November 3, 2018 - No. 38

Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act

Extra-Parliamentary Supranational Deliberations Inform Election Law Changes

A feature of the current state of Parliamentary deliberations, in this case on the subject of electoral reforms and the threats to democracy, is that many substantive discussions do not take place in open sessions and those that do have nothing to do with informing the people about the problems at hand. Many committee proceedings are held in camera, as was the case with almost all of the deliberations of the Procedures and House Affairs Committee (PROC) on the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer for changes to the election law. To add insult to injury, those brought in to make presentations to the PROC are not individuals or bodies which represent the people and their interests. They represent supranational interests in the framework of the contention of the big powers and their competing military and economic blocs, in which Canada is positioned as a prop to U.S. imperialist aims.

Even Members of Parliament are woefully uninformed about what is driving legislation, which is being kept close to the chest of the Cabinet and Privy Council and other advisors. For instance, during PROC's meetings on Bill C-76, Ruby Sahota, Liberal MP for Brampton North told its members: "... I've been dying to ask what the government's intentions were behind changing its fundraising rules to not allow candidates or nomination contestants to be present when conducting any kind of fundraising activities."

Many discussions that seem to inform decision-making take place in extra-parliamentary, bilateral and multilateral gatherings with little public media attention. These proceedings are conducted and shared by elite government officials, policy advisors, data-analysts, behavioural scientists, national security and military circles, and financial oligarchs.

The Hansard Reports and proceedings of various Committees, contain discussions and statements about democracy and electoral amendments that are embarrassingly low-level and vacuous, mostly limited to matters such as the use or non-use of Voter Information Cards and the like. They indicate that the real discourse that is informing decisions and the direction of electoral and political reforms is taking place elsewhere.

CSIS "Academic Outreach"

One example is an "Academic Outreach" workshop convened by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in November 2017. It issued a report in February 2018 entitled "Who Said What? The Security Challenges of Modern Disinformation." Its stated purpose was to "examine the strategic impact of disinformation and national security and the integrity of democratic institutions." Notwithstanding the title of the report, the meeting was held on the basis of the Chatham House Rule which prohibits reporting on "who said what."[1] What was revealed is that the workshop was "designed around the knowledge and experience of a multi-disciplinary group of experts from Canada, the United States and Europe to explore the manipulation of information for political and related purposes, examine several recent cases, and critically discuss related security threats."

The CSIS Academic Outreach program was established in 2008 and aims to include "a wide variety of disciplines and cultural backgrounds, universities, think-tanks, business and other research institutions in Canada and abroad." Among other things, the November 2017 meeting posed the problem of traditional media being displaced and weakened by "a torrent of data from an infinite number of originators." The report states that "within that torrent is a current of lies and distortions that threatens the integrity of public discourse, debate and democracy."

The CSIS report distorts the meaning of disinformation to what is generally described as "fake news." This covers up disinformation as a tool used by state institutions and ruling circles against their own populace that deprives the people of an outlook to guide them in sorting out what's what and on the basis of which they can address the problems facing the polity.

CSIS states: "Disinformation has become a highly effective tool for state actors, profiteers, status seekers, entertainers and true believers." Taking its cue from the U.S. national security agencies, Russia and China are presented as the main threat to democracy at this time, while "true believers," are those who willingly or unwillingly become their dupes. In this regard, the CSIS report says, "state disinformation agencies are part of a complex system which includes independent activists with different overlapping motivations." Some are conspiracy theorists, the CSIS says. These "independent activists," whoever they might be, "believe Western governments are untrustworthy, manipulate world events, and are aided in hiding the truth by the traditional media. Most are anti-globalist, with a nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric that attracts elements of both the left and right. Independent actors use social media and specialized web sites to strategically reinforce and spread messages compatible with their own. [... ] The extent to which activities within this complex system are orchestrated, and by whom, remains unclear."

The CSIS report also states that social media corporations have a "limited understanding of the world of intelligence operations." CSIS views this as a problem, because "they are reluctant to ally with intelligence agencies and mainstream news organizations to take up the detailed task of monitoring content." Whatever reluctance CSIS is talking about, Facebook has shown itself more than willing to cooperate. On October 26 it announced it had removed 82 pages, groups and accounts which it stated "posted about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the President, and immigration." Since May of this year, Facebook has been partnered with the Atlantic Council, a Cold War think tank and public relations organization that aims to build support for NATO. Katie Harbath, Facebook's Global Politics and Government Outreach director announced at the time that the partnership was necessary "to prevent our service from being abused during elections." Harbath, a former digital strategist for the Republican Party Senatorial Committee, said that Facebook's security team and artificial intelligence experts would work to get "real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world. This will help increase the number of 'eyes and ears' we have working to spot potential abuse on our service -- enabling us to more effectively identify gaps in our systems, pre-empt obstacles, and ensure that Facebook plays a positive role during elections all around the world."

