Terror as wedge issue: anticipating PM Stephen Harper’s ‘anti-terror’ legislation

Posted on January 18, 2015, 1:21 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Prime minister Pierre Trudeau on the steps of Parliament in 1970 when the country was in a state of “apprehended insurrection.” Below: Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Japanese Canadians arrive at internment camps in British Columbia’s Interior in 1942. So, what is Mr. Harper’s Conservative government pondering in its “anti-terror” legislation?

It remains to be seen what Prime Minister Stephen Harper will do with his new “anti-terror legislation,” announced in the emotional aftermath of the shooting on Parliament Hill as the story of the murderous rampage in Paris was still unfolding.

My guess is Mr. Harper himself doesn’t fully know yet because the legislation is likely still to be stitched together from a surveillance state wish list concocted by various players in the security services, the corporate sector and the political executive. So the bill, which has probably been coming together since December’s attack by a lone man with a lever-action hunting rifle in Ottawa, is probably not quite complete.

HARPERSNARLCare will need to be taken by the drafters to ensure provisions designed to intimidate and spy on designated enemies of the Conservative Party of Canada, environmentalists or union members for example, will not unduly trouble friends of the government who might warrant surveillance, say radical gun ownership advocates.

But we now know Mr. Harper well enough to have a pretty good idea what he will do: The bill will likely be a hodgepodge of sensible enough procedural changes combined with a couple of serious assaults on our fundamental freedoms that no opposition politician could support in good conscience.

Mr. Harper’s legislative storm troopers will have no such scruples, of course.

The courts, even conservative jurists, will eventually overturn the most offensive provisions on constitutional grounds – not that a Harper Government would pay much attention to that – but that does not matter much as this will be essentially a political document.

Remember, this is a government and leader that have always held our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in deep contempt and have never seen a wedge issue, no matter how destructive to democracy or corrosive of our national fabric, that they would not cheerfully adopt. And here they are facing an election!

So when the opposition raises voices against the worst provisions – suspension of free speech? internment of whole groups of citizens on religious or racial grounds? more assaults on Internet privacy? – they will be pilloried as friends of terrorists, limp-wristed wets too concerned about human rights to do what is needed to “protect” Canadians, never mind the provisions that do the opposite. These are, after all, the same people who cried “Taliban Jack!” and who now countenance quiet negotiations with the very same Taliban.Internment

As an aside, it strikes me as an irony that a group whose leaders skedaddle for the presidential jet or hide in the Parliamentary security closet at the first whiff of danger are so quick with the nasty nicknames, not that I’m suggesting anything. We once had a prime minister who had the guts to show his face on the steps of Parliament at just such a moment. To the gun nuts I would say, while a long-gun registry might have been useful, Mr. Harper may well end up providing some future government less friendly to their enthusiasm better if less democratic ways to track and control their anti-social activities.

Regardless, it may well work, which is something to think about, because it would mean we citizens of what was once the freest country on earth will not only be stuck with the Harper Government, but with its legislative half-life lingering long after it is history.

Nevertheless, we have to concede this much to the advocates of whatever approach the prime minister decides to take: Islamist terror is now a real problem that presents a genuine danger to many people throughout the industrialized West and much of the rest of the planet, particularly including Islamic countries.

So while stating the obvious truth the causes are far more complicated and the solutions more difficult than the risible clash-of-cultures cartoon typically presented by the right, doing nothing is not an option either.

But again, since we know the Closet Keeper so well, it seems highly unlikely that the true thrust of the planned legislation will have much at all to do with suppressing Islamist terrorism, which after all is for now sporadic and of limited impact other than its psychological effect.

No, the real targets are far more likely to be unions, environmentalists, uppity scientists, pipeline opponents, reproductive rights advocates, social media commentators and others on the PM’s ever-lengthening Enemies List. In addition, I’m sure Mr. Harper’s corporate friends would like nothing more than for the state to label, say, anti-pipeline advocacy as “supporting terrorism.”

That said, we should keep an open mind about the possibilities until we see the legislation.

One final thought, as we begin to learn about and understand the network that supported and supplied the attackers on the supposedly satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper in France and plotted attacks in other European countries, it seems less likely that an operation of this scale could have been organized by someone sitting in the proverbial cave in Tora Bora or northern Yemen.

No, especially in a heavily policed modern surveillance state like France, such things are unlikely to have been accomplished without the assistance of the security apparatus of a modern and well-financed state.

Canada has state enemies, some of our own creation and some not. Some of them may have an Islamist agenda, some obviously do not.

