Showing posts with label us-canada border issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us-canada border issues. Show all posts


10 things you can do to fight trump-era nazism

Like all good people, I am horrified by recent developments in the US, and like everyone who has been paying attention, not surprised. I take hope from the immediate and powerful resistance that has been set in motion. But also at the resistance, I am angry, too. What took you so long? Let's hope it's not too late.

Here are a few things you can do to fight back.

1. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been fighting for the civil rights of people marginalized or targeted by the dominant culture. These are the people best equipped to fight back -- the best and the brightest of the resistance. Even a small one-time or monthly donation can make a difference.

2. Canadians, sign a petition calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen, demanding that they repeal the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which would allow Canada to welcome people fleeing violence from Muslim-majority countries and/or deportation by the United States.

You've probably seen Trudeau's tweet saying that Canada welcomes those fleeing persecution "regardless of faith". Here's an opportunity for Trudeau to make good on that statement.

Currently, if an asylum seeker residing in the US tried to enter Canada to escape deportation, Canada would turn them away, based on the "Safe Third Country Agreement". Read more about it here. Please sign the petition and ask your contacts to do the same.

3. Call or email your MP and ask them to support the above. Say it is a matter of great importance to you, because this is the Canada you want to live in. You can find your MP here by postal code.

4. Attend a demonstration against Trump's order and in solidarity with those it targets. In the Toronto area, it's this Saturday, February 4, 12:30-2:30 pm, outside the US Consulate on University Avenue. In cities across the US and Canada, it will not be difficult to find a demo. When you find this community, keep in touch.

5. Send a letter of support to a mosque or Islamic cultural group in your community. A simple act of solidarity goes a long way.

6. Share facts. I'm always surprised by what people know, and what they don't know. I've learned not to assume. Share what you learn with your faith group, your union, your spin class, your online community, your Facebook contacts. (This one comes with a caveat. Social media is great for many things, but it is not actually a form of protest. It can be the drug that keeps us docile and not protesting.)

Photo montage thanks to Dave Zirin
7. Write a letter to your local media outlet. These still matter. Keep it short and it's more likely to be published.

8. Pledge to register. If Muslims are ever required to register with the government, be prepared to register in solidarity. If you have doubts or fears about this, now is the time to discuss with your family and friends. Vow to yourself and to your community that you will do this. It would be very fitting if the first, say, 10,000 registrants were Jewish.

9. Delete Uber from your phone, and don't forget to tell them why in the "share details" box. On Saturday night, protesters streamed into airports around the US to protest Trump’s anti-Muslim executive order. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance posted this:

Uber did the opposite.

Lyft, Uber's principal competitor, has pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU.

I heart NYC
I freely admit that this is another excuse to ask people to #DeleteUber and never use them again. Their abhorrent labour practises drag precarious work into new depths. More info here.

10. Check out Bustle. They're full of great ideas.

And a bonus: 11. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Each one, reach one. Take a small action. Then another. Eat, sleep, repeat.


leaving vancouver: in which we discover the scary truth about canadian passports

This was an eventful day! We started at the Acme Cafe, for another BOGO breakfast. The food is great even without the discount. But a free goat cheese-portobello-sun dried tomato fritata, with potatoes and toast? Yes, please!

The Acme Cafe is a few buildings down from the old Woodward's Building, which figures prominently in the rise and fall of this historic neighbourhood. We took a few photos, then packed up, and took the Skytrain back to the airport, getting to the airport quickly and easily for $8, total for two. This makes Toronto's $30 UP Express ripoff seem even more egregious.

And then it happened. We tried to check in at the flight counter, only to learn that our passports had expired. Last summer! We were utterly shocked. And yes, we are idiots. Obviously I must have seen the expiry date on our passports, but it never clicked: they were good for only five years.

Unbelievable. And completely our own fault.

The counter agent was very nice but there was absolutely nothing she could do to help. You must have a valid passport to fly internationally. And we did not.

This trip has been planned for at least nine months. Family is expecting us - and some folks are driving up from the Bay Area to Oregon, and they only have this weekend. What are we going to do?! We took our luggage and sat down, stunned, trying to assess our options.

The counter agent suggested going back to downtown Vancouver to apply for new passports, but on a Friday afternoon, we'd be very lucky to have new passports early next week. Too late.

After a few minutes we realized there was only one possible solution. We had to rent a car and drive to Oregon, taking a chance that we'd be admitted to the US. A passport would still be necessary, but land crossings are at the discretion of the border guard. We are still US citizens, and supposedly cannot be denied entry. However, US citizens are supposed to carry US passports, and we don't.

But there was no choice. We had to take that chance.

The first car rental counter had no cars available, and told us another place was also sold out. A little scary, but Avis made it happen - a good price and unlimited mileage. In a few minutes we were heading south. And very worried! We'd have our expired passports, all the information from the flights we were supposed to take, plus all the ID to back up the passport. Would that be enough? We were sure we'd need the "secondary interview" - another interrogation inside the border-services building.

At the border crossing, we pulled up to the booth.

Border guard, taking our passports: Where are you going?

Us: Ashland, Oregon.

Guard: How long are you staying?

Us: Til Friday, March 4th.

Guard: Are you bringing anything in to the US?

Us: Just our personal things, and a few small gifts.

Guard, handing our passports back to us: Have a safe trip.

We managed to control ourselves until we were safely away from the booth, before letting out one huge WHOO-HOOO.

Then all we had was 10 hours of driving ahead of us. Which would have been fine, except for the three hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Sea-Tac area, from north of Seattle to south of Tacoma. The rain didn't help either. But at 1:00 a.m. we were driving up the gravel road to my brother and sister-in-law's new home.

So we had to eat the price of the flight from Vancouver to Oregon, and pay a huge penalty and increased fare to fly home from Vancouver, as well as rent a vehicle for a week. An expensive holiday, indeed.

The morale of the story is check those expiration dates.


surveillance at the border: outrage fades as we accept the new normal?

The surveillance state continues to grow; news of its magnitude continues to trickle out. Some people shrug, claiming only criminals and terrorists need be concerned, but in these extreme conditions, that attitude looks increasingly ridiculous - or government-sponsored. The rest of us shudder and shake our heads... but what more?

The Canada-US border has become another instrument of the surveillance state. For decades, people have claimed that border agencies had access to all our personal information, including tax and credit status. In the past, that was a myth. Now, what was once paranoid rumour appears to be true.

We, the surveilled, are not consulted on these changes. The changes are not open to public debate. Neither we nor our elected representatives have an opportunity to vote for or against them. They are being instituted by fiat. Those magical words - "national security" - make everything possible.

Some stories.

September 2011 (note date): Canadians with mental illnesses denied U.S. entry, Data entered into national police database accessible to American authorities: WikiLeaks

June 2012: "The United States will be allowed to share information about Canadians with other countries under a sweeping border deal.".

