As Remembrance Day is upon us, our thoughts have shifted to the shocking murder of two Canadian Armed Forces soldiers: Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. The perpetrators, converts to Islam, were both troubled.
It was terrorism of the Jihadist brand, following the call of ISIS to kill Canadian military.
We remember terrorism of a different kind, from the FLQ brand of the 1960s. Now we must decide how much further to go to confront a worldwide scourge, with its coattails appearing on our doorstep.
In October 1970, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in response to the FLQ kidnappings, famously replied, “Just watch me.” He invoked the War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties. Almost 500 people, mainly dissidents and activists, were arrested without charge or access to legal counsel and held for an average of a week. All but 20 were released and never indicted. Is this what we want today?
The Harper government intends to increase police powers of surveillance, detention and arrest. Police already have a lot of power. Under Section 83.3 of the Criminal Code, with the permission of a judge, police can arrest a person without warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe a terrorist act may be committed, or that detention of that person is necessary to prevent a terrorist act. In both October events, no such request was made, presumably for lack of evidence.
Expanding the law to include confidential information from intelligence sources instead of evidence as the basis for preventive arrest would introduce a dangerous threat to civil liberties. Since intelligence sources can be declared off limits to counsel for national security reasons, this prevents counsel from challenging the basis for an arrest.
If the sources and/or the information are tainted, huge injustices, such as the imprisonment in Syria and torture of Canadian/Syrian Maher Arar, can result.
In the panic and fear following the slaying of our two soldiers, do we want to turn Canada into a police state? This would play into the Jihadist’s playbook. Our admired openness as a nation, the primacy of our fundamental laws, our traditions of welcoming immigrants and refugees and offering them a virtually unparalleled degree of liberty, religious tolerance and multicultural co-existence must remain as bedrocks of our society.
Clearly, our security services, particularly those in charge of protecting Parliament Hill, the main institutions of government in Ottawa, and places like St. Jean, have to provide some answers.
How did a man armed with a long-gun manage to get into the Centre Block on Parliament Hill just after the War Memorial shooting, when the prime minister and leader of the opposition were meeting their caucuses?
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ISIS had issued its warning on social media for all to see. Why were security levels not increased, especially around obvious symbols of the state and its uniformed staff? We must conclude that CSIS and the RCMP were asleep at the wheel.
Martin (Ahmed) Couture Rouleau, shot dead in St. Jean, was under the security services radar. He was arrested at the airport in July while on his way to Turkey. His passport was seized because authorities feared he was heading there to take part in terrorist activities. There wasn’t enough evidence for him to be detained.
Of course, his terrorist mindset may well have been intensified following that episode. He was among 90 people being monitored by the RCMP as part of 63 current national security investigations. He was visited several times by the RCMP, who contacted his parents and the local Imam.
According to CSIS deputy director of operations Jeff Yaworski, the organization is not equipped for a higher degree of surveillance of those it is monitoring. “There’s nothing more that we can do with the budget that we have,” he has said, before these incidents.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, shot dead in the Centre Block, was not on the RCMP’s list of 90 and not formally identified as a “high-risk traveler”. But he had applied for a passport and hadn’t been issued one because questions were raised about the application to renew an expired document. There were suspicions, but nothing that would warrant greater surveillance. There were no signs of any violent tendency.
Are we at the point where we will arrest people for their thoughts?
McGill political scientist Rex Brynan says men such as these are often looking for meaning in their lives, or someone to blame for their problems.
With Canada participating in the military campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and having urged those who shared their views to attack soldiers, the temptation to act is there. The government has proposed beefing up our security services capacity by:
• Allowing CSIS to obtain information on Canadians fighting abroad with terrorist groups through the “Five Eyes” spy network (Canada, the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.)”
• Allowing CSIS more scope in tracking Canadians engaged in terrorist activities abroad, and “Five Eyes” countries the same scope in tracking its nationals in Canada.
• Giving CSIS informants the same anonymity accorded to police informants.
More must be done before another tragedy occurs.
Certainly, Islamic community leaders can be more vigilant in identifying and counseling potential risks, particularly among converts, and vocal in speaking out against Holy War. Those who preach violent Jihad should be identified and reported to security officials.
This struggle to retain our way of life requires the active participation of all citizens, but our rights under Canada’s fundamental laws must remain paramount.