Moreover, Canada has state friends that we cannot be assured will always act like our friends. One example is Saudi Arabia, which, as the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson pointed out in an excellent column yesterday, is attacking Canada’s interests and principles on several fronts.

We need to think about those things too – not just the comic strip version of the world presented by the ideologues in the Prime Minister’s Office – when we consider the genuine necessity of protecting our legitimate national security.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

7 Comments to: Terror as wedge issue: anticipating PM Stephen Harper’s ‘anti-terror’ legislation

  1. Keith

    January 18th, 2015

    On CBC this morning, Mulcair pointed out that the original wording of Harper’s anti-terror law would have stripped Mohamed Fahmy of his citizenship, since he has been convicted of terrorism in a foreign country. The wording was changed thanks to the NDP.

    Reply
  2. anonymous

    January 18th, 2015

    I imagine that security legislation has been developed in the secure closets of Parliament hill over the past eight or nine years. Now it’s just a matter of the Harperites polishing it and deciding which bits will help them retain power.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBH97ma9YiI

    Reply
  3. Filostrato

    January 18th, 2015

    What in the name of heaven has happened to this country when the thought of Harper-introduced legislation strikes terror in the hearts of thinking Canadians? When I hear him speechify about rights and freedoms, it makes me almost choke with anger.

    Re the Human Rights Act in the UK:

    Grayling (minister of Justice) intends to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act and replace it with the British Bill of RIghts. Won’t be British because the Scottish National Party has said they won’t repeal it and neither will Northern Ireland, so it will be an English and perhaps Welsh Bill.

    Francis FitzGibbon – (London Review of Books, 23rd October, 2014 edition, p. 21.) states that Grayling “…[w]ants a whipped parliamentary majority to decide who should have the benefit of human rights.” He goes on to say that , “We have human rights by virtue of being human, not because we belong to a section of society that the government doesn’t yet despise.”

    Sounds like Canada. The list of despised Canadians on the enemies’ list is getting longer and longer. How does this regime possibly represent us?

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  4. January 18th, 2015

    With the economic ‘strength’ falling apart, they’ll have to find something, and I think you’re right it’ll be security. Who do you trust to protect you? I wonder if anyone will try to ‘commit sociology’ and argue that Harper’s policies have contributed to the frustration and alienation that leads to extremism. (Israel, income disparity, environment, immigration, First Nations, take your pick).

    Truth may the first casualty in war, but in politics it was probably obliterated by the morning after pill.

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  5. Bobbie Saga

    January 19th, 2015

    It’s difficult to keep an open mind when we have the “closet keeper” rolling out so-called “security experts” on the MSM that send a chill down my spine. Call me skeptical, but I believe it’s to get the public ready for how the CPC wants to frame the issue.

    No Dave, I can’t keep an open mind. This is especially so when a so-called “security expert” skips right over the debate of giving up our freedoms and goes directly to statements like, “I don’t like oversight… Oversight tends to get highjacked by special interests.” Wow!

    The quote is from someone this a.m. on CBC TVs newscast. Didn’t catch the name. But I switched to CNNs Reliable Sources, which was running a feature on this same issue from a US perspective. It was a rather lively debate that included questioning the so-called experts from the military industrial complex and what they have to gain. What are they saying and for what purpose was brought into the debate.

    Reply
  6. Jerrymacgp

    January 19th, 2015

    From the point of view of the threat level to Canadians, domestic violence and impaired driving kill far more Canadians than “terrorism”, at least at home. If the government is going to bring in such measures as “preventive detention”, maybe they should refocus on those all too real threats, not to the still very remote threat of “terrorism” on home soil.

    Sadly, too, the HarperCons’ change of direction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to this problem. Before they were elected, Canada took a more even-handed approach to that issue. While we were supporters of the creation of Israel in the first place, we were highly critical of some of the counterproductive actions of recent Israeli governments, such as increased settlement activity in the occupied territories, and “the wall”. Now, however, Canada’s public stance on Israel’s actions has been very lopsided in favour of the current right-wing government in Jerusalem.

    Remember, you can support Israel and its right to exist in peace and security, and still be critical of its government and actions; you can also be critical of Israeili government policy without being anti-Semitic. Harper and his gang don’t seem to get that.

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  7. DB

    January 25th, 2015

    http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/01/24/Conservative_Scholar_Shaped_Harper_Dies/

    Twenty-five years later, Harper still exhibits undisguised scorn for the charter and the ”special interests” it allegedly supports. If we could only go back to the origins of Canada and the rights (or lack thereof) we had then. But wait! The 150th anniversary of Confederation is only two years away. All the more reason for Harper to want to be re-elected so that he can rejoice in the pre-charter world.

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