November 2013: Disabled woman denied entry to US based on medical records: The issue is not the US's border policies. The important piece of the story is how the US border had access to a Canadian's health records.

November 2013: Accusations that private health details of Canadians being shared with U.S. border agents sparks probe: NDP provincial health critic France Gelinas has been contacted by three Ontarians who have been denied entry to the US based on their personal health history.
Gelinas said another person she spoke to told her that they had been turned away at the border over a physical ailment that had nothing to do with mental health.

She wouldn’t provide any details to protect the person’s privacy, but Gelinas said she was told that the U.S. agent in that case also mentioned a fairly recent, specific medical episode that happened in an Ontario hospital.

Gelinas said at first she tried to find some explanation for why U.S. authorities might have the information, such as police records. She asked many questions, but nothing seemed to explain how the Department of Homeland Security got the information.

“The amount of their personal information that is spit back at them is astonishing,” she said.

“I have no idea how this could happen, but it did. I believe those people. They have given me physical, tangible proof that this happened.”

A person’s medical history must remain confidential, she said. To hear that specific details of a person’s medical history is being shared with a foreign government is “extremely alarming.”
December 2013: Toronto woman with bipolar disorder refused entry into U.S. for being a ‘flight risk’. This occured about a year earlier. The woman came forward after reading the highly-publicized story in November.

January 2014:
Canadian border officials plan to share personal information obtained under a new Canada-U.S. border data exchange program with other federal departments, the Star has learned.

The program, in which Ottawa and Washington will start sharing their citizens’ travel and biographic data this summer, means anyone from Canada travelling to or from the United States by land can have his or her information passed on to federal departments.

The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed the new practice and said data would be passed on only in accordance with stringent rules.
January 2014: If you need extra evidence of how these practices are not for our own safety:
Canada’s border agency misled the public on its highly touted “most wanted” list by inaccurately portraying some people as war criminals, says Canada’s Privacy Commissioner.

The finding came more than two years after refugee advocates complained that border officials violated the individuals’ privacy rights by posting their mug shots and personal information, including date of birth, on the Internet and social media.

Although the federal privacy watchdog said Canada Border Services Agency’s information disclosure was justified in its attempt to locate those wanted for removal from Canada, it chided officials for the loose use of the term “war criminals” to describe the people on the list. . . . .

Toronto immigration lawyer Angus Grant, who represented the complainant, said the commissioner’s finding vindicated what refugees’ advocates had said all along.

“The list was created for political purposes,” said Grant, calling the most-wanted list the Conservative government’s attempt to “vilify refugees on its own assertion that they were war criminals.”
It's not only health records, and it's not only entry to the US that's at issue.

November 2013, from DeSmog Blog: The Day I Found Out the Canadian Government Was Spying on Me: CSIS and RCMP spying on activists, and sharing that information in classified meetings with - you guessed it - Enbridge. Talk about the petrostate!

October 2013, from The Guardian: Canadian spies met with energy firms, documents reveal:
Government agency that allegedly spied on Brazil had secret meetings with energy companies.

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We must try to keep these stories alive. Government spying should be an election issue.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Open Media privacy petition


canadian woman refused entry to u.s. based on confidential health records

According to this news story, a Canadian woman named Ellen Richardson was refused entry into the United States because of a prior medical condition. That is, when the US border guards swiped her passport, information taken from her health records came up.

Now, the US can refuse entry to any non-citizen for any reason or no reason. The more important question is why was a Canadian's confidential medical information in the Department of Homeland Security database?? How did it get there? How many of our health records are in the DHS database? You don't need to wear a tinfoil hat to ask these questions, and imagine the troubling scenarios they raise.

When Richardson and the Toronto Star asked for an explanation, they were told:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection media spokeswoman Jenny Burke said that due to privacy laws, "the department is prohibited from discussing specific cases."
How's that for irony? Richardson contacted her Member of Parliament.
MP Mike Sullivan said what has happened to his constituent is “enormously troubling. . . . How did U.S. agents get her personal medical information?"

He said he will be getting in touch with federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart “and demanding to know how this happened. We’re very concerned if Canadians’ personal medical information is being communicated to U.S. authorities."

Richardson has also spoken to her lawyer, David McGhee, about what she believes to be a “breach of privacy" as well as an act of discrimination against people with mental health issues.

McGhee has sent a letter to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews asking how this breach could have occurred.

“The incident in 2012 was hospitalization for depression. Police were not involved,’’ McGhee said. “I’ve asked Deb Matthews to tell me if she’s aware of any provincial or federal authority to allow U.S. authorities to have access to our medical records. Medical records are supposed to be strictly confidential."

U.S. authorities “do not have access to medical or other health records for Ontarians travelling to the U.S.," said health ministry spokeswoman Joanne Woodward Fraser, adding the ministry could not provide any additional information.
This is not the first time a story like this has surfaced. But each time it does, it is presented without context or explanation... and then we all move on. These questions are ripe for some investigative journalism, from someone who can afford to do such things. The Toronto Star, for example, might be interested.


jeju island and the constitution-free u.s.-canada border: empire and resistance, at home and abroad

I've been hoping to write about this for months, but the right post and adequate time never seem to arrive at the same time. Rather than put it off any longer, I'll pretend this is Tumblr or Pinterest or somesuch, and post it here without additional commentary.

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From Save Jeju Now:
The Save Jeju Now website is an up-to-date record of the ongoing nonviolent struggle to stop the Jeju naval base construction project currently being forced upon Gangjeong Village, a tiny town located on the southern tip of Jeju, the Peace Island, in Korea. Since 2007, The South Korean government has been oppressively trying to build a war base, falsely and absurdly named the “Civilian-Military Complex Tour Beauty Port”, on top of the village and its precious environment despite the opposition of a strong majority of the villagers (94% of voters). The base will be used by the U.S. military in its strategy to contain China in the Asia-Pacific through aggressive US missile defense system equipped destroyers.

Jeju Island was designated as “The Peace Island” by the Korean government on Jan. 27, 2005 as part of a formal apology for the 1948 “4.3 Massacres”, in which government forces and rightwing thugs slaughtered 30,000 Jeju civilians and burned 70% of the the island’s villages to the ground as the people rose up against the U.S. lead move towards the division of Korea. Now the forced base construction is bringing renewed state violence on the people of Jeju in what some consider a 2nd ”4.3″. The people of Jeju and Korea aspire for Jeju to be a true peace island, with no war base, to set an example for the establishment of a truly peaceful Asia Pacific.

Situation updates, calls for action, pictures, videos, and news are posted regularly in English and sometimes in Mandarin and Japanese. Through this site we hope to battle the lies and misinformation spread by the Korean Government, the Korean Navy leadership, and Samsung and Daelim, the primary construction companies which are illegally operating. We hope to spread the real truth about the deception, violence, and cruelty which the residents of Gangjeong Village and thier supporters have faced since 2007.
The Save Jeju Now blog.

