New report details how autocrats use the internet to harass and suppress activists in Canada

Thousands of miles away from her homeland in Syria, she organized protests and ran social media pages in Canada in support of opposition forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Then anonymous complaints started rolling in and prompted Facebook to shut down her group page. Trolls left “nasty and dirty” comments on social media and created fake profiles with her photos, she said, while a Gmail administrator alerted her that “a state sponsor” was trying to hack her account.

“The Assad regime was functioning through this network of thugs that they call Shabeeha. Inside of Syria, those thugs would be physically beating up people and terrorizing them,” said the 42-year-old Toronto woman.

“Then they were also very much online, so they terrorized people online as well.”

As diaspora communities are increasingly relying on social media and other online platforms to pursue advocacy work, authoritarian states are trying to exert their will over overseas dissidents through what’s dubbed “digital transnational repression,” said a new study released Tuesday.

“States that engage in transnational repression use a variety of methods to silence, persecute, control, coerce, or otherwise intimidate their nationals abroad into refraining from transnational political or social activities that may undermine or threaten the state and power within its border,” said the report by the Citizen Lab at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

“Thus, nationals of these states who reside abroad are still limited in how they can exercise ‘their rights, liberties, and voice’ and remain subject to state authoritarianism even after leaving their country of origin.”

Being a country of immigrants — particularly refugees seeking protection from persecution — Canada is vulnerable to this kind of digital attacks, amid the advancement of surveillance technology and rising authoritarianism around the globe, said the report’s authors.

“There is this misassumption that once people arrive in Canada from authoritarian countries, they are safe. We need to redefine what safety is,” said Noura Al-Jizawi, one of the report’s co-authors.

“This is not only affecting the day-to-day life of these people, but it’s also affecting the civic rights, their freedom of speech or their freedom of assembly of an entire community that’s beyond the individuals who are being targeted.”

A team of researchers interviewed 18 individuals, all of whom resided in Canada and had moved or fled to Canada from 11 different places, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tibet, Hong Kong, China, Rwanda, Iran, Afghanistan, East Turkestan, and Balochistan.

The participants shared their experiences of being intimidated for the advocacy work they conducted in Canada, as well as the impacts of such threats — allegedly from these foreign states and their supporters — on their well-being and the diaspora communities they come from.

“Their main concern besides their privacy and the privacy of their family is the friends and colleagues back home. If the government targets their devices digitally, they would reveal the underground and hidden network of activists,” said Al-Jizawi.

“Many of them mention that they try to avoid the communities from their country of origin because they can’t feel safe connecting with these people.”

Many of the participants in the study said they have reached out for assistance to authorities such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service but were disappointed.

“The responses were generally like, we can’t help you or this isn’t a crime and there’s nothing actionable here. In one case, they suggested to the person to hire a private detective,” noted Siena Anstis, another co-author of the study.

“Law enforcement is probably not that well equipped or trained to understand the broader context within which this is happening. The way that they handle these cases is quite dismissive.”

The anonymous Syrian-Canadian political activist who participated in the study said victims of transnational repression will stop reporting to Canadian officials if nothing comes out of their complaints.

“Every day we’re becoming more and more digital, which makes us more vulnerable to digital attacks and digital privacy issues. I hope our government will start thinking about how to protect us from this emerging threat that we never had to worry about before,” said the woman, who came here from Aleppo as a 7-year-old and has stopped her political activities to free Syria.

“If someone like me who is extremely outspoken and very difficult to stifle felt a little bit overwhelmed by all of it, you can imagine other people who recently came from Syria and still have a lot of ties there. I know a lot of people that will not open their mouth publicly because they’re scared what will happen.”

The report urges Ottawa to create a dedicated government agency to support victims and conduct research to better understand the scale and impact of these activities on the exercise of Canadian human rights. It also recommends establishing federal policies for the sale of surveillance technologies to authoritarian states and for guiding how social media platforms can better protect victims from digital attacks.

“It might seem at this stage it’s only happening to some communities in Canada and it doesn’t matter,” said Anstis. “But collectively it’s our human rights that are being eroded. It’s our capacity to engage in, affirm and protect against human rights and democracy. That space for dialogue is really reducing.”

Source: New report details how autocrats use the internet to harass and suppress activists in Canada

How activism has evolved for Black Canadians

Interesting article on the changing nature of Black Canadian activism.

