Opinion

OPINION: Are even the tiniest of Chilliwack protests now on government radar?

An edict from Ottawa to all federal departments means the government may be tracking even the smallest of demonstrations or protests across the country. - Paul J. Henderson
An edict from Ottawa to all federal departments means the government may be tracking even the smallest of demonstrations or protests across the country.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

The protest in January in front of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl’s office was small and, frankly, a little confusing.

Commuters speeding by in vehicles on Vedder would be forgiven for not being able to read the homemade signs and realize what the protest was about.

I wasn’t entirely sure either.

“Restore EI medical benefits,” read one sign.

“Chuck Strahl—Consultant to Enbridge and Federal SIRC Chair— Conflict of Interest,” read another.

“Harper Environmental Terrorist,” read one man’s T-shirt.

“Stop the silence of the labs,” was on another sign.

“Chuck is watching you . . . who’s watching Chuck?” read yet one more.

A rally with fewer than 10 individuals with mixed messages in front of a backbencher’s office in one of the smallest cities in the Lower Mainland.

Inconsequential?

Maybe, but certainly not for those involved.

Invisible?

Mostly . . . but not anymore.

If that protest were to be organized tomorrow, a new directive from the federal government means protests, rallies, even bake sales of a certain kind are to be monitored by Ottawa.

“The Government Operations Centre is seeking your assistance in compiling a comprehensive listing of all known demonstrations which will occur either in your geographical area or that may touch on your mandate,” said an email, leaked to the Ottawa Citizen, sent out earlier this month by the Government Operations Centre in Ottawa to all federal departments.

“We will compile this information and make this information available to our partners unless of course, this information is not to be shared and not available on open sources. In the case of the latter, this information will only be used by the GOC for our Situational Awareness.”

Never heard of the GOC?

According to the Citizen article, the GOC “is supposed to provide strategic-level co-ordination on behalf of the federal government ‘in response to an emerging or occurring event affecting the national interest.’”

At least one intelligence expert thinks the GOC order goes well beyond its mandate, and it’s illegal.

Not surprisingly, opposition parties are critical of the move, to the point of hyperbole.

Liberal MP and public safety critic Wayne Easter said the order speaks to what we are seeing more and more of from the Conservative government: If you disagree with policy, they are watching you.

“Demonstrations, as long as they are peaceful, are part of a healthy democracy,” Easter told the Citizen. “This is the kind of tactics you would see in a dictatorship.”

This is the type of story that I’m surprised hasn’t had conspiracy theorists shrieking in the streets. Or at least civil libertarians.

There is likely no need to be concerned about any of this.

If it’s true the Conservatives are increasingly turning their eyes on citizens who protest and opposed government policy, it is also true that the Conservatives are so fiscally tight that cuts to virtually all departments mean it’s unlikely members of the WaterWealth Project in Chilliwack, for example, should be worried their phones are to be tapped.

There aren’t enough employees left in the federal government to read, much less worry about, all the emails being exchanged between activists.

It’s not a big deal, I suppose, that the federal government is gathering information on events as small as an Aboriginal healing dance in Kenora, Ont., a prayer ceremony in Edmonton, and an Idle No More taco fundraiser at the Native Friendship Centre in Barrie, Ont.

But it sure is creepy.

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