The Harper government wants to hide all of its secrets.
While reviewing the latest edition of the federal government's little-known legislative bulletin, The Canada Gazette, Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill noticed a troubling detail: a new order is now on the table that would dramatically expand the number of current - and former - federal government employees under a lifetime gag order, potentially curbing the right to free expression for thousands of Canadians.
The order is certainly dramatic and sweeping in scope, but it's not a new development. Lifetime gag orders for certain federal employees were part of the original Anti-Terrorism Act, which came into force on Christmas Eve 2001. At present, it affects about 12,000 people. It's not known exactly how many more people will be subject to the gag as a result of this latest order, but given that it would extend to CSIS' legal service units, the CSE (Canada's spy and electronic communication surveillance agencies), and the Privy Council Office.
The timing is spot on. In recent weeks, CSIS and the CSE have come under intense public scrutiny in response to the revelation of enormous telecom and online surveillance operations by the U.S. National Security Agency.
Employees lassoed by this order would be prevented from disclosing (or even confirming the existence of) so-called "special operational information." This includes confidential intelligence sources, targets of operations, names of spies, military plans, various techniques or technologies, plus encryption and other means of protecting data.
What brought about this rush for hyper secrecy?
The federal government provides this justification:
The proposed Order would enable the Government of Canada to provide additional assurances to its international partners and allies that special operational information shared with Canada will be protected.
But strangely enough, the government failed to provide any indication that any international partner has actually complained that its current assurances of confidentiality are inadequate.
Expanding the number of people potentially liable for up to 14 years of jail should require, at the very least, some indication that there is a problem on hand. None have been disclosed.
It's not just spies who are affected by this order. Former employees of the former CSIS Inspector General (an oversight body abolished last year) will also be subjected to the gag order.
So will three different groups of lawyers, despite the fact that they are already bound by client confidentiality provisions in their Code of Professional Conduct. Why add the risk of 14 years of jail to the penalties lawyers already face if they improperly disclose client information?
But it's not like the government doesn't want to hear from you on this one. You have until July 8 to send any helpful hints or suggestions you might have for what they can do with this order, according to The Gazette.
Just don't try to email them. It's snail mail or fax only for this consultation, which just goes to show you just how much they value your input.
FIPA's response (spoiler alert: we're against it) has already been faxed to the Department of Justice. We suggest you do likewise, even if you have to lick stamps or dust off the fax machine to do so.
Majority governments are by definition strong and stable, so this talking point essentially means nothing. Do the Tories really think they'll win another majority by reminding us they already have one?
Curious about the questionable campaign fundraising done by Tory ministers Peter Penashue and Dean Del Mastro? Well the Conservatives have an answer for you. The NDP is much, much worse. While the New Democrats did pay back nearly $350,000 in sponsorship money from unions after Elections Canada found the party guilty of violating campaign finance laws, that doesn't give the Tories the right to ignore legitimate questions about their own fundraising practices. Then again, why answer questions when you can just blame the other guy?
When NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice asks the government something in question period he usually already knows the Tories' answer. 'Remember when you were a separatist?' Boulerice has long since admitted he used to sympathize with separatists and it's time for the Tories (we're looking at you Pierre Poilievre) to let this one go.
Instead of answering questions about allegations of misleading robocalls during the 2011 election, the Tories generally pivot and remind people the Liberals are the only party that has actually been found guilty of phone-call shenanigans. While this is true, it doesn't erase the fact that Elections Canada's investigation seems to have a fair bit to do with the CPC. Canadians deserve to know what really happened on election day, but the Tories seem content to remind us of their rival's misdeeds. Let's hope all that ends in 2013.
No answer regarding the now-scuttled acquisition of the F-35 is complete without reminding the audience that no money has been spent on the purchase. Well, as long as you don't count all the cash spent on the flashy press conference in 2010 when Peter MacKay got to sit in the cockpit right? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say plenty of money has been spent trying to replace Canada's ageing CF-18s, it's just that none of it has actually been on new planes? The Tories aren't fooling anyone here. It's time to admit mistakes were made.
Concerned about a housing bubble? Worried about Canada's shift toward a more resource-based economy? Put those fears to rest, things are much worse everywhere else. At least, that's what the Tories keep telling us. But are they really? Two problems: 1. Were the Tories responsible for the relative stability of Canada's banking system after the crash? Not so much. The IMF has credited regulations introduced by former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin in the 1990s. 2. Things are now better in the U.S., at least in terms of GDP growth, than they are here. The U.S.'s GDP grew nearly 5 times faster than Canada's in the third quarter of 2012. It's time for the Tories to admit that while Canada weathered the economic crisis well, the country now faces new problems that will require new solutions and not more tired talking points.
Even though the NDP has never proposed a carbon tax, the Tories continue to hammer this talking point home every chance they get. Got a question about the F-35? Remind them about the carbon tax. Allegations of misleading robocalls? Did we tell you about the carbon tax? The phrase has become such a predictable refrain that it has inspired one of the most dangerous drinking games in Ottawa's history. Let's hope this one evaporates in 2013.
Follow Vincent Gogolek on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BCFIPA