The relentless austerity measures currently being visited upon the Canadian working class are typically justified by the mantra, “There is no money.” We are constantly told that all levels of government are broke, spending cuts are needed, and that workers must tighten their belts and permanently accept a lower standard of living.
But for the state security apparatus, things are very different.
Despite an apparently desperate need to cut public spending, including the possibility of sacking up to a third of the federal civil service, the Conservative government plans to massively increase spending on domestic and foreign defence. None of this security spending will aid working-class people (either in Canada or abroad); instead, it is very likely that our own money will be used against us in our attempts to fight austerity.
Amidst a general rise in military spending, the Harper government had already allocated $9-billion of federal funds towards the purchase of F-35 fighter jets when delays and cost overruns at Lockheed-Martin forced it to consider alternatives. On Feb. 15, the National Post reported that the Department of National Defence was preparing to tender a contract for six armed unmanned air vehicles (UAVs, commonly referred to as drones). Remotely-piloted aircraft such as the MQ-9 Reaper cost an estimated $30-million each.
Among countries on the receiving end of US imperialism, drones have become notorious in recent years as the most terrifying incarnation of the U.S. military’s advanced weaponry. The ongoing slaughter of innocents at the hands of unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya have provoked the ire of civilian populations and served as a rallying point for armed insurrection.
The Canadian military has leased drones in the past from Israel for reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan, but the Post reported that the primary “attraction for the government, apart from the price, is the increasing flexibility of UAVs to conduct domestic patrols along Canada’s borders and mount offensive missions.”
Spending on state security forces has continued to rise in Canada and the United States, even as severe austerity grinds down the working class. Harsher sentences, increased police powers, more advanced weaponry, and greater surveillance of ordinary citizens are all on the agenda as Canada adopts a more aggressive military posture, as well as a more punitive and merciless criminal justice system.
Harper’s “tough on crime” policies are most clearly exemplified by his omnibus crime bill, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which passed the House of Commons in December and could come into effect as early as March. Bill C-10 combines nine separate measures that failed to pass under the previous Conservative minority governments, including:
- Adult sentences for juvenile offenders as young as 14.
- Mandatory minimum sentences for sex crimes.
- Eliminating house arrest as a sentencing option for certain offences.
- Longer wait times on pardons, or eliminating them altogether in certain cases.
- Allowing police to arrest citizens on conditional release without warrant if perceived to be in violation of those conditions.
- Mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession “for the purpose of trafficking”.
- Increasing hurdles on re-entry for Canadians convicted abroad.
- Allowing victims of terrorism to sue “perpetrators and supporters”.
The imposition of mandatory minimum sentences will drastically swell Canada’s prison population. Officials in Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland have already voiced concerns about prison overcrowding. In Ontario alone, Correctional Services minister Madeline Meilleur estimated that the omnibus crime bill could cost Ontario taxpayers over $1-billion in added police and correctional service costs. This is at the same time as when workers are being told they must endure painful sacrifices to plug government deficits, with the federal 2012 deficit standing at $17.3-billion.
Naturally, the corporate media takes care not to remind readers and viewers that these deficits exploded after the 2008 bailout of the banking and automotive sectors. That year, the federal government transferred $75-billion of debt from the banks’ ledgers to the government through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and established an additional $200-billion fund to lend to the bankers. Billions were borrowed for this purpose, with interest on those loans billed to ordinary people. Governments, including those in Canada, have proceeded to pay back these debts on the backs of working-class people.
While the criminals on Wall Street and Bay Street are protected from their crimes and rewarded with bailouts, Canadian workers face economic insecurity and a vastly strengthened state security apparatus. Homelessness, evictions, and hunger are on the rise across the country, but only the military and police forces are immune from further spending cuts, even as the national crime rate continues a 20-year decline. The Harper government’s decision to spend $1-billion on security at the G20 summit in Toronto — a meeting of world leaders specifically on how to push through austerity — was a harbinger of things to come.
Seemingly not satisfied with the omnibus crime bill, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-30 into the House of Commons on Feb. 14. As the National Post reported, the deceptively-named Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act would “require telecommunications companies to give police customers’ information without a court order. The bill will also require ISPs (internet service providers) and cell-phone companies to install equipment for real-time surveillance and create new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data.”
Despite the bluster of Public Safety minister Vic Toews that Canadians “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers”, the ostensible goal of cracking down on kiddie porn is merely the pretext for a wide-ranging assault on privacy and vast escalation of the state’s surveillance powers. Opponents are likely to mount a court challenge to the bill on the basis that it violates the section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protecting against unlawful search and seizure. But, as the British Marxist Ted Grant liked to point out, the capitalists can move from “democracy” to dictatorship as easily as a person in his day could move from the non-smoking to the smoking compartment of a train.
In the context of such an aggressive increase in the power of the state apparatus and the surveillance of Canadians, the fact that the Harper government is considering the purchase of American drones for the purpose of “domestic patrols” can only be regarded by Canadian workers and activists with alarm.
The Los Angeles Times reported in December that police in North Dakota used a Predator B drone to locate and apprehend three men. That same month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration was making a concerted effort to sell armed drones to its allies in order to ease the American burden in its various overseas conflicts. As the world’s largest arms dealer, the U.S. has now turned to Canada and apparently found a willing buyer in the Harper government for its arsenal of flying death machines.
Should the government purchases these drones — with its commitments in Afghanistan winding down and the effects of austerity creating an angrier, more rebellious working class — it is inevitable that these drones will eventually be turned against the civilian population of Canada to assist police with surveillance and apprehension. Given the criminalization of dissent at the G20, such an outcome should be cause for worry for anyone opposed to the austerity agenda.
As Marxists, we understand that the state is a product of irreconcilable class antagonisms, consisting in the end of armed bodies of men in defence of existing property relations. The collapse of the world capitalist economy has led to austerity measures that aim to pay for the crisis by bleeding dry the most vulnerable segments of the population. Declining economic prospects for Canadian workers and youth will inevitably lead to an explosion of social anger. Already we have seen the forces of the state deployed against peaceful demonstrators at the G20, and in imposing the closure of Occupy encampments across the country.
The erosion of civil liberties in Canada and the United States reflects the erosion of the state’s legitimacy as an expression of the popular will and its increasing resort to naked force to defend the existing social order. While Harper’s crime policies are justified on the basis of cracking down on killers and child predators, in reality they will be more extensively utilized to crush challenges to the austerity regime imposed on the working class in the interests of global financiers.
It is up to the organized working class to resist such measures wherever possible. As the Official Opposition, the NDP must take a lead in fighting against each new draconian crime and surveillance bill pushed by the Harper Conservatives. The trade unions must use every weapon in their arsenal, including strikes, to challenge the legitimacy of the encroaching security state.
However, so long as the capitalist mode of production prevails and a tiny majority control the wealth of society, a well-funded state security apparatus will remain a much-needed last line of defence for the ruling class against working-class demands for a more equitable system.
Only through the elimination of class antagonisms can we eradicate completely the need for the state and its armed bodies of men. Only through expropriation of the capitalists and the transition to a socialist economy can working people begin to run society for themselves along truly democratic lines.