While sympathetic and understanding of some of their concerns (indeed as the Ontario government’s recent data collection and related anti-racism strategy does), and that activism is needed for change, exaggerated rhetoric hardly helps the case with the broader public discussion and debate.

But of course, that is part of free speech and related rights:

At a time when so many Canadians were celebrating the end of the Harper era and, with it, an apparent return to “sunny days,” Khogali’s words eroded the image of Canada as a genteel, meritocratic, accepting nation, instead indicting its leader on the grounds of racism and discrimination. Khogali not only named whiteness—a bold act given the state of our national discourse on race—but specifically white supremacy. She also labelled the Prime Minister a terrorist, implicating Canada as a nation trafficking in fear and oppression. While there were certainly Black Canadians who did not endorse Khogali’s words, online discussions and think pieces written in the aftermath of Khogali’s statement suggest that her statement wasn’t as aberrant for young Black Canadians as for their white counterparts. But regardless of where one finds themselves in relation to Khogali’s words, one thing is clear: a vision of change that does not require the nation state or the sanction of white allyship—let’s call it disruption—has begun to gain credence among Black Canadians. It may make some uncomfortable—but it’s also starting to produce results.

This paradigm was on display during BLMTO’s disruption of Toronto’s Pride Parade last summer, an action that drew the ire of many white members of the LGBTQ community who believed that BLMTO was undermining its authority and the gains that it had made in society. It was on display at Tent City when BLMTO occupied the area outside of the Toronto Police Headquarters. It was on display when BLMTO showed up at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s private residence in protest of police. These are the new tactics of disruption: disruption of parades, disruption of privacy, disruption of comfort, disruption of permission, decorum, civility, and the various ways they have been used to obscure Black plight. Disruption is inspired by a lack of visible progress promised by the Prime Minister’s own father.

Currently, BLMTO boasts 18,000 followers on Twitter including many high-profile members of the Canadian media landscape, some of whom subscribe to the same style of activism; Desmond Cole’s recent disruption of the TPS meeting in protest of carding is a compelling example. BLMTO is also actively involved in Toronto’s Black communities, holding many discussions and events and, in March, the group achieved its goal of having police banned from Toronto’s Pride parade.

I ended up speaking out against the elder’s words at the meeting; silence felt inadequate. I told the young man that an appeal to reason could not work in a system predicated upon his dehumanization, and that to assume otherwise was dangerous. When I spoke, I found myself supported by several others in the room, including a few elders. As Foster observes of Black elders, “many of them immigrated to Canada with their heads full of dreams. They were going to do well and succeed, become an example for all those back home. Now, in the middle of the night, they find themselves scratching their heads and asking what went wrong. For they did not attain their dream, and what is even more significant, they now despair their kids will be worse off than they.”

In these dire times, when 42 per cent of Black students have been suspended at least once in the Toronto District School Board and Black Canadians constitute nearly ten per cent of federal prisoners—but only three per cent of the Canadian population—unwavering subscription to infiltration is difficult and often dangerous. Entire generations of Black Canadians have watched Black teachers in Ontario face racism in the staff rooms and barriers to promotion. We’ve seen how the establishment of the SIU, a major reform secured through the tireless efforts of the Black Action Defense Committee, did not protect Jermaine Carby or Andrew Loku. We see the hollowness of the promises made four decades ago.

For Black Canadians wedded to the idea of infiltration, it is high time to acknowledge its limitations, the many ways in which the face of the mainstream has yet to soften. It is also incumbent upon non-Black Canadians and, especially, White Canadians to examine their relationship to Canada in light of history. To label Khogali’s words violent and call for her resignation without any discussion of state-produced violence is to ignore centuries of injustice in this country. It invests in ideals of merit and civility, assuming the effectiveness of nationhood, while conveniently overlooking the violence visited upon racialized bodies and, in particular, Indigenous bodies.

As people across this country move to celebrate Canada 150, the important shifts that have occurred in Black political engagement from Trudeau to Trudeau ask all Canadians to re-evaluate the narratives that structure what it means to be “Canadian.” The politics of disruption recognizes that systemic racism may be just as Canadian as maple syrup. The barriers to full participation in Canadian society have not been removed—in fact, many have been redoubled. In contrast to the decades of Black support for Pierre Trudeau, Khogali’s indictment of Justin Trudeau reminds us that it is racialized Canadians who are often left in the shadows of these long-awaited sunny days.

Source: How activism has evolved for Black Canadians –