Gwynne Dyer: Who is made safer by more anti-terrorism laws?

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      Left-wing, right-wing, it makes no difference. Almost every elected government, confronted with even the slightest “terrorist threat”, responds by attacking the civil liberties of its own citizens. And the citizens often cheer them on.

      Last week, the French government passed a new bill through the National Assembly that vastly expanded the powers of the country’s intelligence services. French intelligence agents will now be free to plant cameras and recording devices in private homes and cars, intercept phone conversations without judicial oversight, and even install “keylogger” devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time.

      It was allegedly a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks that killed 17 people in Paris last January, but the security services were just waiting for an excuse.

      Indeed, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the law was needed to give a legal framework to intelligence agents who are already pursuing some of these practices illegally. France, he explained, has never “had to face this kind of terrorism in our history.”

      Meanwhile, over in Canada, Defence Minister Jason Kenney was justifying a similar over-reaction in by saying that “the threat of terrorism has never been greater.” Really?

      In all the time since 9/11 there had never been a terrorist attack in Canada until last October, when two Canadian soldiers were killed in separate incidents. Both were low-tech, “lone wolf” attacks by Canadian converts to Islam—in one, the murder weapon was simply a car—but the public (or at least the media) got so excited that the government felt the need to “do something.”

      The Anti-Terror Act, which has just passed the Canadian House of Commons, gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the right to make “preventive” arrests in Canada. It lets police arrest and detain individuals without charge for up to seven days.

      The bill’s prohibitions on speech that “promotes or glorifies terrorism” are so broad and vague that any extreme political opinion can be criminalized.

      In short, it’s the usual smorgasbord of crowd-pleasing measures that politicians throw out when they want to look tough. It won’t do much to stop terrorist attacks, but that doesn’t matter as the threat is pretty small anyway.

      France has 65 million people, and it lost 17 of them to terrorism in the past year. Canada has 36 million people, and it has lost precisely two of them to domestic terrorism in the past 20 years.

      In what way were those lives more valuable than those of the hundreds of people who die each year in France and Canada from less newsworthy crimes of violence like murder?

      Why haven’t they changed the law to stop more of those crimes? If you monitored everybody’s electronic communications all the time, and bugged their homes and cars, you could probably cut the murder rate in half.

      The price, of course, would be that you have to live in an Orwellian surveillance state, and we’re not willing to pay that price. Not just to cut the murder rate.

      The cruel truth is that we put a higher value on the lives of those killed in terrorist attacks because they get more publicity. That’s why, in an opinion poll last month, nearly two-thirds of French people were in favor of restricting freedoms in the name of fighting extremism—and the French parliament passed the new security law by 438 votes to 86.

      The government in France is Socialist, but the opposition centre-right supported the new law too. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Canada is seriously right-wing, but the centre-right Liberals were equally unwilling to risk unpopularity by opposing it. On the other hand, the centre-left New Democrats and the Greens voted against, and the vote was closer in Canada: 183 to 96.

      And the Canadian public, at the start 82 percent in favour of the new law, had a rethink during the course of the debate. By the time the Anti-Terror Act was passed in the House of Commons, 56 percent of Canadians were against it. Among Canadians between 18 and 34 years old, fully three-quarters opposed it.

      Maybe the difference just reflects the smaller scale of the attacks in Canada, but full credit to Canadians for getting past the knee-jerk phase of their response to terrorism. Nevertheless, their parliament still passed the bill. So should we chalk all this up as two more victories for the terrorists, with an honourable mention for the Canadian public?

      No, not really. Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and all the other jihadis don’t give a damn if Western democracies mutilate their own freedoms, as it doesn’t significantly restrict their own operations. The only real winners are the security forces.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

      Comments

      15 Comments

      This anit-terror bill is a really bad idea

      May 11, 2015 at 10:45am

      I can't believe we let it get passed.

      Anonymous

      May 11, 2015 at 11:10am

      Hopefully people remember this when the election arrives.
      Found this in social media circle:

      An analogy to help you understand the problem with C-51: We know drinking and driving is a problem and kills lots of people every year. C-51 allows CSIS to arrest you because they suspect you might drive drunk at some time in the future. This might be based on pictures you posted of drinking on Facebook, or perhaps a picture of you holding a beer while standing beside or near a vehicle. It would give CSIS the right to infiltrate your parties, and perhaps even buy the liquor for you that they would then use to 'prove' that you might drive drunk. If you say something that sounds like you are advocating drinking and driving, like using the term 'booze cruising', you could be arrested.

      I Chandler

      May 11, 2015 at 11:40am

      DYER: ...“terrorist threat”, responds by attacking the civil liberties of its own citizens. And the citizens often cheer them on."

