Expanding security to meet growing threats

| January 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
The 329 victims of the Air India bombing — the world’s deadliest terrorist act before 9/11 — are remembered at this sundial memorial in Toronto.

The 329 victims of the Air India bombing — the world’s deadliest terrorist act before 9/11 — are remembered at this sundial memorial in Toronto.

In October 2014, two soldiers, one in uniform, were the target of a hit-and-run near St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec; Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed. The driver fled and was shot to death by police following a high-speed chase. Two days later, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as Mr. Cirillo stood on duty at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The gunman then made his way into the Parliament building and opened fire. He was killed by return fire. Terrorism entered Canada’s collective consciousness even before evidence suggested the perpetrators had been “radicalised.” Media quickly referred to Canada’s loss of innocence, as if Canada has been immune to terrorism.
On the day of the Ottawa attacks, Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, was to have been tabled (it was delayed for five days). The new bill is intended to broaden the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), overcoming rulings by judges in several courts that prevented CSIS from gaining new powers through legal decisions. It will also protect informants. While the new bill will make it clear to Canadians that terrorism is a real threat to this country, we must also question the lengths to which it can be applied.

The October Crisis, involving the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) took place in Quebec in 1970.

The October Crisis, involving the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) took place in Quebec in 1970.

Terrorism broadly defined
Terrorism is a malleable thing, open to interpretation, with more questions than answers. Are attacks on military personnel not at war terrorism? What about attacks on politicians? Must it involve physical violence, or does instilling fear suffice? Are there times when situations demand, and therefore justify, violence? Definition is contentious, even among those who study it. While there is no universal definition of terrorism, national definitions guide legislation and help to identify the boundaries of security agencies.
In Canada, terrorism is defined officially under section 83.01 of the Criminal Code as an act committed, domestically or abroad, “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” intended to intimidate the public “with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”
U.S. Code § 2331 defines terrorism as acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law and appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or to affect government conduct by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Under the British Terrorism Act, terrorist activity includes the use and threat of action “to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public… for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”
Common to these definitions are violence against non-combatants and the intent to instill fear. Also common to acts of terrorism, but not included in official definitions, is the desire that drives them, for political, social or religious change or for retribution. Canadian history includes many acts, committed in Canada or by Canadians abroad, fitting these definitions. Response by civil authorities has had to change along with the increasing intensity of what we would call terrorism.
Canada’s first terrorist acts were carried out by the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish nationalist group formed in 1857 by Irish-Americans to advance Irish independence from the British in the face of the Irish famine, which had driven Irish refugees to British North America. Discriminated against and exploited, the Irish reciprocated with resentment and hatred. Many Fenians believed that violence and breeding fear throughout British North America could force Britain to negotiate freedom for Ireland. While their violence demonstrated the need for British protection, Britain could not provide protection indefinitely. The colony would have to defend itself.

D’Arcy McGee’s assassination
Among British North America’s most stalwart nationalists was Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee, an Irish patriot. McGee understood nationalism as a solution to ethnic conflicts impeding the development of British North America. Realising that nationalism and bigotry could be two sides of the same coin, he supported a “new Northern nationality” within the broader context of British imperialism. McGee opposed the Fenians’ plans to use violence to achieve Irish independence. The Fenians were suspected of his assassination in 1868. Soon after, the group splintered, its lasting effect to unite Canadians by threatening Confederation.
In the 1920s, the Freedomites, a radical Doukhobor group, violently protested most aspects of Canadian society: compulsory schooling in English, public registry, the sale of land, military service, paying taxes and citizenship. For more than 40 years, they protested perceived infringements on their freedom through civil disobedience and by attacking elements of society with which they disagreed. When they refused to send their children to school, their children were taken and institutionalised. The parents could visit once a fortnight, when they were separated from their children by a chain link fence.
Freedomites became infamous for their nude marches and burnings. Julie Rak notes in Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse that the Freedomites created a powerful strategy for visibility by rejecting materiality through public nudity and burning buildings. Their goal was to realise a Doukhobor prophecy that they would return to Russia after suffering the trials of the authorities. Efforts to curb their behaviour through imprisonment or limiting their rights only encouraged their identification with their ancestors’ suffering.
The RCMP, the judiciary and the public considered Freedomites worse than vandals. Even losing their children garnered little public sympathy. In 1962, they were suspected of 259 bombings, including that of a B.C. power transmission tower. The RCMP arrested more than 50 members of the Freedomite Fraternal Council, charging them with “intimidating the Parliament of Canada.” As Dr. Rak concludes, Freedomite actions “posed a deeper threat than merely that of destroying selected properties or parading in the nude.” Their actions challenged Canadian ideals — the sense of community, pride of ownership, and the idea that a nude body is private, not political.
The 1960s saw about 300 acts considered as terrorism on Canadian soil, mostly by Freedomites or the FLQ (Front for the Liberation of Quebec/Front de libération du Québec). Through the 1960s, social evolution in Quebec included the Quiet Revolution, which demanded recognition of francophone Quebecois and greater freedoms. Changing doctrines and international influences, such as Che Guevera and Algerian revolutionaries, spread the idea that violence creates change.
In 1963, the FLQ expressed frustration at the slow pace of change by bombing targets that included the federal government, post offices, the armed forces and the RCMP. Their activities escalated toward the end of the decade, culminating in the October Crisis and the kidnappings in 1970 of James Cross, British trade commissioner, and Pierre Laporte, Quebec’s minister of Immigration, Manpower and Labour. The government rejected the FLQ ultimatum for the release of political prisoners, an airplane and $500,000, but allowed that it was willing to negotiate.

