccurate and misleading in several respects and does not represent the state of relations between CSIS and Canada’s Muslim community.

Mr. Christoff’s assertion that “Media representatives from CSIS did not return repeated requests for an interview from the Mirror before deadline” is simply untrue. Mr. Christoff left one message, which was returned within two hours, at which point he had apparently already filed his story.

Had Mr. Christoff decided he wanted to balance his story with commentary from CSIS—or information from the extensive CSIS Web site—he would have learned that interviewing a person at his or her workplace is an exception, not the rule, in how CSIS performs its duties. CSIS makes every effort to interview people at a location that is convenient for them.

In addition, CSIS is not a law-enforcement agency. We do not gather evidence, as the story suggests, and we cannot arrest people. CSIS relies upon the voluntary assistance of members of the community. Despite counsel from some associations not to assist us, CSIS receives useful information from all segments of Canadian society, and we are grateful for this assistance because it helps us keep all Canadians safe.

For several years, CSIS has been an active participant in a number of outreach meetings with various ethno-cultural communities across Canada, including in Montreal. CAIR-CAN, which seems to be advising Muslim Canadians to not help CSIS discharge its duties, has participated in some of these meetings, and is fully aware that they can alert CSIS to any perceived instances of inappropriate behaviour on the part of CSIS employees. To date, it has never done so, choosing instead to bring its vague accusations to the media.

A minimum of research on Mr. Christoff’s part would have resulted in a balanced story, one that would have informed readers rather than trying, rather blatantly, to incite anger in the community.

>> John M. Dunn, Director General, Communications, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Ottawa

[Ed’s note: Stefan Christoff replies that he left messages on March 30 and April 2]

I just wanted to congratulate you for your article “Spies at work.” My first reaction is fear and disgust towards the racist behaviour of government agents here in Canada. But my second reaction is hope and pride that some newspapers like yours publish this kind of information. First, because it needs to be told, but especially because it seems that it is usually hidden not only out of ignorance or lack of interest, but out of fear of going against the “Terrorist Act,” “Patriot Act,” “War Against Terror” and all this propaganda that we are being fed all day long.

Thereby, in the name of our protection, our governments actually subtly shut our freedom of speech. So congratulations for going against this form of self-censorship.

>> Prof. Dror Warschawski, UQÀM

Kudos to Christoff for shedding light on the state intimidation and institutionalized racism in Canada towards Arabs, Muslims and those who might be perceived as Arab or Muslim. It is such a relief to see that alternative media like the Montreal Mirror still covers issues that the mainstream press is not willing to touch.

Having moved to Parc Extension recently, I see the type of intimidation that Christoff describes on a weekly basis with police patrols on Fridays and overall increased police presence in the neighbourhood. Their mere presence (ie. the parade of cop cars in front of the mosques) causes discomfort and unease amongst all of the residents of the neighbourhood and creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

I am absolutely disgusted to read that CSIS is playing an even more insidious part in all of this by going to innocent people’s employers to inquire about them. How dare CSIS interview or interrogate people who are not under investigation? According to their logic, in our modern democracy, it is perfectly fine to endanger the livelihoods of people, trample their civil liberties and abuse their fundamental human rights just because of the colour of their skin or their creed. I hope that more people speak out about this frightening trend.

>> Indu Vashist

Kudos to the Mirror for revealing the disturbing facts about CSIS’s harassment of Muslim communities. I have long heard about this going on, but I have not, until now, seen any coverage in the press about these activities.

If there are reasonable measures that can be taken to stop people with plans to attack people or targets inside the U.S. or Canada, CSIS has clearly gone several steps beyond these. Broad racial profiling of this kind is criminal, and it is embarrassing and shameful that they have been doing it with impunity for so long.

>> Dru Oja Jay