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The Age of Razor Wire

By Stuart Hertzog
March 24th, 2009

Who exactly is ‘protecting’ our freedom and security?

razor wire with bloodstain

Blood on razor wire—the shape of things to come?

Victoria, BC—It’s been troubling me for some time, but it took a favour to a friend to bring home to me what is happening. Since the events of September 11, 2001, there has been a slow but inexorable erosion of our democratic freedoms in the name of ‘protecting’ our security.

Our basic democratic right to travel freely is under attack. If we do not collectively resist, an Age of Razor Wire lies ahead.

That’s a fairly dramatic statement, so I’d better explain how I’ve come to think that way. I live in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, and I had driven to the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay to pick up a friend. What I saw at there shocked me. It was a “wake-up” experience that, if I’m right, will be coming soon to a transportation terminal close to where you live.

I found that razor wire, steel fences and security cameras were being erected to monitor and control the movements of the hundreds of thousands of British Columbians and tourists that pass through the terminal each year. What’s wrong with that, you say? Let me explain.

Sweet little sea voyage

BC Ferries used to be a crown corporation owned by the provincial government until it was turned into a semi-private corporation whose principal and only shareholder is—guess who—the BC government.

For most British Columbians, riding a BC Ferry used to mean a break from the city, a sweet little sea voyage on probably the world’s cheapest, most scenic cruise line. (Of course, for laid-back Gulf Island dwellers, it also offered the exciting prospect of a night out on the town.)

But since the Liberal government turned BC Ferries loose and hired steely-eyed American David Hahn to run it, the relaxed atmosphere at ferry terminals has slowly given way to crowds and commercialisation. The new ferries are bigger and faster, lacking the grace of the older fleet. Ferry fares have risen to the point that Islanders are complaining.

Now, every person who travels on BC Ferries will come under video surveillance. The iron fist of security is reaching out to ‘protect’ us all. Nothing wrong with that, if indeed we are under attack. I live in a mainly peaceful society and certainly don’t want to live in fear of being blown up by a fanatical fundamentalist of any creed. But still, I was uneasy.

Just another bus terminal

The thing that struck me about the preparations for increased security is that Swartz Bay is not an international port of entry. It’s just an ordinary transportation hub, the marine equivalent of a bus terminal.

The new and ancient ferries that bustle and out of this main entry point for southern Vancouver Island serve ferry routes to other Southern Gulf Islands and the mainland. The Washington State Ferry that serves Anacortes arrives and departs from picturesque Sidney just a few kilometres south, and Black Ball Ferry’s Port Angeles run terminates in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Canada’s western entry points are elsewhere—why the need to monitor the movement of travellers within Canada?

The hysteria that swept through the western world like a tsunami after 9-11 left in its wake rafts of hurriedly-written, essentially undemocratic anti-terrorism legislation. Stampeded by the threat of further attacks in other countries, governments and legislatures capitulated to fear.

Centuries of habeas corpus and Geneva conventions on war and torture were brushed aside. Security services were given free reign to find ways of protecting vulnerable infrastructure from attack, and of keeping policy-makers distant from citizen dissent—and the money flowed like water.

Marine Security Contribution Program

The Marine Security Contribution Program (MSCP) is just a small part of the billions of dollars that western nations, Canada included, are pouring into security programs. An 80% cost-shared contribution program totalling $115 million over five years, it’s available to marine facilities that submit an ISPS-code security plan. In June, 2006 the program was expanded to selected domestic ferry operators, including BC Ferries.

On January 13, 2009 the federal government announced up to $5.6 million for security hardening at 15 domestic ferry sites across British Columbia. BC Ferries would receive $81,800 for Victoria, $3.07 million for Nanaimo, and $2.4 million to harden its West Vancouver terminals.

But something more insidious than just an hysterical political over-reaction to the destruction of the World Trade Centre is propelling the western world’s security and control agenda. The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is a little-known but extremely far-reaching agreement between the three North American nations. By stealth, SPP has become the de facto government agenda for an integrated North America.

Security and Prosperity Partnership

The thrust for SPP in Canada was initiated by the CEOs of 150 mostly American-owned major Canadian corporations, via their Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) in association with the US Council on Foreign Relations, corporate America’s foreign policy think-tank. The implications of the SPP for Canadian democracy are profound.

Negotiated in secret, the SPP was signed by presidents Bush and Fox for the USA and Mexico and prime minister Paul Martin for Canada, without any public input or discussion in the US House of Representatives or the Canadian parliament. It’s the corporate agenda for integrating North America into one tightly-controlled, security state to benefit the rich.

You may be under labouring under the mistaken belief that when we vote for an MP, the resulting government will fulfil its published party platform and govern in the best interests of Canada. You would be naïve if you assumed that this is reality. The SPP, the corporatist agenda, has been quietly adopted by the Canadian government as its own agenda.

Domestic monitoring and control

Although a major reason for the SPP is ostensibly to ensure that acts of terrorism do not interrupt the efficient and open flow of trade within an expanded North American union, many of its security provisions are aimed squarely at domestic monitoring and control of internal dissent.

That’s no surprise: the CEOs of Canada’s biggest corporations certainly don’t want a newly-impoverished citizenry protesting the extraordinarily huge salaries and bonuses that flow annually into their already-bulging pockets. The corporate class must be protected from the hoi polloi.

Step by small step, imperceptibly, like frogs slowly being boiled in a kettle of water, we innocent and unsuspecting North Americans are being subjected to increased state and private surveillance. What’s wrong with that, you say? Nothing to fear if you haven’t done anything wrong? Well, that’s OK if the state plays fair. But Big Brother may not be on your side.

Just as in Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother has a benign face. He has come to ‘protect’ us—but who is Big Brother, or more to the point, who are his authorised agents? Under what authority do they operate, to whom do they report, and who is monitoring their activities? Are they all public servants, or do they work for private corporations? We need to know.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

To balance the need for security with people’s democratic rights, the answers to these questions must be clearly spelled out. But they are not. The problem with all this ‘improved’ domestic security is two-fold: Who is defining what constitutes a ‘threat’ to our individual and collective security? And an ancient question: Who is monitoring the monitors?

Nobody likes drug warfare erupting on our streets, and the call for a police crackdown on gang violence is a legitimate one. But when we see RCMP officers testifying on oath in direct contradiction of cellphone video evidence; or when yet another person is Tasered to death by police, the result can only be an increasing public distrust of the agents of authority.

The ’hardening‘ of a ferry terminal was a chilling reminder to me of the fragility of our civil rights. We are entering a time in which economic resources are becoming more scarce, and the gap between rich and poor is steadily growing. Let us hope that the greed of the corporate class does not drag us all into the darkness of an Age of Razor Wire.

Wake up, froggies! The water’s beginning to boil! Hop out! Hop out!


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