The Canadian Incident Database recently confirmed that in the last 54 years, there have been about 1,800 terror threats involving Canada. A pretty jarring statistic, isn’t it? I can admit that when I first read it, I was surprised.
As a Canadian, I don’t often associate the words “Canada” and “terrorism” with one another. As peace-keeping country with an international reputation for being friendly, mild-mannered, and overly polite, Canada doesn’t really lend itself to becoming a “terror target”—and yet the statistics seem to say otherwise.
Or do they? If we break that number down, we’ll quickly discover that 1,800 threats over the course of 54 years amounts to a measly average of 33-odd threats any given calendar year. When we look at it that way, it doesn’t seem so shocking anymore.
But the federal government continues to tell us that terrorism is a real problem that should concern us. So much so, that they have spent a great deal of time and resources developing and implementing Bill C-51, which is more popularly known as the “anti-terrorism bill”. Prime Minister Stephen Harper tells us that we need this bill—which received third reading in the Senate on June 9—in order to protect our country from the dangers of terrorism, both abroad and at home. He says that it will give essential government agencies the powers that they need to identify and destroy suspected terrorist plots. He says it will make arresting and convicting terrorists easier and that it will make us safer on the whole.
Critics say otherwise.
Bill C-51 has been described as flat-out “dangerous” by countless people, including academics, politicians, and lawyers, all over the country. They have expressed concern that it would irreversibly compromise the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens. It has been suggested that, under this law, the definition of “terrorist” may be extended to the absurd. For example, vocal opponents of government policies related to natural resource development could be arrested and detained under the title of “eco-terrorists”. This is only one of the many ways that Bill C-51 may potentially target people who are not terrorists; it will seek out and eliminate active dissent by way of punitive force.
This makes us think about who, exactly, may be a “terrorist” under this new law. The potential misuse of this title is particularly disturbing when we consider it within the context of “preventative” arrests.
I find these kinds of arrests troubling as they aim to address future behavior. The very nature of this arrest is that it is made in order to curtail illegal behaviour, before that behaviour occurs. It therefore operates under the assumption that some ideas—some concepts—are so inherently dangerous that they must be snuffed out completely in order to protect society. Under Bill C-51, we can expect to see these kinds of arrests increase dramatically.
In fact, we are already seeing it—and we only have to look in our own backyard. Consider the arrest and recent conviction of Surrey residents and methadone patients John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. These two individuals have been labelled terrorists after they hatched a hare-brained plot to plant a bomb near a government building on Canada Day 2013. While the judge continues to hear arguments on the issue of entrapment, it seems likely that without the help of undercover RCMP operatives, neither Nuttall nor Korody would have had access to the information, resources, or tools necessary to conceive of their plan, let alone execute it.
Are these kinds of investigations, arrests, and subsequently trials helping Canada? Are they protecting the Canadian public? I’m not so sure.
The fact is, terrorism exists and it’s nothing new. It is a tool for extremism and has been for thousands of years. In Canada, our record of terrorist threats dates back to 1961 and even earlier.
Surely, as terrorist methods evolve alongside developments in technology, so should our responses to them. Changes to the law may be necessary. These changes, however, should also be mindful of the delicate balance that exists between freedom and security in Canadian society. I just don’t believe that Bill C-51 should be Canada’s answer to the terrorist threat.
And besides, doesn’t Canada have bigger problems than terrorism on its hands? When you consider the fact that it’s 2015 and women still make up less than 25 percent of our elected federal representatives, I’m inclined to say that it does. If you ask me, these are the kinds of statistics that our government should be focusing on.