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Living Under Drones

No Drones Network

No Drones New York State

Drones Watch

Living in a Constitution-Free Zone, by Todd Miller

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Is the US a police state? That depends on where you live: what country, and what zip code.


a people's history of the war of 1812

At last, this is the fourth post of the talks I attended in November and December. Allan and I organized this in Mississauga, through the Mississauga "twig" of the IS. The talk was given by our friend and comrade John Bell.

The other recent talks: noah richler, u.s. war resisters, and the militarization of canadian culture, from greece to chicago to toronto, workers fighting back against austerity, and talking radical: a history of canada through the eyes of activists.

Allan is guest-posting this one.

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This past year, Conservative MP Paul Calandra hosted a War of 1812- related "celebration of the armed forces" in Stouffville, Ontario, including a military flyover. This was one small part of a nationwide propaganda campaign by Steven Harper's Conservative Government - which is costing Canadian taxpayers at least $30 million - to prop up a myth: a sense of Canadian glory about the War of 1812.

The Conservatives claim that the War of 1812 united Canadians of all backgrounds - francophones, Anglos, First Nations, and blacks - as they all pulled together to bravely defeat the enemy from the south, the United States. However, as John Bell ably demonstrated in his presentation, "A People's History of the War of 1812" at the Central Library in Mississauga on December 13, nothing could be further from the truth.

Calandra is the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, but that's no guarantee that he knows anything about the history of his country. And it would appear that he does not. Bell pointed out that the town of Stouffville was established as a Mennonite community: its residents were mostly pacifists and war resisters who had fled the US to avoid military service. Stouffville's actual ties to the War of 1812 are "pacifism, objection to war, and peacemaking".

A people's war?

Bell explained that most people living in Upper Canada (what is now southern Ontario) at the time were Americans who had fled the US to escape excessive taxation, and to take advantage of Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe's offer of 200 acres of free land. Approximately 30,000 American emigrated and became, in Simcoe's term, "late loyalists". But their real loyalty was not so much to the crown as to their land and their own communities. At that time, the Canadian-US border was still very fluid. Many, maybe most, people had friends, family, and trading partners on the other side of the border. When the war began, the nationalist view of fighting a foreign country didn't work for many people in Upper Canada. Members of some local militias argued that their only duty was to their own community - and they refused to march elsewhere (such as over the border) to fight.

Both sides were plagued (or blessed) by draft dodgers, pacifists, and war resisters. Canada's militias often didn't show up for duty or didn't bring their weapons. (Guns were very valuable and the men did not want theirs damaged.) Sometimes when a soldier did report, he saw the paltry turnout, and turned around and went home. The militias were often poorly trained; many were commanded by political hacks and appointees who had little or no knowledge of military tactics or strategy , and sometimes little stomach to fight. Bell says that the idea that most Canadian militias fought admirably is "an absolute absurdity". (Some Canadians from well north of Toronto left their farms and travelled south to loot Canadian towns, sometimes even helping their fellow looters (i.e. Americans) load up their boats!)

On the other side, the American government tried to fight the war on the cheap, and had no real plans for feeding, clothing, or arming their troops. The American soldiers were so poorly cared for that they invaded the city of Buffalo - finally defeating other American citizens because of its superior cannon power - to get proper food and supplies.

Why was the war fought... and who won?

Why was the war fought? According to many historians, gaining control of Canada was never the US's goal. The US had declared war in an attempt to pressure Britain into changing its maritime practices to permit freer travel of US ships. Very early in the war, the US decided that, even with victory, it would not annex any portion of Canada, as this would upset the delicate political balance of slave and non-slave territory.

Who won? Bell says, "You could make a good case that it was a draw." You could also argue a good case that the US won, as Britain soon changed its maritime regulations in a way that was beneficial to US trade. The War of 1812 also ushered in significant changes to the US, such as a standing army and a more centralized federal government, which led to the country becoming much more powerful. And, with Britain no longer a threat to the US, the US could concentrate on expanding west.

Every war is civil war

The Harper Government's propaganda campaign around the War of 1812 must be seen in context of its ongoing attempts to militarize every aspect of Canadian society: an increase in military recruitment in schools, targetted recruitment of immigrant and racialized communities, the revisionist history of Canada's new citizenship guide to emphasize war and erase peacemaking, the ballooning military budget. The ongoing politicization of the military. The revised meaning of Remembrance Day, noted by so many Canadians: once a solemn day of "never again," now a glorification of war. In that context, the Harper Government wants us to believe that military strength was instrumental in forming Canada and in forging a united Canadian identity. And so, this militarized nationalism is being read back into Canadian history, two centuries after the fact.

The people who fought the War of 1812 were the same on both sides of the border: farmers, tradespeople, and labourers, who were pressured, lured, or conscripted into a war that had very little to do with the reality of their lives. As in all wars, the people actually doing the fighting on both sides had more in common with each other than with the ruling class who called for the war and profited from it.

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For more about this fresh perspective on the War of 1812, John Bell recommends reading The Civil War of 1812, by Alan Taylor. John compares and critiques published versions of the war here: War of 1812: myth and reality.


land of the free: anti-drone activist removed from flight and detained

Via Common Dreams:
Pakistan's anti-drone politician and former cricket-star, Imran Khan, was taken off an international flight from Toronto to New York for questioning over his political views, and his critical stance on US foreign policy, immigration officials have confirmed.

"I was taken off from plane and interrogated by US Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop," Khan tweeted yesterday after his questioning.

Ali Zaidi, an official in Khan's party demanded "a prompt and thorough inquiry into this sordid episode" and "an unconditional apology from the US government".

Khan was on his way from a public lecture in Toronto to a fundraising event in New York. He was eventually released and allowed in the US. He added: "Missed flight and sad to miss the fundraising lunch in NY but nothing will change my stance."

Khan, leader of the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (PTI), and Prime Minister candidate in next year's elections in Pakistan, has been a loud voice in the anti-drone movement in Pakistan. Khan recently lead a high-profile anti-drone march aimed at south Waziristan along with US peace activists from the group Code Pink and 15,000 others.

Khan maintains that US drone strikes in Pakistan and around the world are counterproductive because they have resulted in thousands of innocent civilian deaths, cause great hardship in the country and drive up anti-US sentiment and militant recruitment.

In an interview with BBC News last month, Khan stated that if he were elected as Prime Minister he would opt to shoot down US drones that invade Pakistan, should the US and the international community continue to ignore pleas to stop the fatal strikes in the region.


seen in upstate new york

Something for all your needs, plus excellent alliteration. Down the road in Mohawk territory, in the North Country region of New York State, we saw this:

Many generations of Mohawks have been ironworkers. Many of the great New York City skyscrapers were built by Mohawk labour.

We didn't have a camera with us; these were just taken on my phone, the better-than-nothing emergency camera. Which made us think, with two cameras at home, why don't we always take one along, as a matter of course?

