What do Santa Claus, Vladimir Putin, Joseph McCarthy, and Morgane Oger have in common? A love of “naughty” lists, for one.
In February, Morgane Oger, vice president of the (tenuously) ruling BC New Democratic Party and founder of the Morgane Oger Foundation, published a post on Facebook seeking volunteers for a “hackathon” to identify and track Canadian citizens allegedly connected to “hate groups.”
“I’m looking for a few skilled volunteers to help put together an online Canadian atlas of Populist Extremists (CAPE). The tool will help keep track of relationships between hate groups in our country… Interested people should sign up here:
Oger did not specify what “hate groups” the project aims to track, however, it is likely the targets are those who disagree with — or perhaps have questions about — queer theory or gender identity ideology. Oger has referred to radical feminists both as Nazis and holocaust deniers, for instance, and routinely insists those who do ask such questions are engaging in “hate speech.” Oger’s work with the BC NDP and the eponymous foundation both centre on LGBT (in truth, almost exclusively the “T” aspect of the acronym) advocacy, and Oger, who identifies as transgender, is a vocal activist for transgender ideology and gender identity legislation.
The Morgane Oger Foundation website states:
“The Morgane Oger Foundation is needed to help push back against this rising tide of hate. We will organize campaigns to educate and advocate against erasure and bias in an effort to help Canadians see that inclusion and love are the antidote to hatred and bigotry… The Morgane Oger Foundation’s first project will be to support litigation hoping to definitively confirm the newly-added protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.”
The site also claims that “Canada is going through hateful times,” stating that “hate motivated” violence is on the rise in BC, as well as in Canada, as a whole. But a Statistics Canada report, released in November 2018, shows that an increase in police-reported hate crimes “may be related to more reporting by the public.” The report also concludes that “non-violent crimes played a bigger role in the overall increase in hate crimes than did violent crimes.” The report explains that the increase in hate crime is largely related to racism and crimes targeting persons of specific religions or sexual orientations. Gender identity is not listed as a factor in this increase in reported hate crimes.
Oger’s comments online frame feminists who are critical of gender identity ideology as “popular extremists,” supporting the notion that it is these women the CAPE project aims to target. Recently, Oger tweeted me, asking if I am “in cahoots with the Heritage Foundation and with [C]ulture [G]uard,” or “Mass Uprising,” and went on to suggest I am involved in an “alarming populist shift of tactics against equality…” (I am vaguely familiar with the first two groups, though not with the third.) Oger also falsely accused me of “organizing hate events,” in relation to an event I helped organize in January looking at the impact of gender identity ideology and legislation on women’s rights, and has made similar public comments about notable feminists, including Meghan Murphy and UK-based Posie Parker. Oger has previously referred to radical feminist women as “TERF supremacists.”
To date, Oger has not responded to a request for comment on the CAPE project. BC Premiere John Horgan’s office has not responded either.
It is unclear if Oger’s “hackathon” has taken place or if any volunteers have signed up to participate. On a base level — and apart from the blatant McCarthyist throwback — the proposed CAPE project may present a threat to the privacy of Canadians.
As a registered not-for-profit, Oger’s foundation is subject to the BC Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). As such, the organization is not permitted to collect, use, or disclose any personal information about individual Canadians without obtaining their consent. Exemptions to this rule on consent apply in specific circumstances, including (but not limited to) collecting personal information when “the collection is clearly in the interests of the individual,” to collect debts or bestow awards, or to provide necessary medical treatment. None of the exemptions listed in the act pertain to lists of persons accused of being connected to “hate groups.”
The proposed CAPE project may violate BC’s Personal Information Protection Act. Any personal information garnered through this project that is not publicly available online could constitute collection of personal information without consent.
When I attempted to contact Michael McEvoy, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC, for comment on Oger’s public invitation to participate in a hackathon aimed at compiling an “atlas” of alleged extremists, Jane Zatylny, a senior communications officer at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, said in an email that the “Commissioner is not able to comment.”
In a phone call with Micheal Vonn, lawyer and Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), Vonn explained why McEvoy may have declined to comment:
“They [the Privacy Commissioner] wouldn’t want to pre-judge, probably, should they ever receive a complaint — since they are the regulator. As the regulator, you don’t want to throw it out there, ‘Oh, yes, that’s this or that or the other thing,’ because you don’t have the facts.”
Vonn said the BCCLA’s assessment of CAPE is “one of caution,” since it is not clear what exactly Oger is proposing to do. She confirmed that the Morgane Oger Foundation is subject to the PIPA, and said that “[i]t’s possible that we might find a similar concern, legislatively, as we did in Creep Catchers.” (Surrey Creep Catchers is a vigilante BC organization that publicly exposed persons attempting to have sex with underaged boys and girls, and was subject to a formal complaint at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC.)
Vonn said that there are technological tools — perhaps similar to the ones Oger intends to use — that can be “of great enterprise for accountability,” but “that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shadow.”
When asked about the McCarthyist connotations of Oger’s post, Vonn said:
“When you use the language of ‘we’re compiling lists,’ you do raise the spectre of all kinds of concerns. And again, there are appropriate ways and politically democratic ways to engage with people who disagree with you. And the notion of whether or not these technological tools are going to be a net benefit or a net detriment to the importance of political discourse — I guess the jury is still out, ultimately.
But what we can say, again, is that it’s very difficult to deny that there is a possibility of misuse. And we want to be alive to that as we try to have difficult discussions in our world.”
Indeed, we should be watching to see if and how Oger’s CAPE project proceeds.
Canadians — and not just those involved in discussing gender and feminism — should be worried when an employee of a governing political party announces intent to collect names of undesirable citizens or unspecified “hate groups,” and the party does not respond to public concern. (Numerous members of the public responded critically to Oger’s social media post, and Horgan also previously ignored a petition signed by more than 100 Canadians asking him to address Oger’s conduct.)
In the 1950s, during the McCarthy years, hundreds of Americans were accused of being sympathetic towards — or actual — communists. These unfounded allegations resulted in widespread ostracization, job loss, and even imprisonment. Senator McCarthy eventually succumbed to public humiliation, but not before many innocent persons had their lives and reputations destroyed.
One might argue that identity politics — including gender identity — have consumed our current culture in a similar way fear mongering around “communism” did in the 50s. In the current fervour, it is difficult to question dogmas surrounding identity — those who do are routinely and falsely smeared as bigots, racists, transphobes, TERFs, and, according to Oger, “populist extremists.” There is little to no room allowed for nuanced discussion. “We do not promote the cause of democratic participation by making concern about your personal safety or your livelihood a component of your calculus about whether to engage in political discussion,” Vonn told me.
My fear is that Oger’s intention with this “hackathon” is to do precisely that: instill fear and silence open political discussion. (Sadly, this is already happening to feminists — particularly ones who criticize gender or prostitution — many of whom regularly complain that they only feel free to share their views online, anonymously.)
While Oger likely does not have the following or respect of enough Canadians to create much traction should CAPE move forward, we should be aware of and vigilant in preventing any wrongdoing that might result.
Meanwhile, the continued silence from Premiere Horgan’s office on Morgane Oger is getting louder by the day.
Amy Eileen Hamm is a writer and registered nurse educator in New Westminster, BC. You can find her on Twitter @preta_6.