The RCMP's admission that it spies on our cellphones is long overdue, but leaves important questions unanswered
Finally. After years of obfuscation, the RCMP have admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians' cellphones. The admission came early last month, seemingly prompted by revelations from CBC News that Stingray devices had been in use in downtown Ottawa, and at the international airport in Montréal.
In those instances, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a strong denial that Canadian agencies, such as the RCMP or CSIS, were involved, but the controversy brought a great deal of public attention to the RCMP's own use of Stingray devices.
Stingrays are deeply problematic for a number of reasons. About the size of a small suitcase, they operate by mimicking a wireless tower, tricking all cellphones within a radius of up to 2 kilometres into switching their connection to the Stingray. Once that connection is made, instead of targeting just a single device, Stingrays indiscriminately vacuum up sensitive personal information from all devices within range.
This means that Stingrays are essentially a tool of mass surveillance. There's no need to be a target of a police investigation to have the security of your private information compromised -- you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you consider just how many cellphones are located within a 2-kilometre radius of, say, a downtown Toronto intersection, that gives some indication of just how many Canadians have likely been impacted.
Secondly, Stingrays are capable of collecting information on everything from your location to details of every call, email and text you make. They are even capable of listening in and recording the content of cellphone calls. Nor should we be reassured by the RCMP's statement that they only use Stingrays to collect location and device identification metadata -- as Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out, "Metadata includes location information. That is intimately personal. The fact that they only collect metadata doesn't let them off the hook."
For those of us working in the field of digital privacy, the RCMP's belated admission that it has deployed Stingrays dozens of times in recent years did not exactly come as a surprise -- especially after Motherboard and VICE News obtained over 3,000 pages of court documents revealing how the devices were being used, and how few safeguards were involved. Despite media reports such as this, the RCMP has clearly spent years trying to hide its use of Stingrays from the Canadian public, even dropping serious criminal charges to avoid revealing this information.
Hopefully, the RCMP's long overdue statement will finally prompt the informed democratic debate Canadians deserve about whether the use of these surveillance devices can ever be justified and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect the privacy of the law-abiding public.
Unfortunately, the RCMP left many important questions unanswered. Why not tell us how many innocent Canadians have had their private information compromised over the past 10 years? Or let us know whether Stingrays have ever been used to monitor a political protest? And why did the RCMP wait until just a few weeks ago before applying for permission from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to use the devices?
Last but far from least, the fact that the use of Stingrays can apparently be authorized based merely on suspicion of wrongdoing is hugely worrying -- surely a much higher standard of evidence should be required, given the serious privacy implications for the general public?
It's clear we deserve answers to all these questions from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Canadians should keep up the pressure on the government by supporting our 48,000-strong campaign at StopStingrays.org
David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.Digital Freedom Updatedigital privacyStingrayselectronic surveillancecellphonesRCMPDavid ChristopherDigital Freedom UpdateMay 3, 2017What the heck is a Stingray? And what does it have to do with my privacy? A growing concern in the privacy world, the surveillance device nicknamed a "Stingray" is an invasive technology that threatens to undermine the privacy of anyone with a cell phone.Vancouver police won't say if they can spy on cellphonesThe Vancouver police refuses to confirm or deny that they have the StingRay, a surveillance device that mimics a cellphone tower to gain access to all cellphones in the area. New report reveals potential extent of invasive Stingray phone surveillance in CanadaWe're calling on Public Safety Minister Goodale to address this blatant violation of Canadians' Charter rights in the government
I had an ominous exchange on my way to a presentation in the German capital by Tom Pitfield, the digital mastermind behind Justin Trudeau's success -- as billed by Factory Berlin, a high-tech campus of startups and freelancers.
Picking up a snack at a store nearby, the French clerk shook his head when I asked him about his country's presidential election: "What do you think?" he posed back to me. "It's bad, yes. I believe Le Pen will win."
Why? I queried. "It's just before a Monday bank holiday in France, some people will be away and won't vote [and] others don't want to vote anyways." He was resigned.
The French runoff presidential vote is now between the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the "newbie" Emmanuel Macron, who's only 39 and has been compared to Trudeau. Macron is seen as a political outsider but is a former investment banker who graduated from the prestigious, elite École nationale d'administration (ENA).
"It's true, the French media have made the same comparisons," Charline Merieau told rabble.ca. "But they don't have the same ideas or the same problems [to tackle]."
The 25-year-old from the Vendée region pointed out that Macron's use of Twitter and his email newsletters are ways for the En Marche leader to explain his platform -- not so much for images of doing yoga or being in the outdoors like Trudeau.
