Hey, Jason Kenney: I’m gay. I’m transgendered. I’m a small-l liberal lawyer working for peanuts in downtown Toronto. I’m Jewish. I’m Muslim. I’m an oil-startup president in Alberta, riding a non-renewable oil roller coaster all the way to the bank.
I’m a new Canadian working two jobs in Vancouver, stunned by housing prices and trying desperately to bring my family to this country from Asia. I’m a fourth-generation wheat farmer from Saskatchewan, thinking about drought and watching for hail, and I’ve voted Conservative my entire life.
I’m a fisherman with hard hands and no fish to catch, shocked by the thought that my prime minister thinks that makes me lazy. I’m retired, I’m starting high school, I’m buried in student debt and looking for a minimum-wage part-time job, because that’s where the post-recession jobs are for new workers.
Actually, I’m none of those things — but what I am is a Canadian, and as a Canadian, I’m represented and served by my federal government — like every Canadian is supposed to be, equally, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, colour, religion or beliefs.
Early last week, a group of Canadians received emails from federal Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, that started like this:
Date: Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 2:23 PM
Subject: LGBT Refugees from Iran
Last Friday, my colleague John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke in great detail about Canada's principled foreign policy, including our efforts to promote basic freedoms around the world, and to take a stand against the persecution of gays and lesbians, and against the marginalization of women in many societies. …”
The bulk email went to scores of Canadians, many of whom were mystified by how the federal minister seemed to know about their personal sexual orientation. For some, it was a sort of “Big Brother” kind of surprise — unsettling, to say the least, to discover that the federal system apparently knew something that you might have thought you had only shared inside the privacy of the federal census.
Turns out, Kenney’s office had harvested the email addresses from people who had signed a 2011 electronic petition supporting a gay Nicaraguan artist seeking refugee status in Canada.
The petition had included the email addresses of signatories so that the minister could respond to them directly on the issue, if he so chose. Instead, the personal information was apparently gathered for different — and political — purposes. Just another byte in the massive database that the federal Conservatives have been ably building for years.
It’s a disturbing concept: if you contact the federal government about a particular concern, does that mean that you’re going to be pigeonholed or flagged as a particular kind of Canadian? (Funny that the same government that thinks it’s wrong to stockpile information showing you have a gun in your house, thinks it’s just fine to stockpile information about what goes on in your bedroom.)
Does raising an issue with a federal official mean you implicitly agree to have your personal details stockpiled in a virtually unregulated political database that you’re not allowed to opt out of — and that is then used to tailor the information about what your government is doing? It is, after all, a database that for some unknown reason (perhaps a blatantly self-serving one) is exempt from federal privacy law.
You could argue that it’s simply a way to get pertinent information to interested members of particular groups. Fair enough.
But as one commenter on the debacle pointed out, it would be easy to understand why Jewish Canadians, for example, would be uncomfortable about a government keeping lists of members of their faith.
The tools involved are eeriely reminiscent of the divide-and-conquer tactics used in the Robocalls affair, where opponents to Conservative policies were added to lists of those who eventually received telephone calls sending them to fictitious polling stations. Information about voting preferences in the Robocall affair apparently came from an internal Tory voter tracking system.
So if you can’t get yourself off the federal Conservatives’ computer system, what can you do? Well, maybe confuse or overload it to the point that it has no idea who you are or what you believe.
So I’m for gun control and against it, in favour of an open immigration policy and against foreigners getting passports here, supportive of alternate sentencing programs and perfectly willing to lock up all crooks forever and throw away the key.
Put me on all your lists, Mr. Kenney.
Put me on every single one — your “pink” lists and your “Tory blue” lists and your hit lists and your hate lists.
Tell me every single thing your government is doing and why.
Not just the things you think I want to hear.
And talk out of just one side of your mouth. To all of us.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.