While the idea of security certificates may be new to many people, the issue which they deal with is by no means a new phenomenon. The issue of course is that of national security. National security is one of the most important things a national has to deal with since countries are responsible for protecting the nation and its citizens from harm. This issue has been in the forefront of so many people’s minds in recent years that is would appear as though Canada has never had to face a security issue in the past. From the way everyone from Paul Martin to The Mackenzie Institute to my high school math teacher goes on about security, you would think it’s the first time Canada has come across this problem.
Yes, Canada is a young nation, and as such it has not had to deal with the same types of problems countries in Europe and Asia have faced. It is true that Canada does not have the same level of experience. Having said that though, throughout its history, short as it might be, Canada has had to deal with a number of security scares. The placement of immigrants from Austria-Hungary into concentration camps in the First World War, the removal of Japanese Canadians during World War Two, and the internment of Jewish refugees from Germany are all examples of how Canada has taken extreme measures to deal with security scares. I use the term “security scare” quite loosely here because I’m not too sure who exactly is “scared” and whose “security” we are protecting. To be honest, in many of these cases I believe that the individuals under scrutiny had more reason to be scared for their own security than the country did as a whole.
If that list of past periods of uncertainty is not enough, there is still another period to add to it. Who can forget the Red Scare? Well unfortunately, too many people. The Red Scare refers to the period after World War Two during which ideological insecurity spread across Canada due to a mistrust of the Soviet Union. The Red Scare is closely related to the Cold War and the fear that the Soviet Union was gaining too much strength and that communism would soon spread throughout the world. The Soviet Union used spies in various countries to gain intelligence and the Canadian government decided to use extreme tactics to combat this. Any individuals who were communists or perceived to be sympathetic to the Soviet Union were met with suspicion and hostility. Ottawa used the War Measures Act to arrest, detain and interrogate suspects without going through the standard channels. As fear and panic increased, legitimate citizen dissent became confused with espionage and any individuals, organizations or groups who were involved with communism were seen as a threat. This led to the screening of thousands of individuals, amendments to the immigration policy and many immigrants were faced with deportation.
There were lesson we learned from this point in history about how to deal with security and the dangers that come from acting out of fear. The Red Scare raised questions about freedom and democracy within Canadian society. Can the use of such extreme tactics really be justified in a democratic nation? The Canadian government has been criticized for the way it handled the situation and its disregard for the basic liberties of the people it chose to pick out. It seems to me that the way the government chose to go about “securing” the country was questionable and based more on seeming ignorance than actual fact.
The Canadian Historical Association printed an information booklet entitled “Canada’s Red Scare 1945 – 1957” in early 2001 in an attempt to educate the public about this period in Canada’s history. This was just before 9/11 and the widespread, almost manic, public fear that soon spread. The historical booklet brought up the question of whether something such as the Red Scare could ever happen again. It leaned more towards the notion that while it is possible, its rather unlikely that a Red Scare would reoccur. Well as we all know, shortly after this publication two airplanes flew into the World Trade Centre and the rules of the game changed. I believe that it is all too likely that Canada will not learn from its past and based on its current use of Security Certificates, Canada will quite possibly make the same mistakes yet again.