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A Nation
Under Suspicion

Time to Stop the Tyranny of the Mindless
Under Suspicion2.jpg

Beryl P. Wajsman

28 June 2006

"People under suspicion are better moving than at rest, since at rest they may be sitting in the balance without knowing it, being weighed together with their sins."

~ Franz Kafka

A retired couple, she in her sixties he in his seventies, arrive home after a well earned vacation. He was a textile worker. Never in politics. Never in trouble with the law. File their taxes on time. Do everything right. Wear their seatbelts. Cross only on a green light. What do they find stuck in their door? A citation warning them of a $500 fine and/or three months in jail if they fail to remit a government form. What is this crucial form that the state would incarcerate a couple for not completing? You couldn’t guess it in a thousand years. The census.

Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote that, "All civilized systems of law confer upon man, as against their Governments, the right to be let alone. The most comprehensive of rights and the most valued by civilized men. " Canada seems never to have gotten the memo.

In a nation where nothing works - a health system in chaos; pension plans raped and pillaged; groaning economic disparity; a transport system in disarray — our governments have become information junkies. The essence of a free society is the freedom to choose. To choose not to reveal confidential information to the state. Bureaucrats may tell you that they need all this data to plan. But to plan what? Everything they touch fails.

All levels of government already have centralized mountains of information collected from everything from the medical system to revenue records. The latter used to be protected by privacy rules. Two years ago federal and provincial governments decided to share all revenue info both laterally between departments and vertically with other levels of government. We have become nothing but a nation of snitches. A people living under constant suspicion.

Just last month Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warned in two reports presented to Parliament that the very nature of our democracy is imperiled due to the invasive degree of information-gathering by government. Canada has been named by the United Nations as the most intrusive of privacy rights in the G-7. And not for the first time. For the fifth year in a row.

In place of attacking the real political and distributive problems that afflict us, our elected officials try to distance themselves from the very people who elected them - and the very issues that need correcting but in so doing may disturb powerful vested interests - through informational barricades ranging from the census to lobbying registries (unavailable in English in Quebec) to massive paperwork requirements for the simplest citizen’s request. Politicians run between the raindrops convinced that by shielding themselves from public scrutiny and demands — and conversely putting the public on the defensive through informational dictates — they can make it through to the next election without any controversy.

Well, a day of reckoning is coming. Canadians are getting fed up with being treated like mindless retards. We can no longer afford to tolerate demands from statocratic fiat that limit basic democratic rights to speak our piece to elected officials; to decide what information we will or will not give to governments; to conduct our private morality in our private domains — business or residential -  as we choose. Canada is an Alice-in-Wonderland culture. Black is white. White is black. "Sentence first, trial after," said the Mad Hatter. In this dangerously silly land one can well understand Camus’ statement that there will come a time when, "…merely being human is already being heroic…"

Nobody elected our politicians to commit these torts on the body politic. This wasn’t in any policy "red book". And they well understand that. For in every case mentioned above — and in so many others - elected representatives of the people have abdicated their law-making authority to faceless bureaucrats without restraint of consequence who determine penalty and punishment. We are governed by a political elite of cowards. Prime Minister Harper has promised to change this. It is to be hoped that he succeeds.

For the message and metaphor of this struggle is the same as it was in the era of civil rights. The challenges that state rape pose to us are nothing less than challenges to our fundamental civil liberties. How we respond today will determine the quality of our lives for decades to come. Are we to be masters of our own fates or are statocratic engineers to decide our lives for us? These faceless nightcrawlers claim to know what’s good for us. The truth is they don’t even know what’s good for themselves. And they’ve proven that over and over again.

Whenever a state lacks trust in the people, and seeks domination through suffocating rule and regulation, it has embarked on the road to social fascism. That is where this country, at all levels, is heading. Our response, in what may be the waning dusk of freedom, must be the responsible agitation of civil disobedience. If you want to breathe free; if you want to live free; start being human. It feels good to be heroic. And about that couple that got the notice. Imagine if one of them got a heart attack from thinking all night about fines or imprisonment. Is any information worth that price?

Beryl Wajsman is president of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal; publisher of BARRICADES Magazine; and host of 940AM’s "The Last Angry Man". He can be reached at: info@iapm.ca


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