The Atlantic Council is funded by many corporations such as the Blackstone Group, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Ford Motor Company. The largest Council contributors are the U.S. State Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK, and the United Arab Emirates. Other contributors include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Boeing, BP, Exxon and the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Talk about foreign influence and interference!

Recently, the Atlantic Council's assistant director published an article that uses Canadian intelligence reports as sources. It writes of the "distress of the Five Eyes spying network about Chinese foreign influence." It notes that "a Canadian intelligence report in June described deep penetration by Chinese actors in New Zealand" and quoted the report's assessment that China is following "an aggressive strategy [that] has sought to influence political decision-making, pursue unfair advantages in trade and business, suppress criticism of China, facilitate espionage opportunities, and influence overseas Chinese communities." This shows how the Five Eyes spy agencies feed into each other to create the same scenario of threats to justify their surveillance and suppressive activities and their own cyber warfare.

The CSIS report lists some "persistent major themes" of concern for it, such as the view that "Western governments are fascist, or world leaders represent a powerful elite disdainful of, and acting against, ordinary people." Another persistent theme holds that "the U.S. government and other Western or NATO-affiliated governments are untrustworthy and are unjustified aggressors in conflicts around the world. These governments and other powerful people manipulate world events to ensure their power..."

"Disinformation," CSIS writes, "poisons public debate and is a threat to democracy. Raised public awareness is needed to distinguish the real from the false. There are many ways for governments and organizations to counter the threat, but there is no guarantee that even effective counter-campaigns can defeat the high volume flow of malicious communications."

A complex web, CSIS says, has coalesced around the "anti-globalist term," which "pulls people from seemingly disparate parts of the political spectrum onto common ground. For example, they connect left-leaning individuals who oppose globalization and foreign military intervention by the U.S. and other NATO governments with right-leaning individuals who oppose immigration and favour nationalist policies. State-sponsored information operations interact with organic communities of online users to spread disinformation."

Note how all these coincidental connections are turned into an imminent threat to be opposed no matter the cost. It is all done in the name of democracy.

Disdain for Political Discourse

One of the glaring features of police reports such as the one issued by CSIS, in which the Trudeau government places so much stock, is the disdain for the existence of a polity. Neither is the fact that the polity is comprised of citizens and residents recognized, nor that it is through the exercise of the right to engage in political discourse and affirm their conscience that citizens and residents express their humanity.

In this light the CSIS report on who said what about the security challenges of modern disinformation raises the issue of what it calls "independent activists" who are holders of "sincere ideology." It writes:

"One set of actors within this system is ideologically motivated. These persons, including individual social media users as well as small organizations that operate web sites, blogs, and other feeds, are 'true believers' of the messages that they are spreading. The messages are largely anti-globalist (i.e., anti-imperialism and anti-globalization on the left; pro-nationalism and anti-immigration on the right). They are also explicitly critical and distrusting of mainstream media. These actors may indeed be affected by political propaganda, though causation is difficult to establish. At times, they can be seen to act as amplifiers of political propaganda, seeded with messages that they repeat and amplify. But many sincerely ideologically motivated actors also can be seen to generate their own content, without the continued need for direct seeding or coordination of messages."

The CSIS report goes on to identify other ways in which "independent activists" are enmeshed in the so-called network of state-sponsored foreign influence. It is a classic example of how police organizations work. In this case, through sleight of hand, this category of "independent activists" who are "sincere believers" becomes ipso facto a category of potential criminals. The CSIS report concludes:

By focusing on explicit coordination by and collusion with state actors, and ignoring or under-appreciating the roles and motivations of these independent actors, researchers, journalists, and policy-makers risk over-simplifying the complexity of this system, limiting the development of effective solutions, and under-informing public awareness of the problem. Importantly, the opportunity to assist everyday users of these systems to recognize the role they play within the disinformation phenomenon is missed. In other words, the problem of disinformation cannot simply be attributed to the design of technological systems or the deliberate actions of government-funded trolls. Solutions to this problem must also take into account the people who are interacting with and affected by this information, not merely as victims, but as agents in its creation, propagation, and (hopefully) its correction.