"Macron isn't looking for interaction with the public the way Trudeau did. He's more about his message," said Merieau, who works for a fashion retailer.
I realized after the night was through -- our world really is about contained spaces: physical, mental and digital. The talk was in a high-tech hub. We all exist in cosseted worlds.
Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign. He also dropped that he had been in Europe "helping political campaigns in three countries" and was alarmed by the rise of fascist and populist movements -- all using the same tactics on social media.
"I am scared," he revealed. "We do live in echo chambers -- it's not hard. It's how those computer algorithms work."
Calling Trudeau a "Jedi" (i.e. showing a single-minded focus), Pitfield was recruited ahead of time to slowly build the PM's image. The team first identified 40 swing ridings and eventually won 39 of those. Impressive. And how was this done?
Pitfield -- who heads the progressive think-tank Canada 2020 -- and his team used social media to gather information about those voters on Facebook or on their website, realchange.ca, to find out what issues resonated with them the most and then spoke to those issues: environment, jobs, education, economy and immigration.
"You need to engage, have legitimate conversations," emphasized Pitfield. "With explicit consent, we gathered people's personal information [required by Canadian law]…then, we would have honest conversations with them. This helped us immensely."
His team spent two years getting people to "change their minds."
They found out: who to target, what content they liked, how to reach them (i.e. which social media they used and in what form) and most vitally, what would motivate them to vote for Trudeau.
Merieau, who is pro-Macron, said her candidate is using data in a different way. Macron is using information about where his support is weak to get his campaigners out door-to-door and not relying on social media per se to do the persuading.
"We never use this face-to-face stuff in France but that's what Macron is doing."
Countering the echo chamber
Sitting in the audience was the British founder and editor of The Echo Chamber Club -- a weekly newsletter seeking to counter "the opinions of liberal metropolitans."
"Everyone loves him, don't they?" Alice Thwaite stated to me about Trudeau. "He's so good-looking and says all the right things. It's just like Trump really."
Thwaite, 27, is disturbed by the use of advertising tactics which she says is causing a deterioration in politics. Specifically "A/B" testing on campaign messages -- i.e. identifying what headlines would be the most attractive to the public.
"It's how Hilary Clinton's campaign was ruined," she explained. "They used the message 'Vote for me because I'm a woman' and thought that would work. In the end, she sounded so scripted."
According to Thwaite this kind of A/B advertising tactic is about seizing our "monkey brains." A/B methods are about click-through rates, not about actual policy.
"In the American election people were getting farther apart," she said. "They were being told to shut up and what happens? Things go underground…that's what you do, create an enemy and force people into their tribes. It works in digital marketing as well."
Thwaite said last year, she predicted the odds were much greater for Brexit and for a Trump win: "I won a lot of bets."
Whatever the reality, she remains positive: "This is better than it was in [the early 2000s]. People aren't so apathetic anymore. They know they can't coast along. They have to act."
Perhaps, the turning of the tide is happening in Germany where the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has seen its popularity dwindle from rates at 15 per cent last year to about seven to 10 per cent in recent polls. Its leader also recently stepped down amid infighting in the movement.
Who's rising? Martin Schulz, a former head of the European Parliament and now leader of the leftist Social Democratic (SPD) party. Schulz, a bookish man in his 50s, is the opposite of Trudeau. He's not telegenic and doesn't use social media much, but he's now considered a serious contender against "Mutti" -- Mother Merkel as she's called. His party is now neck and neck with Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
"He speaks about issues," said Artur Lebedev, a southern German who now lives in Berlin. "He speaks like a normal person and in this way, he is sort of like Trudeau -- the authenticity part."
Lebedev said Merkel seemed wooden in contrast, but then, that's her appeal: "Speaking spontaneously is fine sometimes but also, for me, you might think this politician could be fickle, change their mind once they are in power."
A replay of 2002
Back to France, Sylvan Varlet, a business manager with a video game company, looks to the past.
"It's like 2002 all over again when it was between Jacques Chirac and the father of Marine -- Jean-Marie Le Pen. Everyone had to get behind Chirac and he won by 82 per cent," said Varlet, who also admits Macron has some Trudeau characteristics -- such as the "honest broker" bit.
"[Macron] is really friendly and focused on people as well," said Varlet, originally from the Lyon region.
"I think this time though, Macron might win with about 60 to 70 per cent of the vote, it won't be as high," said the 27-year-old who plans to vote for Macron.
Merieau thinks it might be close: "Compared to 2002, Marine has worked to make the Front Nationale more modern and she has succeeded. There are less people against her."
She fears supporters of the other candidates who "lost" won't vote: "My brother was a supporter of [leftist] Melanchon. He doesn't know how to vote on May 7. Every day I send him reasons to vote for Macron."
