Monday, December 1, 2008

Building Support for Policy Change through Research

Critiques of security certificates and the larger issues of national security, the "war" on terror and human rights have been undertaken by a range of scholars both in Canada and internationally. We have referenced a number of them in the course of this blog, including legal scholars Colleen Bell (OISE), Wesley Wark (CHRC), Audrey Macklin (UofT). The work of these researchers can help to frame our arguments in support for policy change as they provide a range of conceptual tools to talk about why security certificates matter and the challenge they pose to the values Canadians purportedly cherish. Having well-respected researchers supporting the policy we are advocating also lends credibility to our arguments an evidence-base to work from.

It will be important to contact some of these researchers in order to access additional information, to tap into the network of academics writing about these issues and, possibly to propose some new research initiatives. In particular, public engagement is going to require stories that put a human face on the issue and that can then be situated within the broader geopolitical context identified by scholars like Bell. A participatory research design that engages civil society organizations and those directly affected by security certificates to work with academics to develop these 'case studies' would be powerful in getting our message out and linking it to the policy change we are advocating.

Another area where researchers could be engaged to support a policy shift would be the development and dissemination of public opinion surveys regarding security certificates, national security, Canada's anti-terrorism response, etc. We don't really know how much the general population actually knows about these issues concretely, although we get the sense anecdotally that there is a lot of misinformation. Clarifying how Canadians are currently feeling about the threat of terrorism and Canada's response to it, and particularly how to reconcile human rights and security, would provide strong guidance on how to approach a broad public awareness strategy about the proposed repeal of security certificate provisions.

Some preliminary evidence has been made available, from (of all places) CSIS. A public opinion survey was completed in April and October of 2005 by the CSIS Communications Branch "to get a clearer picture of public perceptions about the Service".

From the April survey findings:
  • 82% believe that it's important to have an organization such as CSIS to investigate threats to national security.
  • 38% of Canadians agree that they "trust CSIS to strike the right balance between security and civil liberties." 28% disagree.
  • 39% of Canadians agree that "CSIS should have more powers to ensure national security even if Canadians have to give up some personal privacy safeguards", while 41% disagree.

  • 63% of Canadians believe CSIS investigates any protest group, whether it is believed to be violent or not.
From the October summary:
  • Fifty-two per cent (52%) of those interviewed believe that CSIS might treat Canadians differently because of their ethnicity.
For more information on the CSIS reports, see: and

This research provides some insight into the ambivalence that Canadians are feeling about the response to issues of national security and the way in which it may have a differential impact on some group. It provides a foundation for our public awareness initiatives and a guide for further research.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It would be so interesting to have a broad based survey done by someone other than the government. I'm in school in Kingston, and I'm shocked by how little people know. And the prison is right here! I thought people were aware and interested, but only until I talked to people outside my circle of friends who are all fairly involved. Doing the survey would also serve to raise awareness of the issues. Perhaps people would be interested in finding out more afterward. I definitely don't think CSIS should be conducting the research. What a ridiculous conflict of interest.