Monday, February 04, 2008

Conservative Deception About Security Certificates

In light of a Parliamentary vote scheduled for this evening on Bill C-3, reauthorizing the security certificate process ruled unconstitutional last year by the Supreme Court and amended only in superficial ways, the Conservartives released a statement. This statement is sickening, but revealing in its own way if read in the right light.

I have a feeling this will be a document that will find its way into future discourse analysis by anti-racist scholars looking at the trajectory of relations of white supremacy in Canada, but in the meantime I'll do my quick-and-dirty best to interpret what it is actually saying. Here is the media release interspersed with my comments:

Putting the Safety of Canadians First
February 04, 2008 starts in the title. This title reveals the hierarchy implicit in the mainstream understanding of the word "Canadians." It fairly openly reveals a kind of vicious nationalism by which the human rights of those formally excluded from the category can be trod upon at will -- "Canadians First" and no due process for you if you don't have the piece of paper.

It also reveals who is functionally excluded from "Canadians" even when formally included. Security certificates have functioned in the real world as one component of campaigns of harassment and exclusion by the state of certain racialized communities (comprised largely of people with citizenship) and many enterprising white citizens take it upon themselves to follow the lead of the state and inflict everyday forms of indignity and harassment upon people racialized in those ways. The safety of people treated in this way is most definitely not being put "First", which by the construction in the phrase above implies they aren't really "Canadians." So whiteness is again kept front and centre in what it means to really be a part of the nation.

Today people and goods are able to travel across borders more freely than ever before.

This sentence goes one step further and expels racialized people from humanity. The usage of "people" in this sentence is only fully accurate if you consider only well-off white people with citizenship in rich countries. People who are racialized, particularly those read as South Asian, West Asian, and/or Muslim in recent years, are not "able to travel across borders more freely than ever before." Far from it, in fact. Certainly more racialized people are migrating to white-dominated countries, but that has to do with compulsion of necessity for the migrants and requirements for ongoing capital accumulation in the destination countries. The actual act of crossing borders is becoming less and less free for people from the Global South.

With this increased travel, however, comes the serious risk of terrorism, organized crime and other security risks.

And isn't this just a delightful sentence. It tells us that the "risk of terrorism" is caused by...wait for it..."increased travel." This engages in all sorts of sleight of hand that is standard in dominant usage. It erases the much larger acts of terror engaged in by states, particularly Western states, and focuses attention on small scale 'retail' terror as the sum total of "terrorism." It erases any possibility of actually trying to understand the material basis for even the 'retail' version of "terrorism". And by making the only named cause "increased travel" it invokes racist code which only makes sense if it is understood that the problem is increased presence of brown bodies in Canada -- if the "increased travel" was exclusively rich white British businessmen, for example, this sentence would not scan. But because it can invoke the already existing ideas of danger in the white imagination from the presence of increasing numbers of racialized people in Canada, it has meaning.

Terrorist attacks in the United States, Spain, United Kingdom and elsewhere are a sobering reminder that Canadians cannot take their safety for granted.

Very true. Which is why we need to begin talking about why the retail version of terrorism happens and begin to address it by working to end the injustices that make it possible -- end the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine and work towards just and liberatory relations of production at a global level, for instance.

Authorities in Toronto have already broken up one alleged terrorist cell,

Authorities in Toronto have yet to demonstrate that any of these people is guilty of anything. But in the meantime, it is useful that they did it becaues it allows the Conservatives to write lines like this in their media releases. (The existing link between the ways in which Muslims get racialized and ideas of danger and violence in the white imagination helps this line have the desired effect in the absence of any evidence that the arrested men actually did anything.)

and Canada’s law-enforcement and security agencies work hard every day to ensure Canadians remain safe.

Again, this highlites the fact that "Canada" and "Canadians" are presumed to be white. Certainly the racialized communities that have faced heightened harassment from "security agencies" in Canada since 9/11 don't experience this "work" as being about making sure they "remain safe." And the indigenous and African people who have experienced racial profiling in Canada since settler law was imposed with colonization and Africans first brought here as slaves, and who still experience racial profiling in Canada at the hands of the cops and the legal system more broadly, certainly don't experience this "work" by "law-enforcement...agencies" as being mainly about ensuring they "remain safe."

One powerful tool that the Canadian Government uses to protect innocent families is through the use of security certificates.

Though it has never been publically demonstrated in a court of law, the families of the racialized Muslim men currently detained under security certificates and the families in the communities harassed by the processes of which security certificates are a part -- that is, families that are the opposite of protected by these things -- are summarily excluded from the possibility of being seen as "innocent." Again, its hard to see any explanation for that rhetorical exclusion than the fact that they are racialized.

These certificates allow the government to quickly act when a foreign national is a suspected security risk, guilty of human rights violations, or a participant in organized crime. When signed, a security certificate authorizes the government to apprehend and, potentially, deport that person.

A very deceptive emphasis on hasty outcomes and on real threats. This just is not how the relations created by this legislation function in the real world. In real life, these men have languished under detention for years, and despite all of that time the government has refused to demonstrate any actual evidence of criminal behaviour or serious threat.

A past court decision ruled that the older security certificate system needed to be fixed. Under the new rules brought forward by the Conservative Government, these issues are now addressed

A blatant lie.

and this vital, last resort tool to protect public safety can continue to be used.

See above about who gets completely written out of the assumed "we" defined by this use of "public safety." As well, because they have never shown that any of the detained men have actually done anything illegal, how can they argue that this is "vital"?

Security certificates are only used in the most serious of cases,

Again, this has never been shown -- there have been allegations and there is supposedly secret evidence, but if these cases are so serious, let's make things public and deal with them.

and can never be used against Canadian citizens.

That is, they are fine with trampling the basic due process rights of non-citizens.

With the new legislation, people named in security certificates will still have legal recourse.

But not any that actually meets basic standards for due process.

Most importantly, the new security certificate process will continue to put the safety of Canadian families and communities first.

See again how this depends upon and reinscribes whiteness at the heart of dominant usages of "Canadian".

This is an important new law that deserves a quick decision from Parliament.

This is an important new law that we really don't want to have to talk about any more than necessary, because it seems a lot of people out there don't like it. So to minimize the chances for dissent, we're going to ram it through as soon as we can.

In the past, the St├ęphane Dion Liberals have played politics with safe-community legislation. The Conservative Government hopes all parties will work together to ensure the government has the tools it needs to give all Canadians the safer communities they deserve.

If Dion doesn't do as we say, we will use this as an opportunity to attack his masculinity based on racist ideas about what a "real man" does, as outlined above. And see above again about who counts as "Canadians".

So there you go. I'm sure if I took some time, I could do a more nuanced job and wratchet up my sarcasm to unprecedented heights, but I have other things to do. And before any hacks for other parties get all satisfied from this, most of this kind of rhetoric is hardly specific to the Conservatives.


Scott Neigh said...

(And just to clarify...the vote that happened this evening was not third reading, but was apparently around an NDP motion to delete the bill and around something called 'report stage'. Third reading is coming soon.)

Polly Jones said...

Good post. I know you reviewed Sharma's 'Home Economics' on here recently.

Did I post this link?

thwap said...

what nauseating tripe that press release was.