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2010-06-25

Canadian Activist Stefan Christoff Targeted by Government Surveillance, Harassment Ahead of G20 Summit

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The G20 host province of Ontario has secretly passed an unprecedented regulation allowing police to arrest anyone near the G20 security zone who refuses to identify themselves or agree to a police search. We speak to Stefan Christoff, a Montreal-based activist who has come under harassment from the Canadian intelligence agency, CSIS, over the past year. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We broadcast right here in Toronto on CIUT. We’re going to be having a fundraiser Saturday night at 7:00 at the Trinity St. Paul’s United Church at Bloor and Spadina. That’s at 7:00 I’ll be speaking, very much looking forward to speaking with listeners of community radio in Canada. Well, I’m Amy Goodman.

The Toronto Star reported today that the province of Ontario has secretly passed an unprecedented regulation allowing police to arrest anyone near the G20 security zone who refuses to identify themselves or agree to a police search. At least one person has already been arrested under the new regulation, which expires after the G20 summit ends.

Well, Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based activist who recently went public with news that he’s come under harassment from the Canadian intelligence agency, the CSIS, over the past year. Several of Stefan’s friends and colleagues have been visited by the CSIS agents seeking information on his whereabouts. Stefan joins us now.

Stefan, thanks for being with us.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: It’s my pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you come with anyone else today?

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: I hope not.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you talk about what you’ve been going through?

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Well CSIS, the intelligence service here in Canada, has been given a bloated budget, and —-

AMY GOODMAN: What does CSIS stand for, C-S-I-S?

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. And it’s an agency that basically surveils citizens. And over the last months, myself and other activists across the country have been in a situation where CSIS agents have been showing up at our homes, asking questions, early morning hours, late at night, and basically cultivating this culture of fear around the G8 and G20 summits. Those who are voicing dissent against government policies or critiquing the G8 and G20 process are facing this chill effect. And the fact that those who are participating and organizing street protests like we’ll see in Toronto in the next couple days are under this type of pressure really speaks to the larger security crackdown that we’ve been seeing here in Toronto.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the Toronto Star, in this report, of this regulation that was enacted on June 2nd and will expire on June 28th, that most people had never heard about.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: And there’s a picture on the front page of the Toronto Star, Dave Vasey standing outside the Eastern Avenue detention center, where he was arrested under a law allowing police to pick up people refusing to identify themselves. The regulation was made under Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act and was not debated in the legislature. According to a provincial spokesperson, the cabinet action came in response to an extraordinary request by the Toronto police chief, Bill Blair, who wanted additional police powers, shortly after learning the G20 was coming to Toronto.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Well, in a sense, I think that the fact that the police can search, detain, question and hold anybody, any citizen, in Canada, in downtown Toronto, at this time around the summit, it speaks to this reality of a security culture that’s been cultivated here in Canada by the Conservative government, one of the most right-wing governments in recent Canadian history. And this new legislation, I think, speaks to the reality where also we’ve seen a three-layer massive security fence around downtown, constructed by a corporation, SNC-Lavalin from Montreal.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the corporation. Again, say the name.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: It’s SNC-Lavalin, and it’s based in Montreal, a corporation. It’s an engineering giant. They actually produced millions of bullets between 2003 and 2005 for the US Army at the same time of the invasion of Iraq. So this is a corporation that’s inherently tied to the military-industrial complex internationally and also has been tied to the clampdown on dissent here in Toronto. It’s really incredible when you see the fence and also just see the almost 20,000 police and law enforcement officials that are patrolling the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Six police vans have actually just pulled into the lot where we are broadcasting from. We’re just next to the water. We’re overlooking the city of Toronto. This police fence, this security wall -—

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — has shocked a lot of people around the core of Toronto. In fact, most people were given the day off yesterday and today. Thousands of people are staying home. They’re just told to stay away.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about this core security wall and what it has meant.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Well, it’s meant that downtown Toronto has become a fortress, literally. We could just hear now aircrafts that are hovering around the downtown core. Dissent has been erased. So, when we hear all these speeches and languages coming out of the G8 and G20 about transparency, globalization, sharing of ideas, the reality on the ground is that these meetings are happening in a militarized fortress. And the fence itself was constructed by a company that has been directly involved in contracts that are linked to the NATO-led military occupation of Afghanistan. They’re building all sorts of public work projects in cooperation with the Canadian military and the US military — this is SNC-Lavalin, based in Montreal — and also, as I mentioned, the contract with the US Army just after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. So the security fence, I mean, speaks to the whole reality today, I think, of walls around the world. We’re talking about walls going up — the US-Mexico border wall, the wall — the apartheid wall in Palestine. And at the same time, the leaders at the G8 and G20 are talking about walls coming down and free trade. But for people, walls are just going up, even in the largest city of Canada.

AMY GOODMAN: How has the surveillance of you, Stefan Christoff, affected your activism?

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Well, let’s say that, in Montreal, we do a lot of work with artists, and the fact that government agents were questioning artists about my political views and my political organizing and my work in the media, I think, is really something that should be denounced. It’s something that I’ve gone over thoroughly with my lawyer in Montreal, and we’ve documented all these cases. It does present a sense of fear, unfortunately. And I think that the fact that this is happening and that CSIS agents are questioning artists who are socially engaged in the lead-up to the summit, people that, you know, are committed to social justice, hip-hop artists who are vibrant members of the community, agents showing up early in the morning, late at night at people’s homes speaks to the fact that the Conservative government in Canada is trying to normalize this clampdown and this culture of fear that is really rooted in the post-9/11 ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, this is extremely significant for him, this meeting. He’ll be front and center for this period of days. They’re hoping for a seat on the UN Security Council.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: And he’s invited Uribe from Colombia. Canada and Colombia have just signed a free trade accord, despite the systemic human rights abuses against labor leaders and human rights activists in Colombia. So, he’s front and center, but he’s also welcoming those who are abusing human rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you carry a cell phone with you?

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Not right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Well, I believe that it’s best to try to be secure about communications. And unfortunately, people like myself who are publicly protesting are under surveillance. And I feel it’s important to speak about it, because it’s a larger reality, especially within First Nations communities, within Arab and Muslim communities. After 9/11, the whole clampdown on Arabs and Muslims in Canada, like in the United States, with special registration, was an attack on basic human rights. And that continues. And the fact that now it’s moved toward social justice activists, I think they’re testing the waters.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of the waters, they are lapping up, certainly, against us right here on this dock. I want to thank you for being with us, Stefan Christoff.

STEFAN CHRISTOFF: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: You can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll link to the piece he just wrote at rabble.ca.

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