A portion of the drive to Vermont is very scenic. Once you get off the 401 and cross into the US, it's rural routes through farmland and lakeside villages all the way to Burlington. Lots of autumn colours, lots of cows, horses, small main streets with the occasional stone church. Some of it is picture-book autumn in rural New England, and some of it is sad and run-down. At its best, it looks kind of like this (not my photo).

On the other hand, it's also eight hours of driving, and we're not inclined to add to that with a lot of stopping.


immigration lawyers to jason kenney: your attempt to intimidate us is "reprehensible" and "we will not succumb"

This story is a bit dated, but many people may have missed it.

You may recall that a few months back, Conrad Black, a convicted felon who renounced his Canadian citizenship, received a temporary resident permit from the CIC. This allowed Black to enter and live in Canada despite his prison record; indeed, the permit was arranged while Black was still scrubbing toilets in a Florida pen.

Many people were appalled by this spectacle of double standard and hypocrisy. After all, Kenney deports US war resisters - who face imprisonment for refusing to kill innocent people - and claims they are criminals, although they have not been tried or convicted of any crime, but he lays out a red carpet for an actual felon, convicted of criminal fraud and obstruction of justice.

What's more, we were supposed to believe that Canada's illustrious Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who opens and closes the Canadian border according to his own politics and whims, had nothing to do with this decision - that the CIC was simply following its usual procedures.

Among the incredulous was Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer.
Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said Ottawa is supposed to take into account whether a temporary resident permit applicant has demonstrated the ability to live outside prison without reoffending.

“How on earth do you prove that a guy has rehabilitated when he hasn’t even finished his sentence?” he said.

Mr. Mamann said he’s not saying Lord Black doesn’t deserve to be allowed back into Canada, only that if he had a client facing the same challenge, “I wouldn’t even have taken money from him.”

He said he thinks it’s unlikely the Conservative government had no role in the decision.

“The idea that the minister didn’t wink or nod in favour of this thing is impossible to imagine.”
This criticism was apparently too much for Kenney, a typically thin-skinned bully. He pursued a formal complaint against Mamann, seeking to have him investigated for a violation of the Law Society of Upper Canada's code of conduct.
“The idea that the minister didn’t wink or nod in favour of this thing is impossible to imagine,” Mr. Mamann said in comments published at the time.

Kasra Nejatian, a staffer in Mr. Kenney’s office, specifically mentioned this quote in the May, 2012 complaint he filed with the Law Society of Upper Canada, a self-governing organization for Ontario lawyers.

Mr. Nejatian charged in his letter to the law society that Mr. Mamann was quoted in media “as implying corruption or malfeasance by our office in our dealing with matters related to Conrad Black.”

The law society answered the complaint in July by saying it found insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation into Mr. Mamann. It closed the file.

A lawyer for the law society told the Kenney staffer in a reply letter, provided to The Globe by Mr. Mamann, that his allegations offered no evidence of “conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor.”

The Ontario governing body also said it had to ensure Mr. Mamann’s right to freedom of expression “is not overridden by what might be characterized as a minor regulatory contravention.”
Shortly thereafter, more than 80 immigration lawyers wrote this open letter to Kenney. The text was published in the Globe and Mail.
Dear Mr. Kenney:

We, the undersigned, all members of the Ontario Bar, agree with the statement of Guidy Mamann when he asserted that it was not credible that the decision taken in relation to the Conrad Black Temporary Resident Permit was made without any input from yourself. Given the high degree of control which you exercise over your department, we do not believe that you did not give your consent, either express or tacit, in relation to the request.

The use by an official of your office, of the Law Society of Upper Canada complaint process, in order to try to silence a critic for his opinion was rightly rejected by the Law Society. However, if you believe that our statement violates the Law Society of Upper Canada Rules please feel free to report us to the Law Society.

We find the attempt by you and your officials to muzzle freedom of expression to be reprehensible. We will not succumb. [See signatories here.]
"We find the attempt by you and your officials to muzzle freedom of expression to be reprehensible. We will not succumb." Words to live by, eh?


coming soon to a canadian town near you: the fbi

I seldom play the scary "US is taking over Canada" card, but if the Harper government was any deeper into Washington, you'd need a colonoscopy to find them. I blogged about this here, and I'm glad to see the CBC recognize the issue. This is scary, dangerous, and truly disgusting.
When the Conservative government passed its controversial omnibus budget bill last month, it included new powers for certain U.S. law enforcement agents that critics say could have ramifications for Canadian sovereignty.

The Integrated Cross Border Law Enforcement Operations Act now makes it possible for American officers to cross the border into Canada where, as the act states, they have "the same power to enforce an act of Parliament as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

This means they'll be armed and have the powers to arrest suspects in Canadian territory.

For years, law enforcement agents without the authority to cross into neighbouring waters have complained that suspected drug traffickers or smugglers could flee one country by boat and go to another to evade arrest. Officers from one country would have to stop at the border of the other.

Now, small crews, made up of Canadian and U.S. officers specially designated and trained for cross-border policing, can go back and forth across the maritime border, all the while subject to the laws of the country they are in.

Initially limited to small crews on boats

There are conditions, however. The law, which, focuses on combating cross-border crime on waterways shared by Canada and the U.S., pertains specifically to water-based operations.

The crews consist of about five people at most. In U.S waters, a crew may include four U.S. Coast Guard officers and an RCMP officer patrolling on a small U.S Coast Guard vessel. On the Canadian side, RCMP officers will be on a Canadian vessel with one U.S. Coast Guard officer.

RCMP Supt. Warren Coons, director of the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, stressed that the cross-designated American officers "have to be under the direction and control of a Canadian law enforcement officer" when the vessel crosses into Canadian waters. Similarly, Canadian officers are under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard officer if they enter U.S. territory.

"Sovereignty is something I take very seriously, and I understand the concerns that Canadian citizens have, because quite frankly I had those same concerns, and so do the U.S. officers," Coons said. "But having said that, safeguards are in place to ensure that U.S law enforcement officers are not allowed to conduct law enforcement activity in Canada unless they’re strictly under the direction and control of Canadian law enforcement officers."

But critics aren't so satisfied. Before the law was passed, the NDP argued that the issue was too important to be included in the omnibus bill and should have been voted on separately.

"This is a highly controversial integrated border enforcement program that jeopardizes Canadian sovereignty and potentially compromises the personal privacy of individual Canadians," wrote NDP MP Brian Masse, critic for Canada-U.S. border issues.

"A program that cedes sovereignty, reduces privacy and requires significant new investment must be fully debated and understood prior to its implementation," he said.

Land-based agreement to come

Although the law deals with Canadian and U.S. waters, some are raising concerns that the next phase of the plan, a land-based version of integrated policing, could be more problematic.

Stuart Trew, a spokesman for the Council of Canadians, said the act in its current form is already a "pretty serious compromise of sovereignty when it comes to policing and security."

