Writing these Chronicles has made me more aware than ever before that as between those who abhor big government, and those who look to government as the only instrument available to redistribute wealth, I stand firmly with that latter category.
On the other hand I have to admit that I do find many things about government to be absolutely wacky. For example, every government in these times seems to have become obsessed with security. I think all this stuff they are shoving down our throats about the need for heightened security, for more secrecy, for classified information, is just plain stupid.
It is all based on taking precautions against the enemy. I find that ridiculous. Who is Canada’s enemy? Who are we expecting to invade us? Or is it just that we have secret plans to attack some other country?
Another thing that is nutty is that we have a large, expensive army. This creation of an army is a built-in reflex of government. So far as I know, there is only one country with the capacity to build an army that has deliberately decided to disband its army, and to have no more army in their national life, and that is Costa Rica. They pulled off that piece of legerdemain in 1948, and they have stuck to it ever since., even though they live in a region that has historically been plagued with wars, revolutions, social unrest, gang violence, and the persistent interference of the Big Brother military from the United States. Not coincidentally, Costa Rica rates high among the list of the world’s happiest countries, and it is far and away the most democratic nation in Central America.
Why the hell Canada has a military is beyond me. Who exactly are our military designed to fight? Outlandish as it seems, it can only be an instrument to keep the population under control. It has been used for this purpose intermittently as, for example, in the battle, if you could call it that, with the Mohawk people over control of a small piece of forest that the town of Oka wanted to make into a golf course. One has only to describe the objective of the military action to realize that our military force is away out of proportion to its usefulness.
Canada, too, a few decades ago decided to create an agency of security called CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service). Its foundation was accompanied by a short-lived outburst of protest from the few intelligent people in the country. I myself have always been slightly proud of the fact that the tiny group we created in Ottawa was the only one in the country that took the position, not that the legislation needed to be improved, which was taken by all the other protesting groups, but that we didn’t need the new Agency at all. The RCMP was already geared up to do the work, such as it is, of keeping tabs on the loonies who want to blow up the country, so why did we need another Agency? Our argument was that CSIS would have, as its raison d’etre, only one objective and that was to promote its own growth.
This prophecy has been more than fulfilled. (In preparation for this Chronicle I have dipped into the matter, and even at a cursory inspection I find it a field bewildering in its vague descriptions of purpose, a bewilderment which is very much deepened when one tries to make comparisons with the United States, a nation that seems to have gone absolutely loony in its devotion to Security, extremely loosely defined. (It recently included slapping tariffs on Canadian-produced aluminium and steel in the name of the national Security of the United States. Since the United States could not possibly have a closer ally than Canada has always been --- not even those well-known citadels of civil rights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia could be called better allies than Canada --- this was close to a declaration of at least economic and social war against the best friend of the United States. Barmy.)
The subjects exercising CSIS, apparently, include terrorism, espionage and foreign interference in Canadian affairs, propagation of weapons of mass destruction, informational security threats and the security-screening programme. This last is no doubt the one at which the Agency approaches most closely to the lives of ordinary Canadians, insisting that we line up in huge queues to get on and off aeroplanes, 84-year-old widows being required to take off their shoes, old men who can scarcely walk required to take off their belts and empty their pockets of coins, before going through their machines, the efficacy and intrusiveness of which have been continuously improved as creepy techniques like face recognition have come into use. I am not aware that any security threats have been unmasked by this cumbersome method --- which, of course, has since been extended to entering office buildings, Parliament, buses and trains --- but it is certainly something that could have been entrusted to the RCMP when, or if, it is ever needed.
Most Canadians will not know that CSIS is just one of several government departments that operate their own security services, such as the Canadian Forces Intelligence Branch, and the department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. CSIS is spread throughout the country with six regional offices, and Liaison Officers in each of Canada’s embassies abroad, the objective being presumably to gather foreign security information. From their whole list of objectives, it strikes me that only one or two of them appear to fulfil any serious purpose. And a further item of deserved public disaffection comes from the fact that a CSIS under-cover officer was one of the founders of a neo-Nazi movement called the Heritage Front, now, fortunately, defunct, but not an activity to be welcomed by any serious person, even though it does provide an hilarious refutation of the seriousness of the Agency.
In fact, Canada has something I had never heard of until an hour or so ago, called the Public Safety Portfolio, which includes Correctional Services, CSIS, Canadian Border Services Agency, the Parole Board of Canada and the RCMP. Between them, these agencies have a total budget of $9 billion, and employ some 66,000 people. To be searching through the archives for information is like groping forward in a northern Alberta fog (which I had to drive through in the middle of the night once, a highly irritating and somewhat dangerous undertaking).
I had to look at one information site after another before I could find a sum representing the budget of the RCMP. Most items listed in reply to such inquiries said that, for example, $80 million had been given to the RCMP in the last budget for such and such a new service, and $60 million had been devoted to ensuring that officers should get mental health treatment.
I finally did come across a figure suggesting that we are spending $2.317 billion on the RCMP, whose personnel number something like 22,500, although I admit that much of this obscurity comes from the extremely broad range of activities undertaken by he RCMP across the country.
Comparisons with the United States, which appears to have gone completely bonkers in its love for National Security, are hard to make. That country has roughly ten times the population of Canada, and, as they told us a few months ago, it has at least 17 intelligence agencies, elevating the total amount spent on security to more than $500 billion, a vast sum. If the comparison is just between the CIA and CSIS, we still have a long way to go to catch up with our southern neighbour’s lunacy: our Agency has 2,500 employees, and a budget of nearly $600 million. CIA’s budget is around $58 billion, their employees numbering 21,500.
Am I completely crazy in thinking that this is completely crazy?