Near the end of the session, a Montrealer proclaimed that he'd been living in Berlin for 10 years and he fought to vote in Canada's 2015 election: "I honoured my German roots and flew back to Montreal to vote for Trudeau because I know you have to fight fascists."
June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes for rabble.ca.
John Stuart Mill was esteemed as a political economist and philosopher of liberalism. He was also a British MP with a sharp tongue. "I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative," he noted in parliamentary debate May 31, 1866.
In Mill's day, having opposed the abolition of slavery and the expansion of the electorate, the British Conservative Party was also known as the stupid party.
Recently it lived up to its old moniker by provoking a vote on membership in the European Union and then losing it -- the unnecessary referendum being called for the domestic purpose of blocking the advance of the United Kingdom Independence Party.
In an analysis of the current predicament facing the United States of America, Republican adviser Max Boot observed in the New York Times that the American Republican Party has acquired the title of the stupid party.
First it got stupid, then it got Trump.
As Edmund Fawcett, author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, has pointed out, the post-Reagan conservative Republicans were dominated by the religious right and the anti-government fundamentalists, and became unable to face facts and recognize change.
Since 1867 Canadian Conservatives have been pragmatic, following the injunction that a country must have the means to change in order to conserve itself and protect its future.
The Canadian Conservative Party was built on strong institutions. The Anglican Church and its allied Colleges, the military, law, banking and large retail business provided the organizational resources Conservatives could rely on to form government and make policy.
Governing during the 1930s Depression the Conservatives were led by the wealthy and well-connected R.B. Bennett. Though he created the Bank of Canada, the CBC and Canadian National Railways (out of bankrupt endeavours), Bennett found no way to alleviate the plight of farmers, the destitute and the growing out-of-work class.
During the Second World War to demonstrate their willingness to attend to the well-being of their fellow citizens, the Conservatives renamed themselves the Progressive Conservatives.
PC leaders such as Robert Stanfield (1967-76) and Joe Clark (1976-83) had little time for ideology. Their tenures as party leaders were marked by their civility and concern for Canada.
The current Conservative Party of Canada bears less and less resemblance to its forbears.
An important break occurred with the election of Brian Mulroney as leader of the then Progressive Conservatives in 1983. He understood that without support in Quebec, the Conservatives were destined regularly to finish behind the Liberals in the country.
However, Mulroney consented to continental economic integration with the United States (billed as "free" trade), which gave already dominant American corporate interests an expanded role in Canadian political life, while limiting the constitutional control of public affairs by Parliament and provincial legislatures.
Eventually, hugely unpopular, in 1993 Mulroney resigned, leaving his party with no means of securing public support.
The obliteration of the Progressive Conservatives -- who were reduced to two seats in the 1993 general election -- set the stage for the re-invention of the Canadian Conservatives, first as the Preston Manning Reform Party (a "faux" populist movement), then as the fake Canadian Alliance, and ultimately as the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), a personal vehicle for the ambitions of Stephen Harper.
The definition of stupid given by economic historian Carlo Cipolla in his work The Basic Laws of Stupidity is an entity that does damage to others while also damaging itself.
With the withdrawal of Kevin O'Leary from the Conservative leadership race -- or O'Lexit -- the CPC avoids doing damage to itself. The question remains, can they make a choice that, unlike the Harper-led party, does not promise damage to others?
The current CPC leadership contest has seen the party grow to just short of 260,000 members. Voting is underway to select one of 13 undistinguished candidates, with Quebec MP and former minister Maxime Bernier holding a temporary lead.
Bernier brings to the race an extreme version of libertarian economics. He would privatize government services, deregulate commerce and industry, and reduce government. By choosing him, the CPC would have difficulty winning an election, which would reduce its chances of doing damage to Canadians.
An intelligent entity is one that makes things better for others while helping itself. Such is the goal of normal political parties. The only Conservative party candidate who seems to understand this is MP Michael Chong. He is given no chance of winning the leadership.
As a result of the voting process that will be concluded on May 27, it is likely the CPC will find itself with a leader unable to match the able performance of interim leader Rona Ambrose, who was ruled out of the race by virtue of having her colleagues declare she was up to the job, which she has done very well.
It's all part of a scenario that is being played out among conservatives in Britain and the U.S.: aspiring to stupid.
Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.Canadian Conservative PartyStephen HarperBrian MulroneyProgressive ConservativeConservative politics2017 Conservative leadership racepreston manningDuncan CameronMay 2, 2017Liberals follow in Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO Turning Canadian democracy over to the PMO may make it simpler to govern. Watching the Trudeau PMO at work shows it does not improve a government's ability to perform the duties it promised.Conservative leadership race could be decided by dogwhistle politics and wannabe demagoguesJust four of the 14 Conservative leadership candidates could be said to be fit for office. None of them are likely to win, however.13 Conservative leadership candidates show little diversity of opinion in Quebec City debateThe economy, the French language and terrorism were the winners of last night's Conservative Party debate.
Back in the days Sandra Jansen was one of the few Progressive Conservatives to have survived the debacle of the May 5, 2015, provincial election, the Calgary-North West MLA was savaged by the right-wing rage machine for daring to express support for Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo in the October 2015 federal election.
You just don't publicly support a Liberal if you're a Tory in Alberta, she learned, not if you want to avoid a vicious public hazing.
It's been said it wasn't any better behind the closed doors of the PC Caucus where, Alberta political legend has it, interim Leader Ric McIver excoriated her like a schoolgirl in front of her fellow Tory MLAs, demanding that she not even indicate she was stumping for a couple of federal Grits.
Alas for McIver, the former broadcaster is said to have given it back as good as she got it in a caucus session described as profane and angry -- and which may have marked the day the PC members in the Legislature pretty much stopped working as a team.
So isn't it funny how there's been nary a peep of protest from the Usual Suspects on the Alberta Right about newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney's foray into British Columbia politics where, of all things, he was overheard stumping at a federal Conservative clambake in a chichi Vancouver restaurant for B.C. Premier Christy Clark -- who is, of course, a Liberal.
Not just a Liberal either, but one that dares to set conditions on Alberta's all-party plans for more pipelines to the West Coast.
It would seem that in Alberta conservative circles, what's sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander, especially if the gander is the fellow the big money boys in Calgary have chosen to lead Alberta's Conservatives back to the promised land of power.
That certainly wasn't going to be Jansen, who got another lesson in how things really work in Alberta conservative circles when she ran for the PC Party's leadership as a candidate who put the progressive back in Progressive Conservative.
She was soon hounded from the race by Kenney supporters -- the topic of her support for Liberal federal candidates came up again, bien sur! -- and today sits as a New Democrat MLA in Premier Rachel Notley's government.
This week includes anniversaries of Fort Mac Fire and NDP victory
Two important anniversaries in recent Alberta history will occur this week -- and there's always the possibility of another event of historical significance.
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the day the devastating Fort McMurray Fire swept into the northern oilsands city and began destroying houses -- a disaster that eventually saw virtually the entire population of the city of 90,000 forced to leave and destroyed about 2,400 structures, roughly 15 per cent of the city's housing.
Friday marks the second anniversary of the general election that brought the NDP to power under Premier Notley, an astonishing development in a place the prevailing narrative had always insisted was Canada's most-conservative province. Alberta's conservatives, who had run the place for most of the previous 80 years and had apparently concluded they ruled by divine right, have been in a state of sustained and inconsolable fury ever since.
The possible event of historical significance mooted above, is a public gesture symbolizing if not quite delivering union of the province's two principal conservative political parties -- the PCs under Kenney and the Wildrose Party under Opposition Leader Brian Jean -- that Kenney was reportedly dropping broad hints about in Vancouver last weekend.
Not all PCs and Wildrosers may be enthusiastic just yet about the union of their parties’ legislative caucuses, especially if Kenney is in the lead. But there's been a fairly constant buzz for a few days that something may be cooking, possibly along the lines of some sort of mass shift by four or five Wildrosers and/or a similar number of PC MLAs in the Legislature.
Certainly, sooner or later, Kenney is going to want to engineer a grand gesture to demonstrate not only that the right is uniting, but that he's in charge of the union -- an impression Jean, presumably, would very much like to avoid.
Dumpster fire continues to blaze at Edmonton Catholic Schools
Speaking of fires, the dumpster fire that is Edmonton Catholic Schools continued to rage yesterday with the public firing of a trustee as vice-chair and a knuckle-rap for another who dared suggest something was wrong with refusing to let students who have completed their required credits attend a graduation ceremony if they haven't also finished their religion classes.
The Catholic board canned Marilyn Bergstra as vice chair, and rapped Patricia Grell on the knuckles, metaphorically speaking, for "blatant disrespect" and lacking Catholic values. Neither were told in advance what was coming.
Students who opt out of religion classes but complete their required Alberta Education curriculum can receive their diplomas in the mail, thank you very much. Catholic schools all over Alberta, however, continue to court non-Catholic students and the generous per-student grants that come with them.
Bergstra told the CBC she thought she was also in trouble with the majority on the board for calling for medically accurate sex-education and showing sympathy for LGBTQ students.