"Are we just going to expect down the road when they do expand this program … [that] it just becomes normal to expect armed American agents on Canadian territory?" Trew said.

"How do you define a border operation? How far inland does it go? These are things that need to be dealt with in an open way. Instead they seem to be negotiating through mostly closed-door talks with U.S. officials."

William Anderson, Ontario research chair in cross-border transportation policy at the University of Windsor, said that he is a supporter of the current act, but a land-based version could be more complicated.

"Most people worry that you have a foreign law enforcement officer making an arrest, carrying a gun on Canadian territory. I think it becomes a little bit more difficult to control on land than it is on water, just by virtue of the fact that with water you're in a boat and [officers] can't get too far away from each other."

So far, the government has revealed few details about the land-based version of the plan. The Beyond the Border plan, agreed to by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S President Barack Obama in 2011, had called for two land-based pilot projects to begin this summer.

Government officials will only say that consultations are continuing, with the possibility of pilot projects starting no earlier than the fall.

'Hot pursuit' exception

However, the current act does allow for American officers to come on Canadian soil in extreme situations, also known as the "hot pursuit" exception.

"If a person on a boat is suspected of committing a serious offence and now are trying to get away and they hit shore, [U.S. officers] are allowed to go on shore and pursue in those circumstances," Coons said.

"If they’re working in the Niagara-St. Catharines area, we don’t expect to see them in downtown Toronto. It's just under a very specific circumstance where everybody would expect for public safety reasons that the officer continue with the pursuit of an individual.”

But Coons said if a pursuit involved multiple suspects, it's possible that the RCMP officer could be separated from the U.S. officer. As for how much time a U.S. officer can be on shore or how far inland, Coons said "common sense prevails."

The project, named Shiprider, began in Detroit-Windsor area in September 2005, and was followed by two pilot projects two years later in Cornwall-Massena (Ontario-New York State) and the Strait of Georgia (British Columbia and Washington state).

In 2008, Canada and the U.S. negotiated a framework agreement. Legislation was introduced twice, but died because Parliament was prorogued.

The Canadian and U.S. officers involved in the program have all been trained at the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, S.C., where they are educated in Canadian and U.S. law, including criminal code, privacy laws and sovereignty and cultural issues.

Coons said they are still in the process of negotiating the final details of the water-based program with the U.S. Coast Guard and that it should launch in the next several months.


fbi to operate within canada, cbsa using us-style tactics: the deep integration we should fear and protest

The CBSA harassing political journalists trying to enter Canada: bad.

The FBI free to operate within Canadian borders: worse.

Years ago when people stoked fears of co-called "deep integration" between Canada and the United States, conversations tended to focus on tangible signs like a North American currency. I admit I wasn't concerned. Now, trends like this speak to an even more insidious and troubling integration.

Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin, and a reporter for In These Times, reports on his treatment on his way to Montreal:
There weren’t any bright lights or stress positions, but it was definitely an interrogation. Crossing over to Canada yesterday, I had the unusual experience of being detained for a few hours.

It started off innocently enough. I filed off a Montreal-bound Greyhound bus at the border with a few dozen others to go through customs. As usual, I was paid extra attention. Security officials may notice me, because I look suspiciously Muslim, but it’s a small price to pay for having enough melanin to pull-off a salmon-colored blazer.

Reasonably, a border official asked me why I was visiting Canada. . . . It was all going well enough, though, until I was asked what I did for a living. I said that I just graduated from university on Sunday. Oh, so you’re unemployed? That’s where they got me. My precarious employment is a point of personal pride. Of course, I wasn’t unemployed. I do administrative work and write on occasion. Probably should’ve left out that last part. I was whisked away from my lovely new bus friends. . . .
It ended, as Cory Doctorow writes in Boing Boing, with
a going over from Canadian border cops who accused him of being 'political' for knowing about health insurance, and of being a 'bigtime journalist embedded in the student movement,' then demanded his phone and details of his contacts.
Political journalists in solidarity with the resistance in Montreal are not welcome in Canada. But the FBI is. The RCMP plans to take "baby steps" to get Canadians used to the idea of living in a US-style police state. Embassy Magazine, via Yahoo! News, reports that:
...the Harper government is moving forward on several initiatives that could give U.S. FBI and DEA agents the ability to pursue suspects across the land border and into Canada.

But, according to a RCMP officer, they're doing it in "baby steps."

"We recognized early that this approach would raise concerns about sovereignty, of privacy, and civil liberties of Canadians," RCMP Chief Superintendent Joe Oliver, the Mounties' director general for border integrity, told the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on May 14.

"We said 'Let's take baby steps, let's start with two agencies to test the concept, let's demonstrate to Canadians and Americans that such an approach might work."

Baby step 1, according to Embassy Magazine, has already happened in the form cross border pilot projects allowing Canadian and American agents in each others waters.

Step 2 is the 'Shiprider' program which will make it permanently legal for U.S. agents to be certified as police in Canadian waters. This is on track to be passed into law by the Harper government's omnibus budget bill, C-38.

And step 3, is to roll out cross-border policing over land.

Embassy also notes that the government is not ruling out U.S. aerial surveillance over Canadian territory.

These initiatives are part of the much-touted perimeter security initiative between Washington and Ottawa, designed to provide a thicker wall of security around the continent while easing trade barriers at the borders.
Smaller, more personal incidents of border friction are a frequent occurence. A woman in Maine is suing the CBSA over an incident with an overzealous border guard. It's good to see people fight back against that sort of power-abuse and bullying. But the larger picture requires a much bigger fight.

Canadians weren't asked whether we want the FBI operating in our country. And it's going to occur without our consent. Our only chance to stop it is to speak out in massive numbers, like the people in Quebec are doing. Because by now it should be clear that it's not just Quebec students in the street, and the fight isn't just about tuition fees. (More on that here, and more coming soon.)

Canadians, we need to wake up - we need to reach more of our apolitical neighbours - and we need to make noise.


u.s. continues to target its own citizens at the border... which is 100 miles wide

This story --
A Montreal university student was detained at the U.S. border, held for several hours, interrogated, had his personal belongings searched and saw his computer confiscated for more than a week.

What caught the authorities’ attention? His doctoral research on Islamic studies, he says.

In a case that has attracted media attention in the U.S., Pascal Abidor has become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the American government – and a poster child for civil-rights advocates defending the right to privacy and due process.

Mr. Abidor, a 28-year-old American and French dual citizen, was returning by train to Brooklyn in May, 2010, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent stopped him at the border in Champlain, N.Y. ...
-- reminded me of my own detention at the border, now 2-1/2 years ago, and the several "secondary inspections" and shorter detentions that followed. I ended up re-reading that post - "the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border - and the discussion that followed. It brought back all my feelings from that day, especially how surreal it seemed, as if I were watching myself from a distance, which I've come to recognize as a response to fear. And yes, my fear, at least for a few moments - my hesitation at entering the interrogation room, how vulnerable and alone I felt.
The older man said, "Come with us." They led me through a door behind the waiting area and opened a door to what I can only describe as an interrogation room: a tiny, bare room, with a desk and three chairs. At this point my heart raced a bit.