      Cheer? But 56 percent were against it. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver , devoted 30 minutes to a discussion of mass surveillance - He couldn't' Find Americans Who Know Edward Snowden's Name but they're still against mass surveillance: https://youtu.be/XEVlyP4_11M

      https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/04/06/john-oliver-interview-poli...

      DYER: "If you monitored everybody’s electronic communications all the time.."

      Everybody’s electronic communications is Already being monitored all the time - A young man (between 18 and 34 years old) named Ed Snowden , released some details. Just last weak. a Federal court declared the mass NSA phone surveillance illegal:
      http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/05/07/nsa-phone-surveillance-illeg...

      DYER: "we’re not willing to pay that price. Not just to cut the murder rate."

      Is mass surveillance about protecting the population?
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2602802/How-Liberal-party-police...

      https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/05/11/email-exchange-cbc-public-...

      Glenn Greenwald writes: “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it."

      https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/22/canada-proclaiming-war-12-...

      Greenwald was In Canada Days After the Terrorists Attacks:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq2Hi_SD8pQ

      Aladdin Lamp

      May 11, 2015 at 12:32pm

      So, when pictures/video of Stephen Harper in Iraq were pulled down because of fear for the lives of family members of the Canadian military here in Canada, we should not be concerned. We should still bask in our denial and willful blindness that it won't " happen here". Why ? Because we are so sure that our Multicultural " experience" has been such a great success and that the European example will not repeat itself here ? I strongly recommend to you to take your blond daughter/GF/wife and have a stroll in one of the " NO GO ZONES" in northern Paris suburbs. Zones that their existence have been vociferously denied by both the left and right French politicos. Zones that surely will just breed love, tolerance, acceptance, respect of multiculturalism, freedom of choice and human rights. Zones that will never breed hatred and every plot to destroy our civilization and our values. Our open and accepting society will never feel threatened like in Amsterdam, Brussels, Melbourne, Boston etc... We have just allowed ghettos to be built with such reassuring names as Peace Village with the great conviction that hate, and evil intent to dominate don't exist. That what is trumpeted in speeches, and photo ops never hides any agenda or fascist ideologies and beliefs. I wish that these were in the realm of conspiracy theories, unfortunately the ascending curve of attempts both successful and failed, the increasing virulence of calls to harm our societies are not fictitious and should never be brushed with a broad stroke of misguided and complacent sense of security . Two innocent military individuals snuffed over one year could be just the beginning. How far are you prepared to go ? What number would be enough to consider a Bill that ultimately is brought to ensure the preservation of our freedoms and Civil Liberties ? And PLEASE, spare me the usual attacks of racism & phobias. I am an immigrant who chose Canada for the Greatness of it's Open Society and will be really disappointed to see all it's qualities slowly erode and disappear by the all engulfing political correctness and fears to offend. Please review your historical facts about wars, invasions and the spread of violence in the name of a divine cause both in the past and the present. Please think about takiya, where it's perfectly OK to lie, steal and deceive you, the Infidel. Common sense is not common.

      P.Peto

      May 11, 2015 at 5:12pm

      Surprise! I couldn't agree more with Gwynne on this issue he's framed it perfectly. Who's going to repeal Bill 51? It's an over reaction and an overkill to the "terrorism" threat. Dare I say it but I think it's a conspiracy to reduce our personal freedoms in preparation for a coming financial collapse, economic depression,civil unrest [revolt] and/or world war. I just don't trust any of those governments who largely cater to the 1 percenters.

      Gordon Eric Martin

      May 11, 2015 at 6:14pm

      Herr Hit... uh.. Harper just loves it

      McRetso

      May 12, 2015 at 6:56am

      Peto,

      What coming financial collapse? I'm sure there will eventually be another big recession à la 2008, but you'll note that that did not cause a societal collapse. In fact, neither did the 1929 recession, Hurricane Katrina, or 9/11 (in the West anyway).

      Besides, if there was a serious risk of global and/or national collapse, then maybe it would be justified to beef up the security sector. Much of the opposition to C-51 comes from the LACK of any credible reason for it.

      I think it's much more responsible to characterize it as a Conservative attempt to look "tough on terror" that roped in the Liberals as well, because apparently that party is allergic to popularity. It will give legal protection to CSIS and the RCMP (who don't really need it), but not really benefit anyone else.

      broken lamp

      May 12, 2015 at 7:42am

      How about a bill that protects the Canadian military members from the PTSD that is causing the suicide rate of our veterans to be overwhelmingly higher than the general population? Terrorists aren't the greatest threat to our military, our government's neglect of their health is.

      JF

      May 12, 2015 at 9:50am

      As we see in the U.S., this bill has almost nothing to do with terrorism and will be used for just about everything but thwarting dastardly terror plots.

      Wade Smith

      May 12, 2015 at 3:49pm

      Its interesting how murder turns to terrorism as soon a you add words like Islam and Muslim.