Editorial, 23 August 2023
University of Toronto, to which Citizen Lab, the department that created the ‘CatalanGate’ last April, is attached
It insists that doing so would harm the centre’s economic interests, but it will have to give explanations to the Spanish Congress if a commission is set up to investigate the alleged espionage.
The University of Toronto still refuses to inform which companies and entities finance its Citizen Lab department, which is the one that published the CatalanGate report in April 2022, according to which the phones and digital devices of 65 people in favour of Catalan independence had been spied on with the spy software Pegasus and Candiru. UNED professor José Javier Olivas, who last March presented a 250-page study to the European Parliament entitled “The Pegasus case. A critical review of Citizen Lab’s CatalanGate report”, asked the Canadian university in July 2022 to provide him with the names of the associations, foundations and firms that finance Citizen Lab and how much they do so. Despite the supposed transparency that Canadian public institutions are supposed to exhibit, those in charge of the University of Toronto are reluctant to provide Olivas with this information.
The only thing that the Canadian university, after a long exchange of emails with Olivas, has been willing to release is a table with Citizen Lab’s income from 2017 to 2023, but without stating the name of any of the entities that make it. The reasons given by the University of Toronto for withholding the names of the private entities that fund the collective that created CatalanGate is that “disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the University’s economic interests or competitive position” and that some financiers prefer to remain anonymous. Last Monday, 14 August, Rafael Eskenazi, Director of the Office of Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy at the University of Toronto, insisted on these arguments in a new letter sent to the UNED professor.
Eskenazi argues that disclosing who funds Citizen Lab and in what amount “could reasonably cause economic harm to the University’s interests or competitive position” and that “there would be a risk of harm to the health and safety of the affected entities if their identity were disclosed”. Olivas asks the University of Toronto to offer the details, purpose and scope of Citizen Lab’s possible contracts with organisations and individuals such as the government of the Generalitat, ERC, Junts, CUP, Òmnium Cultural, Assemblea Nacional Catalana, Edward Snowden, Apple, Facebook, Google and WhatsApp. It also asks for the dates of the meetings of the heads of Citizen Lab with representatives of the Catalan Government, political parties and Catalan organisations. The director of the Office of Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy at the University of Toronto leaves the answer to these questions blank.
The funding of Citizen Lab and that of the report christened ‘CatalanGate’ will be on the table of the Commission of Inquiry that the Spanish government has pledged to set up on this case in exchange for the support of ERC and Junts for the election of the socialist Francina Armengol as president of the Congress of Deputies. And, evidently, the University of Toronto will be asked to provide the information on this funding that it refuses to hand over to Professor Olivas. Refusing to provide it to the Congress of Deputies could have much more serious consequences for those responsible for the University and Citizen Lab than their opacity has had up to now.