Canada is still regaining its composure after the shocking events of last week, when two disturbed individuals attacked our military and our Parliament. Both men—recent converts to a radical, bastardized version of Islam and inspired by (but not tied to) ISIS—lie dead, as do two members of our armed forces: Cpl. Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent. Americans remember where they were when they heard about 9/11 and, while this doesn’t compare in magnitude, it strikes closer to home. For me, I was struck with the realization that Cirillo was only three years older than I am now.
For about 24 hours after the incident, Parliamentarians were actually civil with each other across party lines. When Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper hugged, some started looking around fearfully for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (they had already been appointed to the Senate), but our leaders were just being leaders, statesmen even. Sadly, the courtesy was gone by the 24 hour mark. Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney was the first MP to start tip-toeing towards partisanship again when questioned by the Liberal Leader about upcoming changes in crime legislation. Blaney criticized the “Opposition” for not supporting their crime bills in the past. As Minister for Public safety, he would be a little bit sensitive to security breach.
Otherwise the greatest difference in the responses was the PM’s immediate reference to the event as terrorism a label which was absent from the words of Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair when they addressed the issue that evening. A week later Harper stuck to his long gun, as did Mulcair. Trudeau was cautious about referring to it as terrorism himself, though he recognizes that the RCMP sees it as terrorism. This week we are hearing more about the trial of Justin Bourque who terrorized Moncton for a day earlier this year, killing three Mounties and injuring two more people. Again it was an act which shook the nation and it was an attack on men and women in uniform, but it was not referred to as a terrorist attack. Bourque was acting out against authority, answered to his own twisted ideology and was as troubled as the individual who terrorized parliament. He wasn’t part of a large organization and nor were the two terrorists of last weeks events, that we presently know, though they were inspired by and yearned to join ISIS. Aside from that, the greater death toll and wider aura of fear surrounding the shooting in Moncton the only difference between Bourque’s act of violence and what the Prime Minister refers to as an Act of Terrorism are the religion of the individuals. But what’s in a word?
Although Peter MacKay has announced that Canada’s anti-terror laws do not need another overhaul the government has announced it will bring in some new crime legislation, which is newer than the crime legislation they have already brought or are bring in. A Justice Department spokesperson, Jennifer Geary told the CBC, “our government is exploring options to build on our record to better equip our security agencies and law enforcement with the tools they need to intercept threats and ultimately convict those who pose a danger to Canadian families and communities,” but refrained from explaining what exactly the new legislation will do.
Opposition NDP and Liberal MPs are already wary of what these tools could entail. Even Conservative (forgive me Ex-Conservative) MPs like Brent Rathgeber have raised concerns about legislation conflicting with our right to free speech and free thought. No one has used the word “Thought Police” yet—at least, not in this instance—but, since at least several MPs have read 1984, one can expect it to be used before long.
Francois Boivin of the NDP accused the government of trying to spy on Canadians over the internet. The Opposition has accused the Conservatives of doing so since the introduction of the Cyberbullying Bill (which didn’t really deal with bullying).
If the hints from the Justice Department are to be believed, we can expect the government to table legislation that regulates hateful messages sent via the telephone and the internet. There will be an awful lot of eyebrows raised if they do. In the summer of 2013, the Conservative Government abolished Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which forbade disseminating hate speech via phone or internet. Its abolition means that only the courts are allowed to pursue violators of Hate Speech, not the Human Rights Tribunal. It puts Canada in a minority of Western countries that don’t allow citizens to bring forward human rights issues of this kind.
Back during Section 13’s abolition, the government’s argued that it was a poorly written (read Liberal) piece of legislation. Its critics had long complained that it censored the internet. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association would prefer to work to “counter” hateful speech rather than censor it. Countering such discourse may have included getting to the root cause of terrorism, which the government has only begrudgingly started to do—even though the Liberal party has been advocating for it for some time.
Now we may see a regurgitation of legislation previously trashed by the Conservatives. The new incarnation will attempt to do exactly what Conservatives claimed the previous legislation hadn’t been doing, and the Conservatives own MPs eye its looming tabling uneasily since they still see the action as far too liberal (in a bad way). Meanwhile, opposition parties have their own issues to wrestle with. If they opposed the repeal of Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, can they support the undoubtedly conservative replacement of it in good conscience?
I wonder which way the new legislation will lean, right or left. I don’t think it will be easy for our MPs to figure that out either.