Advertisement NEWSROOM

           The Tail Is Wagging The Dog:

     Governments Spy On Us While Jealously 

            Guarding Their Own Secrets       



By Susanna Kelley

Talk about a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Forgive my naïveté, but I could have sworn those poli sci profs in university taught that in democracies, governments serve at the pleasure of the citizens.

Recently, however, it seems like governments are totally out of control when it comes to minding - and mining - the private business of the citizens they're supposed to serve.

Some are treating citizens as enemies to be watched, spied upon and subject to warrantless internet information searches.

Here in Ontario, U.S. border guards have turned back a number of Ontarians who turned up in their databases as having sought help for mental health issues.

How they had that information is what makes the story so frightening.

Ellen Richardson, a disabled woman, was recently told she was being turned back because had an "episode of mental health care" about a year ago.

She hadn't even been in a hospital for the mentally ill.  She was in a regular hospital. For depression. In Ontario.

But somehow, American border guards at Pearson airport had access to that information and sent her down the hall to U.S. Homeland Security, where she was told she could not enter the U.S.

Not because she was a threat to anyone, but because she'd been treated for depression.

The fact American border guards had that kind of closely guarded, private information on an Ontario citizen shocks NDP health critic France Gelinas.

Ms. Gelinas has taken the case to Information and Privacy Commissioner Anne Cavoukian for investigation.

In another case, a woman who regularly travels to the U.S. for consulting work but was suddenly told to go see Homeland Security.

Same problem: she'd been treated for a mental health condition.

Six years ago.

She was also subsequently stopped from crossing into the US in a car, where, in front of her work colleagues, a border guard screamed at her about her "episode of care," which she had kept private.

She was told if she wanted to get into the US she would have to get one of only three Homeland Security-approved Canadian doctors - at a personal cost of $250 dollars - to clear her.

Strangely, the last person she felt like confiding her mental health secrets to was a doctor tied into Homeland Security ...

Personal health information is considered so private in Ontario it is protected by law from public release.

"We have very strict legislation with the Personal Health Information Act," says Ms. Gelinas.

"I've seen nurses fired for peeking into health records they're not supposed to... but (U.S.) Homeland Security can? What the hell?"

Ms. Gelinas says she has no proof the Ministry of Health did anything wrong, but somehow American authorities got ahold of Ontarians' private health info.

This is not even the worst breach of privacy recently.

From information gleaned from famous American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, the CBC's Greg Weston says in an updated exclusive story that the Canadian government "allowed the American National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct widespread surveillance in Canada during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits."

The NSA closely coordinated its work with Canada's largest security organization, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), says the CBC.

"Both agencies gather intelligence by intercepting phone calls and data, and by hacking into computer systems."

Meanwhile, the Harper government is trying to slip in through the back door privacy-breaking legislation that it couldn't get it through the front.

After a backlash from its own voter core, the CPC government withdrew Bill C-30, which would allow it to have Internet Service Providers (ISP) and other telecommunications companies give information about their customers to the government without a warrant. The ISP would have immunity from any resulting charges.

But now they've re-introduced those powers, this time buried in an anti-cyber bullying bill.

Meantime, governments themselves have become the most secretive in recent political history.

At Queen's Park, the Liberals, under Dalton McGuinty, prorogued the legislature in 2011 to try to block more information coming out about the gas plants scandal.

And in Ottawa, the Harper government has obfuscated and misrepresented Nigel Wright's $90,000 payment for Mike Duffy's questionable Senate expenses; Mr. Wright's resignation/firing; and who actually knew about it all.

So much for governments serving at the pleasure of their citizens.

These days, it's more like the opposite is true.

The tail is, indeed, wagging the dog.
















About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : December 02, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns NEWSROOM
The renegotiation of NAFTA resumes this week in Mexico City. What does Canada have to do to save NAFTA - or should it bother? Mahoney, Stewart and Parkin weigh in.
November 14, 2017
A recent series of lectures in Toronto might help Prime Minister Trudeau's search for an path towards reconciliation with Canada's First Nations.
November 12, 2017
Justin Trudeau's fundraiser and former Liberal PMs Jean Chretien and Paul Martin are linked to companies with holdings in offshore tax havens. Mahoney, Stewart and Parkin debate.
November 08, 2017
While populists in some countries say immigration and freer trade have caused inequality inside nations, globally it's a different story. More migration helps.
November 06, 2017
Should all of Justin Trudeau's cabinet ministers - not just Bill Morneau - be required to put their holdings in a blind trust? Mahoney, Stewart and Parkin debate.
October 31, 2017
Critics of Ontario's Basic Income pilot project say the fact it's not universal means it won't achieve economic security where jobs are perilous and scarce.
October 26, 2017
Can indexing the Child Benefit to inflation as Canada enjoys a booming economy change the channel for beleaguered Finance Minister Morneau? Mahoney, Stewart and Parkin are in The Salon.
October 25, 2017
"Evidence-based" decision making is good, but there is much that is not quantifiable to show that bike lanes on Bloor Street should stay.
October 15, 2017
The Liberals are lowering the small business tax rate to 9% as of 2019 as the Finance Minister faces possible conflict of interest accusations. Mahoney, Stewart and Parkin discuss.
October 14, 2017
Critics say Canada is getting beaten up by the Trump administration in the NAFTA negotiations. Is the "charm offensive" failing? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
October 11, 2017
The NDP has chosen the Ontario-based Singh to head up the party. Mahoney, Stewart and Parkin debate whether it made a smart move.
October 03, 2017
A debate over social injustice being held at the University of Toronto this week features three affluent white men - no blacks, women or other marginalized groups
October 02, 2017