We live in a world where phone calls, text messages, photographs, or even who we are friends with on social media can be used as weapons against us.
This reality has never been more evident than in the way the SNC-Lavalin situation has played out. In fact, the entirety of Canadian politics has shifted towards weaponizing information against political rivals. But like all weapons, information can be used for good and for bad.
The Jody Wilson-Raybould recording should have not been surprising to anyone in today’s day and age.
I believe that Wilson-Raybould’s instinct was correct and the recording of Michael Wernick was a survival measure, meant to protect herself and even the integrity of Canada’s parliamentary system.
In my eyes, surveillance can be ethical, but only when conducted on the ruling class.
After Wikileaks notified the Western world that their governments were conducting mass-surveillance, we realized that nobody was safe from the peering “five eyes”, and that millions of Canadians were in their sights.
People in positions of governance should be monitored, not the other way around. Their spending should be tallied and audited, and what they say should be used against them when it contradicts their promises.
Despite being an underling to the Prime Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould exerted a certain democratic power which only comes about when superiors are reminded that they are being watched by those they represent.
For a while, as a society, we were afraid that only the government had the capability to listen in and record the things we once said, now we have to watch our backs because anybody could be listening.
A new reality has set in, one in which our neighbours and any public online acquaintance has realized a newfound power over information.
However, there are bad actors out there, even in Canada, who are intent on using information offensively and for the most vile political purposes. One has to look no further than the way certain NDP directed and progressive outlets have handled the Alberta election and premier-hopeful Jason Kenney.
What does this political climate tell our children? It tells them: be careful what you say and trust nobody, even your former friends and colleagues might use your words against you.
Future generations of public servants and politicians are being incentivized towards deceit and lies. Honesty has become old fashioned, and it’s not only in politics, it’s apparent in the media industry as well.
Formerly respectable and honorable publications have become muckraking rags with the sole purpose of airing political dirty laundry intent on destroying people’s reputations and livelihoods.
New forms of bloggers litter the internet doxxing and keeping tabs on those they disagree with; anonymous twitter accounts are set up with the sole purpose of harassing and recording the every move of public figures and people with influence, hoping that they make the wrong step over the cliff of public approval.
In some ways, Justin Trudeau is a product of these times. He only answers in rehearsed lines, he has a carefully manufactured image and he is a very good actor.
These are the types of people who thrive in the culture we have created for ourselves.
I was born in Eastern Europe in 1995, only six years after the Romanian revolution in 89. It was a revolution which culminated in the country’s communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu being shot alongside his wife Elena outside of an improvised courthouse after a two hour trial.
My older siblings started their lives under the repressive paranoia of Romanian communism and my parents lived nearly a quarter of their life within it.
Now, I’m painfully self-aware that the “we’re headed towards a full communist dictatorship” trope is often overused and beaten to death especially among those on the right but I think in this case it serves a valuable historical allusion.
According to Conservative estimates, the Romanian secret police, or “Securitate” (The Department of State Security) employed nearly half a million informants. In the 1980s, that would total nearly 3 percent of the national population.
Think of 30 people, and it was very likely that one of them was scribbling down notes about your daily habits and purchases. Perhaps it was your hairdresser, or the local friendly butcher who always asked about your family, in some sad cases it could even be your loved ones, it was likely that you would never find out before it was too late.
In fact, the Romanian secret police were so feared and revered, that even the USSR thought their methods were extreme.
By every definition of the term, Romania was a surveillance state. Informants were everywhere. People feared to say or think what they meant and it was a disaster for the national consciousness.
Perhaps Canada will go the same way, but it is certain that today’s climate of distrust and fragmentation will do nobody any good. It will only lead to suspicion and paranoia.
It will only lead to further surveillance and an erosion of trust.