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Uzelman: Failures of the Federal Department of Public Safety harm Canadians

A column by Bruce Uzelman

~BW Uzelman

The federal Department of Public Safety has mishandled several crucial issues, with unacceptable consequences for some Canadians. Often, the politics – the accusations, the denials, the drama – rather than the issues dominate press coverage. Impacts on citizens are sometimes given little attention. Yet, it’s the issues, the government’s responses and the real impacts on Canadians, that are important.

Recently the Correctional Service of Canada transferred Paul Bernardo, the serial kidnapper, rapist and murderer, from a maximum security prison to a medium security facility. This certainly retraumatized the family, friends and neighbours of the victims. The CSC horribly misjudged what the family, the Canadian public and even the government would accept. Corrections legislation does not allow the government to decide where individuals are incarcerated; that is the purview of the CSC. The government, however, regulates and legislates the CSC at a broader level.

After the transfer, the Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino, claimed he will ensure the CSC will consult families before such decisions. Whether this would have prevented the Bernardo transfer is debatable, but the family would have at least been alerted before the event. This did not occur. Though the CSC had notified the offices of the Minister and of PM Justin Trudeau three months prior to the transfer, both the minister and the PM insist staff did not inform them. The communications problem, if it is only that, is widespread within the government, and is seriously harming some Canadians.

After the 2019 and 2021 elections, CSIS sent classified reports to the federal government detailing China’s election interference, and China’s targeting of Chinese Canadians, amongst them Conservative MP Michael Chong. The former Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair and the PM, again, said they were not informed of the Chong targeting. Additionally, the government blamed the communications problem on CSIS. This, too, is a recurring theme of this government; the mistake is always assigned to someone else.

CSIS director David Vigneault responded to the accusation at a Commons committee meeting last week. He testified very precisely and deliberately, “The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and specifically me, shared the information with the Minister of Public Safety given the very specific directive to share such information with the minister.” He said the issues-management note used was created by CSIS to communicate very important information which had to be passed up the chain.

Chinese Canadians have been targeted by China and China’s “police stations” in Canada. The media has examined some of the impacts on Canadians of Chinese ancestry and on Chinese citizens living in Canada. In 2022, the CBC interviewed Laura Harth, a campaign director at Safeguard Defenders, a Spain-based human rights group. She said China has targeted, “dissidents, critics of the regime, even those within the Communist Party ….” She noted that the Chinese government may harass relatives in China, and it sends agents abroad to coerce people into returning to China, or even to kidnap them.

Sheng Xue fled to Canada after the Tiananmen Square massacre. She also spoke to CBC in 2022. She said that she had been repeatedly targeted online by Chinese officials for her activism. She added, “They want to destroy my reputation. But since I am in Canada, they cannot kidnap or kill me, like many of my friends in Thailand or Vietnam [or] Hong Kong. [But] now the Chinese police station [is] here, just a few kilometers from me, so I am asking myself, where else can I escape to?” Chinese Canadians should not experience this distress in Canada. That the government has allowed the situation to deteriorate to this extent is inexcusable.

The same 2022 article quoted Chong, “This is an outrageous intrusion on Canadian sovereignty. We’ve heard of threats directly targeting people who are advocating for minority rights in China, such as those from the Uyghur and Tibetan communities. These stations are now another tool that Beijing can use to repress Canadians in the Chinese community in Canada.” Chong, at this time, was totally unaware that he and his family in Hong Kong had also been targeted. He only learned of it when the Globe and Mail in May of 2023 revealed CSIS’s 2021 classified report.

The Chinese police stations, according to Mendicino in April of 2023, were closed. That, however, was not true. Mendicino has a problem identifying the facts. The stations may now all be closed, but the RCMP continue to investigate as of mid-June. A Public Enquiry remains indispensable to scrutinize this whole mess. The enquiry requires a broad mandate to investigate the illegal activities of the Chinese government within our borders, and the response of the Canadian government. As for Minister Mendicino, he has failed to maintain “public safety”. He should be replaced.


Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age.

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.


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