By Matt Palmer
The following post is an attempt to work through how I feel about the release of the anti-terrorism strategy by the government. As a society it is important to have a discussion of the implications.
Last week the government released a new strategy called “Building Resilience Against Terrorism”. The strategy sets out an approach to deal with global and domestic threats. Since 9/11 we live in a different world, a world that has been coloured by the experience of that event. 9/11 has impacted our current reality of how we move about the world, and it has influenced how we see the Muslim world.
That the government of Canada has released a new strategy to deal with the potential threat of terrorism should not be a surprise. One of the roles of government, one could argue, is to protect society against real or perceived threats of violence. How they protect against threats, and who we are protected from is a matter that brings many ethical and moral conundrums. Yet, these are issues that we must grapple with and not just let emotions dominate our response. The threat of violence has to be weighed against the right to free speech, and the right to protest things that may seem unjust. If the protest goes beyond the rule of law, then there must be serious consequences.
Most of us can probably understand the government position on the threats posed by international groups like al Qaida. Yet, the dangers of racial profiling are real, and of concern. How do we balance the need for security against the right of privacy and free thought and speech? Or the right to be a Muslim in the Western world and not have to be assumed to be a terrorist?
On the other hand, the troubling aspect of this new strategy is the potential labelling of legitimate groups as having the potential for terrorism. Additionally, there is language in the strategy that defines potential threats that can be violent or economic. Here is a quote from the document that can be found on the Government of Canada Public Safety website.
Domestic Issue-based Extremism
Although not of the same scope and scale faced by other countries, low-level violence by domestic issued-based groups remains a reality in Canada. Such extremism tends to be based on grievances—real or perceived—revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism. Other historical sources of Canadian domestic extremism pose less of a threat.
Although very small in number, some groups in Canada have moved beyond lawful protest to encourage, threaten and support acts of violence. As seen in Oklahoma City in 1995 and in Norway in 2011, continued vigilance is essential since it remains possible that certain groups—or even a lone individual—could choose to adopt a more violent, terrorist strategy to achieve their desired results.
Firstly, I question why the government would group animal rights, environmentalism and anti-capitalism movements together with white supremacy? Secondly, while I would agree that there needs to be concern and vigilance around extremist individuals and potentially groups that may have an agenda to cause harm, specifically targeting animals rights groups, environmental groups, and anti-capitalist groups as a whole, can be seen as a threat to the democratic right to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom to do that within a group.
We must also ask what does anti-capitalism mean? Is that the Communist Party of Canada, the Occupy Movement, a commune, or something else? There is a lot of wiggle room in the language.
I’ve written before that I believe calling environmentalists radicals is a mistake. Most people who might label themselves as environmentalists are caring passionate people who care deeply about the environment, but have a perspective on the issue that some might see as a threat to the status quo. These are not radicals, they are people with a purpose that is in opposition to others. Some groups, perhaps government or energy industry will see what they are doing as an economic threat, if for example they are successful in stopping new pipelines. Does that make them terrorists?
Most environmentalists would not think of using violence to achieve their goal. Sadly there may be a very small number of people attached to the same cause that do see violence as a viable option. We have seen cases of attacks against oil and gas installations, and those types of attacks pose a credible threat to society. But do we treat the majority of well meaning individuals as potential threats and as potential terrorists because of the actions of a few?
Most people who fight for animal rights would never even think of using violence to achieve their goals. There have been very few incidents in Canada of violent attacks attached to animal rights causes. This doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real, rather we should evaluate what a proper response should be.
I am troubled by the anti-terrorism strategy. It concerns me that this strategy as it relates to “domestic issues” arguably is designed to inflame emotions among environmental groups for example. Initial responses from some groups has had some individuals using extreme language to describe there feelings around the government strategy. One might argue this is exactly the response that the strategy was intended to provoke.
We need to have some bigger debates in society around these issues.
Voices of dissent, ideas that push the status quo are critical to a vital democracy. The French Revolution, the anti-Vietnam movement, anti-Apartheid, Civil Rights movement were deemed serious threats to the status quo of the day. Those movements were instrumental in building more just societies. The early environmental movement of the 60’s and 70’s was derided and mocked, yet that movement was pivotal in pushing profound change to the way we exist on this planet. The environmental legislation we have today is a direct result of those campaigns by hippies and weirdoes.
Pushing the boundaries makes us better. We need protection against credible threats, but we also need protection against laws that hamper the ability to think differently, or that cause us to ask and answer questions that scare us.
Environmentalists are not radicals or terrorists. And they understand the need to guard against individuals who have a violent agenda because those types of actions harm their cause, and I would argue are not in line with their values and beliefs.
So let’s have an honest discussion of how we deal with real threats. I hope that what I’ve written will spark some discussion and debate.