Cindy Blackstock : June 21, 2014
Earlier this month Canadians joined with the international community to honour the sacrifice made by Second World War veterans to preserve our freedom. At the same time, headlines in Canadian newspapers warned of government surveillance of citizens engaged in peaceful protests. It made me wonder — why would we allow our own government to trample on the freedoms that many Canadians died protecting?
Until it happened to me I thought domestic government surveillance could only be carried out with a warrant. In my case there was no warrant and yet in 2011, I received hundreds of pages of government documents revealing that 189 federal government officials from the departments of Justice and Aboriginal Affairs were routinely spying on my personal Facebook page, collecting information about my family, friends and me, and distributing it to other government officials.
They even collected Facebook addresses of other users and circulated postings made by children, without the consent of their parents. My domestic and international movements were monitored and my personal and private government records were accessed. Government email correspondence suggested the surveillance was undertaken to try to prove I had “other motives” for filing a historic human rights case in 2007 alleging the federal government’s provision of First Nations child welfare was discriminatory.
I was stunned and afraid — it felt like I was being stalked. I remember thinking this cannot possibly be legal, but I had no idea where to file a report about the Canadian departments of Justice and Aboriginal Affairs, and what would happen to me and the people I cared about if I did report it?
Amidst the fear and confusion I thought that if this was happening to me — a law-abiding social worker who does not even have a parking ticket — then how many other Canadians are subject to government surveillance and what does it mean for our freedom? In fact I had good reason to believe others were affected, as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs had a form for bureaucrats to access restricted websites.
As a taxpayer I was equally appalled — why was the government wasting all this money following me around while cutting services to Canadians? I decided to share the government documents with the media. Some people say I was courageous but I was simply less afraid of standing up for freedom than of living without it.
The privacy commissioner found the federal government’s access of my personal Facebook page violated the Privacy Act and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is currently deliberating on whether the government’s conduct amounts to retaliation under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Meanwhile, three United Nations Special Rapporteurs are conducting an inquiry to determine if Canada is meeting its international human rights obligations to respect and protect human rights defenders, freedom of association and Indigenous peoples.
Some say that people with nothing to hide should not be afraid of government surveillance. I believe that governments with nothing to hide should not be spying on citizens without a court order. It should frighten us all when our own government takes away the freedoms that our veterans fought so hard for us to enjoy.
(read the full article at The Star)
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