FLQ abduction and murder
Five days after Mr. Cross was taken, the FLQ abducted Mr. Laporte; his body was found in the trunk of a car the next day. Tanks occupied Montreal streets and soldiers in battle dress hunted terrorists in people’s homes. When pressed by reporters about how far he would go to keep law and order, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said “Just watch me.” Three days later, he invoked the War Measures Act, a federal statute adopted in 1914 that gave the government broad powers to maintain law and order during war or insurrection. It was the first time in Canada’s history that citizens were deprived of their rights and freedoms in peace time. Ultimately, more than 450 people, including 150 suspected FLQ members, were arrested. The movement ceased in 1971.
At the time of the October Crisis, security intelligence in Canada was handled by the RCMP. But the Cold War era changed the world of espionage and national security and after the challenges of the 1960s, it was obvious that the potential for threats to Canadian democracy needed re-evaluating. Two separate commissions in 1969 and 1977 recognised that having security intelligence handled by the federal police force conflicted with maintaining the balance between the need for effective intelligence and the need to respect democratic rights and freedoms. Both commissions recommended a civilian service to handle security intelligence.
Bill C-157, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, created CSIS in 1984, with Thomas D’Arcy “Ted” Finn as director. CSIS’ primary mandate was to “collect, by investigation or otherwise, to the extent that it is strictly necessary, and analyse and retain information and intelligence respecting activities that may, on reasonable grounds, be suspected of constituting threats to the security of Canada and, in relation thereto, shall report to and advise the Government of Canada.” The mandate would be tested within a year of inception.

The world’s deadliest attack before 9/11
In 1985, the most lethal terrorist act in Canadian history to date, and the world’s deadliest attack before 9/11, occurred when a bomb exploded on Air India flight 182 off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board. Sikh extremists in B.C. had placed suitcase bombs on two commercial aircraft. The Air India bomb was intended to detonate after the plane landed in London, but the flight left more than an hour late and the bomb went off while the plane was en route. The second bomb, on Canadian Pacific flight 003 to Tokyo, blew up in the Narita airport baggage terminal, killing two baggage handlers. The suitcase bomb was supposed to be transferred to an Air India flight to Bangkok.
Precipitating the bombings was civil unrest between Sikh and Hindu factions in India. In June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to storm the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to remove hundreds of armed Sikh separatists barricaded inside. In retaliation, Gandhi’s own Sikh bodyguards assassinated her, creating a Hindu backlash; the resulting riots killed more than 2,000 Sikhs.
Two suspects were arrested five months after the bombings. The suspected mastermind was charged but the charges were ultimately dropped. Another suspect eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced in 2003 to five years in prison. Two others were acquitted. In 2006, a Canadian commission of inquiry was appointed to examine the bombing. Its five-volume report, released in 2010, concluded that the disaster resulted from a “cascading series of errors” and that intelligence and security agencies and police had engaged in turf wars instead of sharing information.
In the 1990s, it became clear that the global village that has given us the tremendous ability to communicate and share information had also imported foreign political grievances. At least two groups connected to al-Qaeda made their homes in Canada in the ’90s, with a cell of the Armed Islamic Group operating in Montreal. Several of its members had trained in Afghanistan. A group in Toronto connected to Osama bin Laden raised funds for Islamist attacks overseas, including the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad.
Al-Qaeda was founded by bin Laden in the late 1980s as a militant Islamist organization to provide a logistical network for Muslims fighting the Soviet Union during the Afghan War (1979-1989), which pitted anti-communist Muslim guerrillas against the Soviet-supported communist Afghan government. The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and al-Qaeda dispersed, continuing to oppose foreign (e.g., U.S.) presence in Islamic lands and what it considered corrupt Islamic regimes. After being based in Sudan, the group re-established its headquarters in Afghanistan around 1996, supported by the Taliban, which had emerged in Afghanistan during the civil disorder that followed the Soviets’ withdrawal.
Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda blamed the West, particularly the U.S., for problems in the Islamic world, considering as infidel all nations not governed according to al-Qaeda’s version of Islam. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and United Nations organisations were also considered enemies. The group took particular exception to U.S. involvement in the Gulf War (1991) and the imprisonment of al-Qaeda members and associates. Bin Laden declared a jihad (“holy war”) against the U.S. and in 2002, declared Canada a likely target.