This is it. This is the room you've seen and heard about. The little room. I have no ID, no phone, no anything. I'm alone. I'm powerless. I don't wish to sound overly dramatic, but it was unnerving.

I thought, I'm sure glad I'm wearing my white skin and my non-Muslim-sounding last name. I'd hate to be walking in here without those protective devices.

In addition, the only time I have ever sat alone with police in a room like that was the night I was raped. So I felt little triggers flashing in my brain, old triggers but real, and for a split-second I thought I might cry, or faint - not from the present situation, but from August, 1982. I breathed deeply, and it passed.

Most of my brain knew that everything would be fine. Another part knew that having done nothing wrong is no guarantee of anything.
The US's habit of targeting its own citizens at the border is on Glenn Greenwald's radar screen. (See original for links.)
One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

This government abuse has received some recent attention in the context of WikiLeaks. Over the past couple of years, any American remotely associated with that group — or even those who have advocated on behalf of Bradley Manning — have been detained at the airport and had their laptops, cellphones and cameras seized: sometimes for months, sometimes forever. But this practice usually targets people having nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

A 2011 FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that just in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom were American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant. Typifying the target of these invasive searches is Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen and an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student who was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in 2011 when he was stopped at the border, questioned by DHS agents, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges; those DHS agents seized his laptop and returned it 11 days later when, the ACLU explains, “there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.” That’s just one case of thousands, all without any oversight, transparency, legal checks, or any demonstration of wrongdoing.

But the case of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and intrepid journalist, is perhaps the most extreme. In 2004 and 2005, Poitras spent many months in Iraq filming a documentary that, as The New York Times put it in its review, “exposed the emotional toll of occupation on Iraqis and American soldiers alike.” The film, “My Country, My Country,” focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military. At the time Poitras made this film, Iraqi Sunnis formed the core of the anti-American insurgency and she spent substantial time filming and reporting on the epicenter of that resistance. Poitras’ film was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary. . . . [See original for more plus links.]
And of course, the "border", according to the US, is 161 kilometres (100 miles) wide. The ACLU points out that many USians are unaware that this happens, or else believe that it only effects potential illegal immigrants. My guess is the majority of USians still believe that their US citizenship protects them from such mistreatment - a myth that is now completely ridiculous, in light of the NDAA.
Many Americans and Washington policymakers believe that this is a problem confined to the San Diego-Tijuana border or the dusty sands of Arizona or Texas, but these powers stretch far inland across the United States.

To calculate what proportion of the U.S. population is affected by these powers, the ACLU created a map and spreadsheet showing the population and population centers that lie within 100 miles of any “external boundary” of the United States.

The population estimates were calculated by examining the most recent US census numbers for all counties within 100 miles of these borders. Using numbers from the Population Distribution Branch of the US Census Bureau, we were able to estimate both the total number and a state-by-state population breakdown. The custom map was created with help from a map expert at World Sites Atlas.

What we found is that fully TWO-THIRDS of the United States’ population lives within this Constitution-free or Constitution-lite Zone. That’s 197.4 million people who live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.

Nine of the top 10 largest metropolitan areas as determined by the 2000 census, fall within the Constitution-free Zone. (The only exception is #9, Dallas-Fort Worth.) Some states are considered to lie completely within the zone: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The spread of border-search powers inland is part of a broad expansion of border powers with the potential to affect the lives of ordinary Americans who have never left their own country.

It coincides with the development of numerous border technologies, including watch list and database systems such as the Automated Targeting System (ATS) traveler risk assessment program, identity and tracking systems such as electronic (RFID) passports, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and intrusive technological schemes such as the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet) or “virtual border fence” and unmanned aerial vehicles (aka “drone aircraft”).

This illegitimate expansion of the extraordinary powers of agents at the border is also part of a general trend we have seen over the past 8 years of an untrammeled, heedless expansion of police and national security powers without regard to the effect on innocent Americans.

This trend is also typical of the Bush Administration’s dragnet approach to law enforcement and national security. Instead of intelligent, competent, targeted efforts to stop terrorism, illegal immigration, and other crimes, what we have been seeing in area after area is an approach that turns us all into suspects. This approach seeks to sift through the entire U.S. population in the hopes of encountering the rare individual whom the authorities have a legitimate interest in.
I highly recommend the ACLU's Fact Sheet on U.S. "Constitution Free Zone". "U.S. Constitution Free Zone"... an oxymoron?

Thanks to Alex L. and S. Cheung for the stories.


back, more soon

We had a terrific little trip to New York. It was a real treat for us to be there together without the crush of holiday crowds, to see family without the big Thanksgiving gatherings, and just enjoy the City. Perfect weather didn't hurt either, especially since we just missed a freak early snowstorm.

There are several things from the trip that I want to blog about, which I'll try to fit around the paper I'm writing, plus studying for the make-up of the cataloging exam I missed this week.

Here's some good news: zero border hassles. We've now had four crossings without detention: Thanksgiving 2010 by car at Lewiston, April 2011 (just me) at Pearson Airport, May 2011 at Windsor/Detroit (hassled about Canadian passport, then allowed through), and now another completely hassle-free experience at Pearson Airport. I think the special scrutiny is probably over - although it may be a long time before I believe it.


war criminal coming to vancouver: ottawa won't prosecute, but you can protest

Vancouver, a war criminal will be in your midst tomorrow, promoting his book. Join the welcoming committee.

If you live elsewhere and don't see the evil man himself, you might see his book in a bookstore. Re-shelve for resistance!

It's nice to see this movement making headlines. Although the ruling class will always protect and defend itself, we can still remind each other that war criminals and mass murderers shouldn't be allowed to walk freely amongst us.
Prosecute Dick Cheney for torture, human-rights group tells Ottawa

A human rights group is urging the federal government to bring criminal charges against former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney, accusing him of playing a role in the torture of detainees during the years of the Bush administration.

Mr. Cheney will be in Vancouver on Monday to promote his book, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, which outlines his views of the war on terror and other events during the administration of president George W. Bush.

Human Rights Watch claims that overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration, including at least two cases involving Canadian citizens, are grounds for Canada to investigate Mr. Cheney and comply with the Convention Against Torture.

In addition, the New York-based group said that Canadian law expressly provides for jurisdiction over an individual for torture and other crimes if the complainant is a Canadian citizen, even for offences committed outside of Canada.

It said in a news release issued Saturday that Canada had ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1987 and incorporated its provisions into the Canadian Criminal Code.

