I have a confession to make. Those of you who have a passing acquaintance with my opinions, et cetera, might not be too surprised by what I'm about to tell you, but for others this may come as a bit of shock, and I apologise for that. I just felt that, given the tenor of the times, I owed it to everybody to make a clean breast of things.
I'm a security risk. Yes, that's right: mild-mannered, beady-eyed Canadian with my head full of lies I may be, but I'm also a dyed-in-the-wool security risk. This is no new thing either, and not brought about by any of the many disparaging comments I may have recently made about various political figures on both sides of the border, or any relationship I may or may not have with foreigners of a different colour.
No, I'm ashamed to admit that my days of being a security risk predate George junior and senior's presidential stints. It all goes back to a series of incidents between 1980 and 1983. Not that it matters, I guess. As Maher Arar has learned, it doesn't matter when an incident took place, or whether you were innocent or not – once labeled a threat, always a threat.
I found out about my status in the summer of 1988. I was "between engagements", (that's what actors say when they’re unemployed, it sounds a lot better) and it so happened that my period of forced idleness coincided with Toronto playing host to the annual meeting of the Group of Eight Industrial nations (G8).
To handle the influx of media sure to accompany the leaders, they needed to hire a large number of media clerks; people who had experience with files, organizing information, and dealing with requests for copies of documents. Two or three local temporary employment agencies had been hired to tackle the job of recruiting individuals to fill these positions.
Since I had had plenty of experience doing office work from when I helped manage a theatre company, I decided to apply for one of the positions to earn some needed money to tide me over. My credentials were fine, I was actually overqualified but that didn’t matter, and I was told the job was mine as long as I cleared a security check.
As I wasn't going to be having any contact with any of the dignitaries, it was considered a forgone conclusion that I would pass. I'm not sure who was more surprised: me or the woman from the employment agency who had to phone and tell me that my application for security clearance had been rejected. According to her, no one else who had applied had been turned down, only me.
It took me a while, but I eventually figured out what it was about. It was one of two things, or maybe the two combined, and they both involved events that took place between 1981 and 1982.
At the beginning of the 1980s the American government was looking for sites where they could test one of their newest weapons, the Cruise missile. Northern Alberta in Canada was ideal for their needs, as the topography was varied and there were miles upon miles of unpopulated land. They could launch the missiles from planes and guide them to their final destinations, secure in the knowledge that no humans would be disturbed.
That it happened to the traditional hunting grounds of neighbouring Native Canadians didn't concern them overly much, nor did the fact that it was the migration route for huge herds of caribou. It's not as if the missiles had nuclear warheads on them, for gosh sakes. Anyway, the Canadian government gave the Americans permission to go ahead and test the missiles and even offered to build the guidance system on Canadian soil.
In 1981 I was one of about 20 people in front of the American Consulate in downtown Toronto protesting the testing. As we marched on the sidewalk in front of the front doors, two gentlemen, who might as well have been wearing signs saying "SPY", were taking our pictures from a meridian in the road. In the course of the next two years the demonstrations grew larger and larger until in the fall of 1982, about 100,000 people turned out to march through the streets of Toronto against the Cruise missile tests.
It was probably the biggest demonstration of its kind in Toronto, maybe even Canada. Shortly after that, somebody left a van filled with explosives parked up against the factory in Rexdale, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, where the guidance system for the missiles was being constructed. It didn’t cause that much physical damage, but some poor security guard was killed.
I remember hearing about it at work and coming home and asking my roommate if we knew the people who did it. He gave an odd look and said, "We know people who know them. Watch what you say on the phone for awhile." I wasn't thrilled that we had even a tenuous connection to anybody that could be responsible for killing somebody else (they called themselves Direct Action and had actually been responsible for a couple of attacks across Canada; they had blown up a couple of adult video stores in British Columbia and some power lines as well — ironically when I moved to Kingston, Ontario in 1990, they were already here having been sentenced to serve their time in the jails here) but I did think he was being a little paranoid about the phones until my father asked me why the hell my phone was tapped.
At one time or another in his career as a lawyer, my father had prosecuted drug offences for the Canadian government, so one thing he was familiar with were the sounds indicating the beginning and end of a tapped conversation. After about a couple of months of being careful on the phone, of not even talking in the same room as the phone in case of a location bug, we gradually slipped back into our normal behaviour.
Eventually I just simply forgot about the whole thing, getting fully involved in my career in theatre and frustrated with the infighting among the political types, I became less and less involved with activist politics. If I hadn't had to apply for security clearance for the G8 event in Toronto I may never even have known.
Now, years later, I wonder if they still consider me a threat? Probably not, because I've the feeling if they did consider me so, I would have been talked to awhile ago. Maybe I'm on some sort of watch, but it’s not one where they consider me a major threat or anything.
But still, I don't try and cross the border into the United States because I've the feeling that would be pushing my luck, and they might decide to detain me for an indefinite period just to be on the safe side.
So there you go, confessions of a twenty-something security threat. I hope it hasn't shocked any of you too much, knowing that for these many months you’ve been sharing intellectual space with me. I figured I owed it to all of you to own up to my less than perfect past and warn you that associating with me could cause you problems.