If this all seems rather unchristian, the constitutional right of Alberta's Catholics to run their own school system is unquestioned. However, if a recent court decision in Saskatchewan is anything to go by, that provincial system's right to expect public funding for non-Catholic students is not nearly as clear.
Faced with a court ruling saying such funding is unconstitutional in his province, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall came up with a plan yesterday to ignore the courts by using use Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the notorious "Notwithstanding Clause."
It will be very interesting to see how this shakes out. If past experience in Alberta during Ralph Klein's premiership is an indicator, the Saskatchewan Premier's Office might want to hire some thick-skinned temps to man the telephones for the rest of the week.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Barbara Byers retires as secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) this year after three years in the role. This comes after a career in union activism that began in 1979 when she was a social worker in Saskatchewan. In 1984, Byers was elected president of what is now the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, the first woman president of a provincial government employees' union. She was president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour from 1988 to 2002 before moving to the CLC.
To celebrate May Day, rabble wanted to focus on the accomplishments of women in the workplace. Byers spoke to rabble about how she got started in the union movement, struggles she and other women have faced and what she'd like to see happen in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What first got you involved in unions?
I got involved by accident. I discovered that many of the things the union could do were also things that I was fighting for as a social worker... The union became a vehicle to also do that.
You were the first female president of a provincial government employees' union. What was people's response?
I don't remember a lot of pushback about me being a woman, more me being evaluated on my skills. I don't remember a lot of that, but I certainly know that it was there for some people in all of the positions I've run for, and it continues to be there for women. We've made huge strides, but women's voices are still heard differently. They are still not as valued as they need to be.
Can you givesome examples of ways that women's voices are still heard differently today?
The labour movement is not unlike society generally that when a woman speaks in a meeting, she's not necessarily listened to. If she offers ideas, and a man comes along later and offers the same idea, just in different words, oftentimes he doesn't acknowledge that his idea is building on hers, … Some of the raw sexism that was [present] in my early years is not there; some of it may have gone underground a bit. We should never take away from the incredible work and the incredible advancements that have been made in the last 30 years I've been involved. There have been incredible advances for women. And there have been incredible advances for equity-seeking groups. That doesn't mean that the job is finished yet.
What improvements have you seen?
Statements against harassment started out as statements against sexism. It was considered quite revolutionary in the mid-1980s. … It's almost now part of meeting agendas, so people don't realize there's an actual history there. The number of women in leadership roles has expanded in huge ways. We're not 50-50 yet, but we're very much making advancements.Advancements from women in equity-seeking groups have come along very quickly as well … Cumulatively this movement is a lot different than it was when I started out.
Why is it important to have women in positions of visible leadership?
We need to have women's voices there. Women have a different leadership style. They have a different way of doing things as long as they don't fall into the trap of doing things the way the male leadership has done ... forever. … We do tend to be more collaborative. We can get pretty tough, and we have to be ready to take on a lot of tough issues with governments, with employers and inside our own organizations. One of the things I have used as a bit of a motto is, "Never confuse decency with weakness." Women leaders are strong, they're smart, they're strategic. They have incredible spirit and strength and solidarity and we only get better when all of those skills and attributes are used.
Do you think it should be 50-50 (women's representation in leadership roles)?
I think that would be the goal.
People have said, "Is there major pieces of unfinished business that you're looking back over the 30 years?" In small ways I wanted to make the labour movement … more flexible and family-friendly, life-friendly, but I didn't do the systematic change that needed to be done in terms of the structural change that needed to happen.
Do you have any accomplishments that really stand out to you?
Making sure women's voices were heard, making sure that when one of us went through a door, if I can put it that way, we left the door open for those that are coming behind.
What are the struggles that women need to take on today?
There's still the question of women's voices being heard and respected…and ensuring that the labour movement in general is "life-friendly." You can be an activist, you can be true to the union movement, and you don't have to hand over your life to the movement.
Are there any women throughout history that you've turned to for inspiration?
Every woman I've come into contact with I've learned something from … That's the strength and the beauty of women and feminists and the trade labour movement is that we hear each other and we learn from each other, and we honour that. I certainly do.
What would you say to the young aspiring women activists who are coming up?
Never be afraid to question, but always have sisters around you that can help you with support if you don't get the response that you need. Have that group of women around you that's from diverse communities … Don't give up. Women who went before us didn't give up on equal pay for equal work and then the ones that came after them didn't give up on equal pay for similar work. Women for many, many years are still fighting for equal pay for equal value. That's not one that we're going to give up on, because we're fighting for gender-wage justice.
Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.
Photo: UN Women/flickr