CSIS: A Smart Career Choice?

by uwchevron

Author: Thomas Little

Fall term has brought a lot of new faces to UW. If you’ve been in the SLC in the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed a few significant ones if you could fight past the crowds – professionally-dressed people on banners emblazoned with “WANTED: IT PROFESSIONALS” and “CSIS. SMART CAREER CHOICE.” This may not seem like much. The SLC has been subject to blatant advertising before. But what is CSIS? Perhaps a tech startup or a manufacturing company?

CSIS recruitment banner

September 26, 2013: One of two CSIS banners hanging in the SLC.

CSIS is the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Most Canadians are probably unaware that it exists, which is reasonable, since it was only created in 1984 as a successor to the RCMP’s Security Service, infamous for decades of spying on unions, political parties such as the Parti Québécois, native activists, and prominent intellectuals and university professors. CSIS has maintained that tradition, though it has updated it.

Its new targets include Muslims (especially new immigrants) and peace activists (Hamilton Spectator, “When CSIS Comes Knocking in Hamilton”) as well as the wider social justice community. Its activities are not limited simply to surveillance, but also include harassment of its targets which leads to discrimination and marginalization (see the Montreal Mirror, “Canada’s Spies”, with the case of a man fired after his employer was interrogated about him by CSIS).

This spying requires a significant technological apparatus, especially since CSIS (unlike the American National Security Agency) also fills some direct investigative roles that in the United States are more commonly filled by the FBI. This is why they are putting advertising banners in the SLC, wanting “IT professionals” (or future Edward Snowdens?). But CSIS didn’t just place them there one day – the Federation of Students has restrictions on who can place banners in the SLC: officially-sanctioned Feds clubs, Feds services (such as the Women’s Centre or GLOW) or, apparently, CSIS.

What sort of deal does Feds have with CSIS? If Feds is supposed to act in the interest of its members (the students here at Waterloo), then why is it helping to promote an organization which could threaten them? CSIS’s and the RCMP’s focus on youth leads to students running a high risk of being targets for CSIS, especially international students who might be threatened with deportation. This creates a chilling effect on the ability of students to assert and defend themselves without harassment (or, indeed, to object to harassment itself). If anyone believes that university students are somehow immune to CSIS’s scrutiny, Shahina Siddiqui of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg would disagree: “We get calls from youth at university saying CSIS wants them to come and talk to them.” (Winnipeg Free Press, 14 June 2013).

This is not limited merely to Muslim youth: the RCMP and CSIS’s policy documents list “youth radicalization” as a significant problem and “counter-radicalization” as one of the key duties of “Canada’s intelligence community”. Particular scrutiny is paid to “mature and well-educated individuals” who are “likely to be receptive to much more sophisticated radical messaging”. The paranoia reaches its height when a key characteristic of “radicalized individuals” is their ordinariness: “[t]here is no reason that Canadian born terrorists would not like Tim Horton’s doughnuts” (all quotes from Radicalization: A Guide for the Perplexed, June 2009, from rcmp-grc.gc.ca).

This also extends to the online domain. According to another one of the RCMP’s documents, “[t]he internet poses a number of risks to young Canadians” (Youth Online and at Risk: Radicalization Facilitated by the
Internet, also from rcmp-grc.gc.ca). This surveillance and policing of the internet is one of the major duties of CSIS, and a major part of why it wants to hire “IT professionals”. If the University of Waterloo is so “innovative” and focused on technology, is it not hypocritical for an organization to be promoted on campus that considers the Internet to be dangerous? Is the greater danger not the watched but the watchers? Finally, should we allow Feds to help in the endangerment of students by selling out to organizations such as CSIS? As usual, comments are welcome.

This article appeared in Volume 1, Issue 2 of The Chevron on 4 October 2013.