The Civil Assistance Plan: what are we getting into?

On February 27, the Canadian department of National Defence announced that Canada Command and the US Northern Command had “recently signed a…

On February 27, the Canadian department of National Defence announced that Canada Command and the US Northern Command had “recently signed a Civil Assistance Plan, which facilitates military members from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency.”

Canada Command and the Northern Command, in case you haven’t heard of them, are the branches of our respective militaries whose attention is focused within our own borders.

According to a DND backgrounder from 2005, “The creation of Canada Command is based on the new international security environment and a commitment to place greater emphasis on the defence of Canada and North America.”

According to an article in The Maple Leaf, the DND/Canadian Forces official online magazine, troops from either country might cross the border to assist in the event of  “civil support operations such as floods, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and effects of a terrorist attack.”

While both countries published belated announcements, the agreement itself is deemed to be secret by virtue of the fact that it’s bilateral.

Nothing in the announcements suggests the request for assistance would have to come from a national or provincial head of state. It appears as though the generals who signed the agreement could bring it into force on their own authority.

Terrorism is a slippery concept.

It used to mean blowing up airplanes, bombing public buildings, assassinations, and the like.

Now the US Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act defines terrorists as those who “engage in sit-ins, civil disobedience, trespass, or any other crime” in the cause of animal rights.

For anyone who meets this definition, the potential consequences are horrifying.

In both the US and Canada, accused terrorists have no rights, and may be tried in secret with no knowledge of the evidence against them, and in the US they may be subjected to torture.

So to recap, an agreement entered into by two generals with no obvious political oversight opens the door — though admittedly it’s not clear how wide — to US troops on Canadian soil in the event of sit-ins and civil disobedience.

Those crimes could result in secret trials, indefinite incarceration and even torture.

But it gets worse.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Beginning in 1999, the (US) government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States.

“The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.”

A Halliburton press release from January 2006 confirms that the company was awarded a $300-million, five-year contract “for establishing temporary detention and processing facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the United States or to support the rapid development of new programs.”

A section of the 2007 US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), titled Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies, gives the president the sole authority to declare martial law in the event of “a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or any other condition in which the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order.”

According to the Chronicle story, “The Military Commissions Act of 2006, rammed through Congress just before the 2006 midterm elections, allows for the indefinite imprisonment of anyone who donates money to a charity that turns up on a list of “terrorist” organizations, or who speaks out against the government’s policies. The law calls for secret trials for citizens and non-citizens alike.”

Just in case you’re thinking that the US administration is going to change in November and make it all better, National Security Presidential Directive 51, signed in 2007, gives the president the power to do whatever he sees fit to ensure “continuity of government” in the event of “a catastrophic emergency,” including cancelling elections.

And anyway, look back at the date when KBR got that first contract.

So not only does Canada now have a secretive agreement to permit cross-border troop movements with a neighbour notorious for human rights abuses and the steady abrogation of civil liberties, whose president claims the right to extend his own rule indefinitely, and whose citizens risk persecution for criticizing government policy.

That neighbour is in the process of establishing an unspecified number of concentration camps in secret locations, complete with trains.

Can it possibly get more sinister?

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.