Op-Ed in Spectator
When CSIS comes knocking in Hamilton
The message is ‘We know what you’re doing and we're watching you
I never dreamt that having an op-ed piece published in The Spectator would contribute to two CSIS agents knocking on my front door.
I have travelled quite a bit recently in the Mideast and have written and spoken on these visits extensively on TV. In October 2011, I visited Iran to attend a conference on Palestine. On January 11, 2012, The Spec published a piece by me entitled, “Harper is wrong in demonizing Iran: U.S. is a greater security threat than peaceful Mideast country.”
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service agents appeared at my door last month, on Jan 25. They said they knew I’d visited Iran and written about it in The Hamilton Spectator. They wanted to know about my relationship with Iran’s government.
I told them my views on Iran were public, asked for their cards, politely declined to comment further, and closed the door. Later, I received a call from Zafar Bangash, imam of the York Region Islamic Society, inviting me to an event about Kashmir.
I told Imam Bangash about my CSIS visitors. He remarked: “CSIS agents visited me, too. They were on a fishing expedition, looking for informers. But, whatever explicit message they deliver, the underlying message is: ‘We know what you’re doing and we’re watching you.’ In other words, intimidation. I hope you didn’t speak with them.”
I assured the imam I’d followed the advice in a pamphlet, “If CSIS Comes Knocking,” by the People’s Commission Network, based in Montreal. Its preamble states, “Since the fall of 2009, there have been ongoing visits by members of CSIS to various local social justice organizers and activists. These visits are in addition to CSIS’ ongoing harassment of targeted communities.”
As advised, I called the Commission to report the visit. I noted from its website that it was dangerous to talk or even listen to CSIS because it played a nefarious and incompetent role in Canadian security matters. It referred specifically to security certificates CSIS prepared against five Arab and Muslim new Canadians, which documents have unjustly resulted in a decade of imprisonment and/or harassment for each. CSIS was also found complicit by a royal commission in the illegal rendition by the U.S. government of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, to Syria. Investigations of CSIS complicity in the illegal rendition of other Canadians are pending. Child soldier Omar Khadr was tortured in Guantanamo Bay partly on CSIS’ instigation. CSIS even spied on postal union leaders during a 1991 strike.
After several scandals tarnished the RCMP’s reputation in security and intelligence matters, CSIS was created in 1984, following the recommendations of the McDonald Commission. Its mandate is “to protect Canada’s national security interests and the safety of Canadians.”
Sid Lacombe, of the Canadian Peace Alliance, feels that CSIS abused that mandate. He related to me “numerous examples of people involved in peace and international solidarity movements being approached by CSIS or other intelligence services. We’ve reports of Canadian immigrants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Sri Lanka and of native-born peace activists who get unexpected visits from CSIS agents simply because they choose to organize demonstrations or to speak out against the actions of the Canadian government. This targeting puts a chill on organizing. Many have left the movement out of fear of potential government reprisals.”
Another colleague, Ehab Lotayef of Gaza’s Ark, a project to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, suffered two home visits by CSIS. “That type of visit is to intimidate us from going to Gaza,” he said.
I urge others who may receive unwelcome CSIS visits to heed the advice of the People’s Commission. Neither listen nor talk to CSIS. Register a complaint with your member of parliament. My MP, Chris Charlton, was kind enough to refer me to the New Democratic Party’s public safety critic, MP Randall Garrison.
Although CSIS has no arrest powers, anything you say may be used against you or anyone you speak about. Instead, use your Charter rights of freedom of expression and association to influence the political direction of our country. If we are afraid to use our rights, we shall surely lose them.
Ken Stone is treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War and a longtime resident of Hamilton.