Al-Qaeda spawns home-grown terrorism
The al-Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, killed 3,000, including 24 Canadians, leading Canada to dispatch troops to Afghanistan and participate in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Parliament passed Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act, to amend the Criminal Code and expand the powers of government and security organisations to combat terrorism. Many feared the legislation was incompatible with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among the recommendations of the Canadian Bar Association’s review of the legislation in 2005 were a clear indication of Canada’s international obligations, a consistent definition of terrorism, and the requirement for federal regulations to safeguard Canadians when sharing information with regimes that do not respect human rights.
Al-Qaeda has inspired home-grown terrorists in Canada as in other countries. In 2004, Ottawa-born Momin Khawaja, arrested for plotting to detonate bombs in the U.K., became the first person convicted under the Anti-terrorism Act (in 2008). An entire home-grown terrorist cell was arrested in 2006. After an elaborate sting operation, police arrested “the Toronto 18” and charged them with planning terrorist attacks. To protest Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and inspired by violent jihadi videos, the Muslim men had planned to detonate truck bombs in Toronto at the Stock Exchange and CSIS offices, and to storm the Parliament buildings to take hostages and behead the prime minister. Eleven of the 18 were eventually found guilty, but the case was marred by skepticism concerning two infiltrators paid by the RCMP, numerous pre-trial motions that bogged down the proceedings, and the suspects themselves, who lacked credibility and were dismissed by some as “a bunch of bravado-filled but bumbling incompetents” incapable of realising their plans.
In 2008, Canadian diplomats, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, were kidnapped by the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Qaeda’s North African branch. They were held hostage with other captives for 130 days in the border regions of northern Niger and Mali. An al-Qaeda letter obtained later by The Associated Press suggests that their release came after a $1-million dollar ransom was paid. The letter does not indicate who paid the ransom.
Most recently, jihadist violence has become more brutal in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda. As it imposes its own extreme version of Islamic law, it has violently seized large swaths of land in western and northern Iraq, expanding on its territory in neighbouring Syria.

ISIL exhorts murdering Canadians and Americans
Canada has joined a U.S.-led alliance to defeat ISIL. When U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a strategy to defeat ISIL, the terror organisation escalated its own propaganda campaign, encouraging jihadists to attack and kill Americans as well as Canadians, Australians and Europeans, regardless of whether they are military or civilian. ISIL leader Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani has instructed his followers to “kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.…Both of their blood and wealth is legal for you to destroy, for blood does not become illegal or legal to spill by the clothes being worn.” There was been speculation that Martin Couture-Rouleau, the driver who committed the hit-and-run in Quebec, was a “lone wolf” influenced by Al-Adnani.
With terrorist activity intensifying world-wide, national security is among the federal government’s primary concerns. The CSIS Act and the Anti-terrorism Act are inadequate to handle today’s threats. Bill C-44 expands CSIS’ reach by removing territorial restrictions on its activities, when permitted by a judge, even if that authority violates the laws of other countries. The new Act provides additional protection for CSIS agents by making it an offence to divulge information that would identify a CSIS employee and protects CSIS informants by granting them anonymity, conditions CSIS director Michel Coulombe says are crucial to ensuring informant co-operation. University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese has commented that he “knows of no other countries that have taken such explicit steps to make foreign spying appear lawful” (Globe & Mail, October 27, 2014).
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has stated that the Bill needs to be passed without delay and that it complies fully with the Constitution. Others are not so sure, fearing that the Bill will step on our civil liberties. Following the October attacks, the public seems willing to embrace the new legislation. In a survey of Canadians by the Vancouver Province, more than half of respondents supported the new legislation and only 27 percent indicated that it tramples civil liberties; 22 percent of respondents thought it didn’t go far enough.
Will Canadians be required to give up some of their freedom for a sense of security? Is the alternative to live in fear? It appears that terrorism is not going away. Terrorist activity in the last decade shows how Canada’s political system is susceptible and vulnerable to misuse and abuse by terrorist and extremist groups that have been able to mobilise support within our communities, where Canadians want to trust others and embrace diversity.

Laura Neilson Bonikowsky is an Alberta writer and lifetime student of history.

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Category: Dispatches

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Laura Neilson Bonikowsky is an Alberta writer.

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