“The U.S. has utterly failed to meet its legal obligation to investigate torture by the Bush administration, but that shouldn't let other countries off the hook,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“Cheney's visit to Vancouver is a rare opportunity to remedy this shameful failure to uphold the rule of law.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Cheney could not be reached for comment, but in the past the former vice-president has been a staunch defender of the policies of the Bush years.

He frequently appeared on the U.S. talk-show circuit to say he's unapologetic about waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques. He has repeatedly insisted such tactics saved “hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The complaint from the human rights group came on the heels of a New Democratic Party MP's call on Friday for the federal government to bar Mr. Cheney from entering Canada.

Don Davies sent a letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney urging the federal government to deny Mr. Cheney entry, also citing the treatment of detainees during the Bush administration years.

Mr. Kenney's office could not be immediately reached for comment.

Human Rights Watch said it had documented the role of senior Bush administration officials in authorizing torture of detainees, including “waterboarding” and prolonged exposure to heat and cold.

The group further said the U.S. was directly responsible or complicit in the alleged torture of at least two Canadian citizens, Maher Arar and Omar Khadr.

U.S. authorities deported Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, back to Syria in 2002 when he stopped in the U.S. on the way home to Canada. He was jailed in Damascus and tortured into giving false confessions about terrorist links.

Mr. Khadr was convicted a year ago in Guantanamo Bay after pleading guilty to war crimes he committed as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan.

“Canada's own investigation into the Maher Arar case shows there is sufficient evidence to investigate Cheney for authorizing torture,” Mr. Roth said.

“Bush, Cheney, and others authorized the abusive detention regime that Canadians and thousands of others were subjected to. They should be held accountable.”

Antiwar activists are expected to protest in Vancouver during Cheney's trip.


most insane nation on earth bars entry to mentally ill canadians

This story is disturbing on so many levels! Why are health records of some Canadians being given to the US Department of Homeland Security??? Read it here: Canadians with mental illnesses denied U.S. entry.

In this story, Stanley Stylianos, program manager for the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office, says Canadians should be outraged that people’s mental health information is shared across the border. Yes. We should be. I am. I hope you are.

I have a vague memory of an unrelated story that tangentially mentioned a database of people who use anti-depressant medication. If anybody remembers that story, please leave a comment or email me.


bill ayers: "as public space contracts, the real victim becomes truth, honesty, integrity, curiosity, imagination, freedom"

A while back in my Intellectual Freedom and the Public Library course, I encountered an interesting shift of ideas. Larry Alexander, while arguing that freedom of expression is not a human right (I disagree!), points out that free speech is less about the right of the speaker, than the rights of potential listeners. Alexander uses the example of a government banning the works of Karl Marx. Marx himself is dead, so his rights cannot be infringed on; if Marx is banned, our opportunity to encounter his ideas - and so, our own freedom of expression - are being denied.

This was the central issue in Canada's refusal to allow George Galloway entry into the country. Galloway is not a Canadian citizen, so his Charter rights were not being infringed, but ours were. Canadians have - or are supposed to have, anyway - rights of freedom of association and expression. We have a right to see, meet and hear anyone we choose, and if those people pose no threat to the security of the country, we have a right to do so in our own towns and cities.

And this right should not be contingent on our agreement with the political views of the sitting government.

I was reminded of all this as I read this essay by Bill Ayers, who has, once again, been barred entry into Canada, ostensibly because of his radical past. In The Guardian:
In January this year, I was invited by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) to address the Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education to be held on 16 June 2011 in Toronto. The topic would be "The responsibility of academics to contribute to public debates in the media."

I told the organisers then that while I would love to attend, I had been denied entry into Canada twice in the past few years – once in Calgary, and later at Island Airport – and that while lawyers on both sides of the border were engaging the issue, we were being met again and again by bureaucratic gibberish and classic rule-by-no-one. The president of OCUFA sent a letter to the Canada Border Services Agency hoping to resolve the matter, and received a boiler-plate response: "The CBSA is charged to ensure the security and prosperity of Canada by managing access of people and goods." I explained that my participation in the conference would jeopardise neither, and promised to spend a lot of money while in town, but I got the same response.

I'm in Chicago today, and a video of my talk has been sent to the conference. One irony in this situation is that the injured party in all of this is not me primarily, but the people who, for whatever reason, wanted to engage me in conversation. After all, I will talk to myself all day, and probably disagree and argue with myself as usual. But what of the Canadians who thought it might be useful to have a dialogue? Tough luck: your government is vigilantly watching over your security and prosperity.

There's another irony, of course, in the government preventing me from exercising the very responsibility I was invited to address. This is a basic issue of free and open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas – not one of a potential threat to the nation's security.

The technical issue here is that the border guard who turned me back in Calgary said that, according his computer, I had quite a lengthy arrest record. True, I said, arrests from sit-ins, occupations, and antiwar activities 40 years ago, and all misdemeanours. Well, he responded, you have one felony conviction, and that's why you will not get into Canada today.

But I don't have any felony convictions. Prove that you don't have any, he said.

Years and a lot of lawyer's fees later, I'm still having trouble disproving a negative, if you get the Catch-22 here. . . but wait! I just realised that some of those fees are, indeed, contributing to the prosperity of Canada! OK, I'll stay out.

I entered Canada a dozen times in the preceding decade – taking my kids to the Shakespeare or skiing in Banff, attending research conferences, speaking at universities – and have been to scores of other countries from Cyprus to China, Hong Kong to Beirut, the Netherlands to Chile. But perhaps those countries lack the thorough security sense of Canada.

As the public space contracts, the real victim becomes truth, honesty, integrity, curiosity, imagination, freedom itself.
Read it here: Can Canada really be scared of free-thinking?


updates on baseball and the border

We had a wonderful little getaway, despite some crazy weather.

It was great to re-connect with our Windsor friends, now not only married but Canadian citizens. We had dinner at a terrific little Salvadorean joint; if you find yourself in Windsor, it's worth looking up.

Driving out to Windsor, we hit rain so intense, we had to pull off the highway to wait it out. But the following day, when the game started, we actually needed sunscreen. The storm clouds rolled in, but not as quickly as Boston's runs. By the time the raindrops started falling, the Red Sox had a 7-run lead.

We quickly snagged two seats under the overhang - cushioned seats with extra leg-room and a little bench for your drinks - so when the downpour started, we were cozy and happy. By the 8th inning, the Red Sox lead was 14-2. The tarp came out and the fans streamed out. It was neat to be in a nearly empty ballpark, and great to see a big win in our only live Sox game this year. We had a lot of fun.

* * * *

This marked my third border crossing without the hassles stemming from the war resister passport incident. However, the crossing was not without its charms.

This time we experienced what we've been hearing about from many other dual US-Canadian citizens who use a Canadian passport. The US border is now sporadically enforcing a law that requires US citizens with dual citizenship to travel with a US passport. People get hassled, asked many questions, and are then allowed to enter the country.

