If we have learned anything in the last month, it’s that Islamic fundamentalism is the primary and only threat to domestic security. In an effort to stay relevant and keep terrorism alive in the pre-election discourse, the Senate committee on national security and defence has released a report on terrorism. With the economy likely heading for a recession (sorry, Joe “Trust me it’s fine!” Oliver) come election time, terrorism is going to be a hot topic and this report basically doubles as a re-election platform.
In true counterterrorism policy form the report is vague, somewhat controversial, and lacking any innovation. However, it does include 25 recommendations because even Senators know that readers love lists. Some recommendations are thoughtful, while some are so vague that it hurts (for example, what does it mean to protect Canadians who participate in public discourse from “vexatious legislation”?). Other recommendations are post-9/11 staples (see publishing a “wanted terrorist list”) and, of course, some are controversial because there has to be a reason for people to read this.
For those of you who prefer highlights the morning after the game, here are three key points from the report. Disclaimer; some recommendations below are borderline churlish.
1. The “no-visit list”
The report suggests the government establish a publicly available “No-visit list” which identifies “ideological radicals” and keeps them from entering Canada. This is another item from the post-9/11 playbook, but instead of a no-fly list it’s called a no-visit list because there is clearly potential for walking, biking or freight-hopping into our great land. Take that, imprecise Americans.
On a serious note, the list can cause a whole series of problems related to racism and for people with similar names. But, again, the Senate knows how popular lists are with the kids these days. How the government would identify “ideological radicals” is not specified, but one could assume it would be totally uncontroversial, accurate, and fair. And how do you get off the list once you’re on it? The suspense is almost too much.
2. Investigate options for training and certification of Imams.
The report indicates that foreign-trained Imams are spreading extremism, countering Canadian values, and contributing to radicalization. It also suggests that Imams are trained and certified, presumably, to distinguish the acceptable Imams from the bad ones because it’s common knowledge that radical Imam’s would share their ideology and criminal intention before entering the training program.
Whether the government would know what to look for in an “extremist” Imam is one issue, but perhaps more importantly, any Imam, regardless of motivations, could complete a training and accreditation program. The idea of the government training and certifying Islamic leaders and determining which are in line with Canadian values would be concerning if Canada did not separate religion and the state with such relentless vigour.
The focus on Islamic leadership is of particular concern to Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, who made clear in an interview with the True North Times that he doesn’t think it should be the state’s business to be regulating religion.
“Something like putting a special vetting process on a particular community as opposed to any other faith leaders”, says Gardee, “is a recommendation in our view that bears all the hallmarks of racial religious profiling and discrimination.”
3. Communicate clearly with Canadians about the threat of terrorism.
It is unclear how the government would communicate threat levels to Canadians in a non-partisan way that also avoids alarmism. We can only hope that communication efforts include somewhat clear surveys or at least crystal clear Facebook posts.
Defining words like ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ have proven a challenge for governments and academics everywhere and there is no mention of this issue in the report. When it comes to clear communication, however, the government has been reliably inconsistent and often at odds with internal CSIS documents.
Like any good government document, the report contradicts with reality. Gardee points out that, despite the report highlighting the need for managing the threat of radicalization in prison, “this is a government that has cut funding for part-time prison chaplains.” Moreover, he adds, “the only full-time Muslim federal champlain resigned in protest because of the way he was being limited in being able to support Muslim inmates.”
According to a Star article featuring the internal CSIS documents, good old fashioned right-wing and white supremacist ideology has been the leading source for lone-wolf style attacks, accounting for 17%. Islamic extremism, despite being almost exclusively featured in the Senate report, accounted for a smaller, but still significant 15% of attacks.
In February, a planned attack to kill dozens was stopped in Halifax, but national treasure Peter McKay said it wasn’t terrorism because it wasn’t linked to cultural motivation. All three suspects were interested in Nazis and violence but not Islamic extremism which apparently made them, as MacKay (seriously) called them, “murderous misfits”.
Terrorism and threats to our public safety are no joke, and there are some concrete steps forward in this report despite them being buried in its 38 pages of what is mostly political tripe. Leading up to what may be the closest election in Canadian history, the three major parties have to navigate the national security issue with what hopefully amounts to more than partisan campaign promises.
The entire report can be found here.