March 18, 2015 -
As the Harper government nears nine years in power, it continues to demonstrate that it has no trust for its employees and Canadian citizens in general.
This week, Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat, which is responsible for the federal civil service, confirmed that the government’s new standard on security screening, that came into effect last October, includes fingerprinting employees, along with mandatory credit checks.
As of 2014, it was estimated that there were 257,138 federal civil servants in Canada. Public sector unions are understandably concerned about the “invasive nature” of the government’s new security policy.
“The fingerprinting of employees who haven’t any criminal record is particularly troubling and, given this government’s addiction to the outsourcing of IT services, a major privacy breach waiting to happen,” said Debi Daviau, President of Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), in an interview with the National Post. “How does the government propose to protect the private information of its own employees?”
The unions have filed grievances against the government on behalf of a number of employees that allege that the new security procedures will result in an “impermissible breach of privacy” in violation of collective agreement clauses that oblige the employer to respect Canada’s Privacy Act.
The grievances also allege that the new rules breech section seven of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person. PIPSC is also grieving the failure of the government to consult the union prior to introducing and implementing the new screening standard.
The union is right to oppose these new security measures since they are overtly intrusive and will contribute even more negatively to the federal government’s current toxic workplace environment. Discussion yesterday on CBC Radio, Canada’s public broadcaster, indicated that the government might employ fingerprinting and credit checks across the board to all employees in the interest of “fairness”.
It is not known what can rationally be achieved by applying a fingerprint policy to all civil servants, since most government employees do not deal with financial matters. It will constitute a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars to conduct such a policy on maintenance and administrative staff who do not deal with financial management, especially if the process is not tied to a time management.
In the private sector in Canada, only 25 percent of employees are subjected to a credit check, and those who are typically are employed in federally regulated industries such as banking or air travel, that have stringent security requirements. It can be therefore said the application of both fingerprint and credit check policies to all employees is too wide a measure that is really designed to demonstrate the government’s utter contempt for its employees. This untrustworthy stance towards its employees is not surprising, since the government lacks respect and trust of its citizens as well.
Recently, Harper’s government introduced Bill C-51, to reputedly to combat terrorism, in the wake of attacks on Canadian soldiers in Quebec and the nation’s parliamentary district late last year and in order to respond to the emergence of the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
Legal experts however have characterized the law as a “blunt instrument” which gives added surveillance powers to CSIS, including the power to engage in dirty tricks and disruptive activities, without a judicial check-and-balance. The legislation works to lower the threshold for detaining terror suspects and allows for the arrest of individuals who are suspected of “communicating statements” and knowingly promoting the “commission of terrorists in general.”
The law also allows a person suspected of being a “terrorist” and considered at risk to break the law to be placed in jail for a year without trial. Of course, the law is tremendously vague on who constitutes a terrorist, and many Canadians fear that activities including environmental and Indigenous activism will constitute the Harper government’s definition.
Due to this fear, support for the legislation has been declining. In February, an Angus Reid poll found 82 percent for the bill. However, a recent poll conducted by Forum Research found that support for the legislation now stands at 45 percent, with nearly the same amount opposed to the bill. Of those who are familiar with the proposals in the bill, which constitutes nearly 70 percent of those asked, support drops even further, with half saying they disapprove of the bill, and only 31 percent supporting it.
Since this new law constitutes a massive curb on personal liberties, it would make sense for Harper’s government to adopt substantive judicial oversight over its surveillance agencies through the bill. However, the legislation does not include a judicial oversight mechanism, and the government has not curbed to public pressure to include one.
The emergence of such new anti-terror legislation plainly requires substantive oversight in order to be constitutionally in-line with concepts such as freedom and fairness, concepts which such laws and agencies purport to protect. Unfortunately, the Harper government has decided not to adopt such oversight, demonstrating full distrust of its citizens’ rights and freedoms.