According to the ACLU, if you're an American citizen and have not been deported, they have to let you in. In addition, Allan and I have both entered the US with our Canadian passports without one extra question. So it's meaningless harassment, as far as I can tell.

Yesterday, the guard said, "If you are US citizens, you are expected to travel with US travel documents. Since you are not using US passports, I will have to treat you as Canadians." (Us: OK.) His questions included:

- "Why did you become Canadian citizens?" (Because we live in Canada now, so we wanted to be citizens.)

- "Why did you move to Canada?" (Because we wanted to.)

- "But why? For work? For school? Just for fun?" (Because we wanted to.)

- "How are you US citizens?" (Because we were born in the US. Because our parents were in the US when we were born.)

- "Your parents, really? They were there?" (Just nods for this. Too strange to answer.)

- "Why do you use a Canadian passport?" (Because we live in Canada now, so we thought we should use a US passport.)

He looked at our tickets for the game and looked in the car, and sent us on our way.

I was actually pretty pleased, as this was another trip without the "surrender your keys and come with us" armed escort and detention. This was merely a five-minute annoyance that many other dual citizens are experiencing.

* * * *

At the game, the crowd was asked to stand not only for the national anthem, but for a "military salute" to a member of the National Guard. The crowd's applause only grew louder when they heard the man had served 30 months in Iraq, performing more than 15 missions. The applause extended to a representative of a private company that supplies military missions.

We were seated, of course, wondering how many dead Iraqis those 15 missions represent.

It's always so good to come home to Canada. Now off to the Marxism Conference!


the empire writes back, or, in which the u.s. govt lies to us on paper

You all remember when my border-crossing troubles began: "the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border. And then continued: border crossing take 2. And so on. The routine - surrender the keys, armed escort into the waiting area, pointless detention, release - continued for just under a year.

Allan filed a request for information about an "adverse border crossing experience". Then, after almost a year of hassles every time we crossed the border, we had one normal crossing last US Thanksgiving, and I recently had another, on my own in Pearson Airport.

Imagine my surprise at checking the mailbox - paper mail, our home address - and seeing the Department of Homeland Security in the return address! For your entertainment, here it is.

Your experience was most likely caused by a misidentification against a government record or by random selection. ...or because you used your passport to help a friend who had deserted from the US military, about which we interrogated you in November 2009.

Were the two hassle-free crossings flukes, or has the flag been lifted? Next week we're seeing the Red Sox in Detroit, so we'll take the letter and the other paperwork, and hope for the best.


watching the watchers: interesting work development

As of today, I have a part-time gig as a research assistant. For the month of May, and possibly for June and July, I'll be working on a very interesting project with some terrific people, and making decent money, too.

The project is spearheaded by Andrew Clement, a professor at University of Toronto who taught one of the core courses required in my first term at the i-School, "Information and Society". By coincidence, Dr. Clement knew my name from the War Resisters Support Campaign; he and his wife had housed a resister in the Campaign's early years.

Clement does really interesting, important work around privacy issues, some of it through IPSI, the Identity, Privacy and Security Institute. For example, he and a graduate-student research team convened a national forum on the enhanced driver's license that can be used in place of a passport at the US-Canada border.

The EDL, equipped with a radio-frequency identification chip, was supposed to save time at the border and increase security. It did anything but, and turned out to be readable from a very great distance, raising serious privacy issues. Clement's class is where I first heard the term "security theatre".

For me, the best thing about the course was the perspective that brings the academic and theoretical to bear on the practical, to use knowledge as an agent for change. How can this information be used to challenge the accepted power structure, to disrupt the status quo, to empower people against larger forces affecting or controlling their lives? That worldview guides all this work.

The focus of this specific project is video surveillance, which has crept into our public landscape without our input or consent. It's usually justified under the vague heading of "security," but there is no evidence that it makes us safer, either by deterring crime, assisting prosecution, or increasing personal safety. (The one exception to this, apparently, is in parking garages.)

This month, Clement will lead a Jane's Walk about video surveillance in downtown Toronto. If you're familiar with Jane Jacobs' excellent work, you may know the expression "eyes on the street," meaning, how neighbourhoods with street life keep urban spaces safe. The name of Clement's walk plays on that: "(Video) Eyes on the Street".

The following week, the senior members of the team will make a presentation to the International Association of Privacy Professionals' (IAPP) annual Canadian symposium. (At the meeting I attended today, we previewed the presentation.) A graduate student researcher collected information and took photographs of video surveillance in the private sector - in malls, banks and big box stores. Exercising his legal rights, he asked questions about the surveillance and requested information. His findings were interesting. Of 46 private-sector organizations - the largest corporate presences in the Greater Toronto Area - all used video surveillance. And exactly none were compliant with laws governing privacy. The researcher's requests for information were met with either complete cluelessness or, in some cases, cease-and-desist letters.

So here's a citizen standing in a public space taking a photograph of a video camera. The camera is employed by a private company to do surveillance of a public space with no warning or advance permission. And the company is threatening the citizen with legal action! (Some wmtc readers may enjoy this bit: security guards once threatened the researcher with "trespass," as in, "Watch out or I'll trespass you".)

This project assumes there are some reasonable questions we have a right to ask about this surveillance of public spaces. Am I being watched? By whom, and for what purposes? If this is for safety, will help come if I need it? Am I being recorded, and if so, who views those records? What is done with the records and how may I be affected by them? And of course, What are my rights?

Clement's team envisions warnings and disclaimers similar to those used for food-safety inspection or movie ratings, announcing to citizens what exactly is going on and what rights they have. Although right now such a system is a dream, the presentation raises questions that are not being asked and pokes holes in all the assumptions.

This work has spread through a network of like-minded people in other cities and countries. It's exciting to be a part of it in some small way. It also has relevancy to the public library, as librarians are on the front lines of resistance to government surveillance of citizens' information habits.

On a personal level, as you may know, I've been looking for work, almost constantly, for a very long time. My weekend job is inadequate income, putting us under constant financial pressure. Allan and I have both been picking up some freelance transcribing, but there isn't always work. The page job with the Mississauga Library System - which I need in order to get in the system there - has not materialized yet. I applied for a couple of jobs through school, but nothing came through. It's been frustrating.

Then this week, out of nowhere, one of those jobs re-appeared. This project is going into a particularly busy period and needs more research assistance. I was chosen for my organizational skills, to help them prepare for the Jane's Walk and the presentation. My political interests are a bonus. Whether it lasts one month or three, it will make a big difference.


greetings from yyz

I'm on my way for my annual NY/NJ spring visit. Happily, I was able to fly from Toronto this time, rather than Buffalo, making Allan's life much easier and using a whole lot less gas.

And more good news: I breezed through US customs, the second consecutive trouble-free pass since the hassles began in late 2009. The real test will be the next time we cross at Buffalo or Lewiston. But this was very welcome.

My delayed flight means more time to follow the Patriot's Day game at Fenway! Now to find out who won the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon.