Three weeks ago, protesters tore pages with a military recruitment ad out of The McGill Tribune, risking severe paper cuts to save their fellow students from the hazards of military service. But when both The Daily and the Trib ran a recruitment ad for CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service,Canada’s counterpart to the CIA) earlier this week, no newspapers were vandalized. This raises two questions: Why isn’t CSIS perceived as equally threatening? And do we entrust our national security to people who placed a “Now Hiring: Secret Agents” ad in a newspaper?
Now I understand why the actual CIA is more intimidating than the Canadian version – they have a few more assassinations under their belt – but I suspect that Canada’s spies aren’t pulling their weight either. For example, I visited the CSIS web site and it has a Frequently Asked Questions page. I’m no espionage expert, but I always though that part of being a spy was not giving away information, especially when people ask “Is CSIS allowed to recruit university students to spy on their colleagues on campus?” (The answer is yes.)
I find this news more disappointing than disturbing. Right now, the CIA is toppling a regime in some far-away country, and while I know that’s probably a bad idea, at least the movie rights will be worth something. Meanwhile, CSIS are sending spies to McGill. What are they planning to do – infiltrate Midnight Kitchen? Stage a coup against SSMU?
Even if you think those are great ideas, it’s hard to overlook CSIS’s reputation problem, because it’s something that plagues Canada as a whole: we’re not a particularly bad-ass nation. This is obvious to anyone who has observed Canada on the international stage – we may tag along with the big guys for a fight, but we could never scare anybody on our own. In short, Canada reminds me a little too much of myself in seventh grade.
That probably explains our chronic underachievement in the cloak-and-dagger world – it’s just not part of our culture. Tom Clancy has clearly been desperate for ideas during most of his career, yet never desperate enough to write about Canadian espionage. And while the Brits gave the world the James Bond franchise, Canada’s contributions to spy cinema are Austin Powers and Spy Hard. A Canadian espionage film is so unviable, even the National Film Board won’t pay for it.
Is there any hope that Canada will overcome its clandestine impairment? Judging by CSIS, or the number of us who travel with our flag sewn to our backpacks, probably not. I’m slowly coming to terms with that. Canadians may not have invented any nifty spy gadgets, but I’m still proud of insulin, poutine, and the Wonderbra. And there’s something to be said for a country where people aren’t obsessed with security threats and infiltration: our airport security is friendlier, and what we lack in bad-assness we make up for in politeness. Just watch out for the spies on campus.
Bernard Rudny is searching for the CSIS mole at McGill. Report any suspicious activity to firstname.lastname@example.org.