UK-Canada Colloquium on "Dilemmas of Democracy"

Another example of sources of information upon which the Liberal government relies for its electoral law changes is the November 2017 Canada-UK Colloquium on Dilemmas of Democracy: Challenges to the International Order. In a June 2018 report, the Colloquium published summaries of its deliberations and recommendations that had been presented to the British and Canadian governments and 'their policy advisors.'

The preface to the Colloquium Program, co-written by Philip Peacock, Chair of the Canada-UK Council and the Hon. Hugh Segal, former Canadian Senator, and Chief of Staff to both Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, boasts "a wide range of knowledgeable experts from both countries" providing "a mature prospective to the many issues confronting democracy and the democratic process, as we have known it in the post WWII era." The Colloquium received letters of support from both prime ministers, while Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould delivered a keynote address.

Other Canadian participants included several government officials, such as Jordon Deagle, Senior Communications Planner in the Office of the Prime Minister. Several think tanks were represented, including Graham Fox, President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy; and Grant Bishop of McKinsey & Co which is a U.S.-based global management consulting firm that says it "serves a broad mix of private, public and social sector institutions" in 120 cities in 60 countries, with 14,000 consultants worldwide. The military was also present, with Karim Kanji, Vice-President of the NATO Association of Canada, General Tom Lawson, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, and Tina Park, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Responsibility to Protect. Cliff van der Linden, Founder and CEO of Vox Labs/Vote Compass attended as well. Vox Labs/Vote Compass has been the recipient of numerous contracts from the Liberal government, including the widely-ridiculed "consultation" website on proportional representation.

The Colloquium preamble states that "the context inhabited by these two well-established and strong political cultures was notably anxious and unsettled. There was a perception throughout the discussions that as societies become more open and connected, individuals sense a feeling of empowerment and want to be more directly involved in their own governance. This made it harder for representative democracy in its traditional form to satisfy their demands, and thus to sustain trust in its effectiveness."

Nevertheless, the report states that the Colloquium was held with "a prevailing feeling that the strength of the financial and human capital available in both countries would equip them well to face the future, and the dilemmas of representative government in particular."

"Participants," the report states, "were well aware that for the immediate future it was vitally important to have sharper, clearer and more persuasive answers to critical questions about what values the West is seeking to sustain; how we seek to shape rules for national and international governance and, above all, why? When the cry goes up: 'Why your values and rules, and not ours?' there must be answers that carry weight," it said.

At no time however, does it explain why this discourse is not taking place among the polity and begin with how the issue of democracy poses itself in the 21st century. Far from it, the Colloquium boasts of upholding British empire-building values of the 18th century and its foundation in the 1647 Magna Carta. In her letter to the Colloquium, UK Prime Minister Theresa May wrote: "The venue -- Runnymede, site of the sealing of the Magna Carta -- is evocative and appropriate. As I said recently at the UN General Assembly, in today's world we face challenges that go right to the heart of who we are as nations. These challenges test our values, our vision and our resolve to defend the rules and standards that underpin the security and prosperity of our fellow citizens."

Why such a meeting is being held among elites, maintaining the racist Anglo-American Cold War ideology which exudes privilege, power and the superiority of the values of English-speaking nations over the entire world is a serious question. It is reminiscent of Prime Minister Winston Churchill's 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri where he launched the Cold War against the peoples of the world and declared that there were dupes and spies everywhere representing a "growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization."

Among the recommendations made by the Canada-UK public policy colloquium, is one to "pursue ongoing collaborative work on joint strategies, around the world and specifically in the Commonwealth, to promote the linked values of pluralism, open markets, the rule of law and human rights fundamental to the freedom based development of the Western world."

To divert attention from its defence of the racist Anglo-American definition of values imposed on the entire world through wars of aggression and occupation, one of the concerns discussed was the use of referendum and the "danger it poses" by enabling the majority to decide.

The manner in which the laws passed in the House of Commons are being informed by the upper echelons of the political police of the U.S. and NATO allies in cahoots with think tanks of supranational private interests to maintain the system they have in place is a serious matter of concern for the polity. The Minister of Democratic Institutions claims that the main concern of the Liberal government is to "strengthen the participation of the people in democracy." This is simply not the case.


1. The Chatham House rule reads as follows: "When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant may be revealed. The originator of the rule is the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, which is commonly known as the Chatham House.

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