Why is The Country I Love Spying On Me?

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Last week, I found out that my government is spying on me, Canada ranked worst in the developed world for response to climate change, Canadians rose up against pipeline proposals all across the country, and the media reported precious little of any of it.

What happened to the Canada we know and love? Where is the country that holds its head high in the world, a respected leader on human rights and environmental issues?

Was it ever there to begin with? We were known as peacekeepers, and those who could afford to travel proudly wore the flag on their backpacks. And I remain fiercely proud of our public health care, even if it is far from perfect.

But if you are indigenous, you’ve seen your land and your children taken away. And if you were an Atlantic cod, well, you probably are no longer. Same goes for sea otters on the west coast, and old growth forests across much of Canada.

This beautiful country has a history of boom towns and ghost towns, built and then abandoned by hard-working families as the resources were used up. Alberta’s tar sands are the latest and worst instance of government and industry following this well-worn path: deny indigenous rights, get the resources out of the ground as fast as possible, and move on.

And yet, we also have a proud history of making course corrections as a country, when the science makes clear the consequences of our actions. We were global leaders in banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were causing holes in the ozone layer.

Today we recognize that digging up the earth against the will of the people who live there has never been okay. This is not just an environmental issue; it is a human rights issue and the First Nations who live around the tar sands and along the pipeline routes are asking us to stop.

And the science is clear: What we choose to do with Canada’s tar sands will impact the climate and future of the entire planet. If you breathe air or drink water, this is about you.

How is it that speaking up for clean drinking water and a safe climate makes me suspect in the eyes of our federal government? The information on spying obtained by the Vancouver Observer names Sierra Club as one of the organizations being monitored by CSIS and the RCMP, with briefings provided to private oil companies.

The thing is, caring about coastal jobs, about coastal cultures and communities, about our children’s future, these things do get in the way of tar sands expansion, pipelines and tankers.

Faced with this inconvenient truth, our federal government is responding to the challenge of our time with spying and denial, when what is needed is creativity and the courage to chart a new path.

Spending taxpayers’ dollars on spying now won’t save us from the massive costs of dealing with climate change fall-out: the floods, droughts, ocean acidification and extreme storms that we’re signing up for if we build the Enbridge or Kinder Morgan pipelines.

Climate change is not some abstract concept for the future; it is already here. The recent typhoon in the Philippines is only one tragic example of what’s in store, and none of us are immune.

When it comes to doing something about climate change, Canada is the worst country in the developed world. And yet, polls show that 84% of Canadians want the federal government to take leadership on climate change. So who exactly is our government representing, as they undermine international climate talks and spy on concerned citizens?

We are at a crossroads in this country. Down one path, B.C. is poised to become a gateway for global warming, an exit port for shipping dirty fossil fuels to overseas markets. Down a different path, thousands of Canadians rallied in over 130 communities last week to defend our communities from climate change and the risks posed by tar sands pipelines.

Canadians can make good choices. We made good choices when we ended commercial whale hunting, when we created a universal health care system, and when we closed the last of the residential schools.

We can make good choices again.

We are calling on our provincial and federal governments to be climate leaders, to develop energy strategies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and invest in good green jobs, while building the infrastructure we will need for a low-carbon economy.

There is so much we could do together; spying just seems a waste of time and money. Let’s get on with building an economy that supports working families without destroying the land, water and climate we all depend on.