Terrorism and the Inadequacy of Just War

The election is over, but the Green Party Provencher Riding Association isn’t going away. We’ll be hosting an event every other month or so for the next four years, on topics that are relevant to the riding but are also tied to the Green Party of Canada’s platform and policies. We’re doing this because these policies are relevant to our riding, and because sharing and discussing good ideas makes our community a better place. Along those lines we also hope to start a book club in the near future, with the first book of discussion being Elizabeth May’s latest, Who We Are.

Last night was our first event along these lines, and we had a fantastic turnout. For the first half of the event I lectured on nonviolent responses to terrorism; for the second half, a representative from MCC talked about refugees and resettlement. There was great discussion, and it was a lovely pairing of theory and practical action. Next up, sometime in late February, will be a practical workshop on nonviolent conflict resolution – watch our website and email list for more information.

Here’s the text of my lecture. – Jeff

The Nation State and Just War
Western responses to terrorism are based on an outdated understanding of the world and a deluded sense of self-righteousness. Which sounds harsh, so let’s unpack that.

The nation state is used to being the centre of the universe, and of being the sole arbiter of what is right and just. This makes some sense in a world in which the nation state is the supreme power that can control everything within its borders and writes the laws that govern everything that occurs within them. A few hundred years ago, that was the state of the world, and diplomacy arose as a way for nations to jockey for advantage over one another peacefully – or as the saying goes, All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means (Zhou Enlai, 1954). The nation state as an institution is charged with protecting its population, but it is always in the interests of the nation state to also maximize its internal economy; the nation state is responsible for and to its own citizens, physically and economically, and has little or no responsibility to outside nation states. Or at least, such was the world a few hundred years ago. Alliances were formed between nation states for mutual advantage, and over time some alliances grew so close that national borders began to break down between allies, part of a process that we now call globalization.

In a globalized world, the nation state is no longer the centre of the universe. National borders are porous, either because they are no longer guarded (as between member nations of the European Union), or because of the success of human trafficking, or because of the general ease with which people can move from one place to another to facilitate trade and international travel. In the internet age, borders and physical places do not mean as much as they used to, and regional cultures and ideas now spread at the speed of light across the web. Alliances and treaties have created institutions that function at a higher level than the nation state, such as the UN, NATO, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the G20, to name but a few, and corporations have gone international, grounding their headquarters in whatever country has the lowest taxes and planting their factories in whatever country has the cheapest labour. We live in a very different world than the one in which our understanding of just war was developed.

Just War

Christian theology has two traditions when it comes to conflict: Just war, and nonviolence or pacifism. The earliest Christians were pacifists, refusing military service or to work as a magistrate, or any other work that involved killing. The growth of Christianity, and its inclusion as an official religion in nation states, required some sort of reconciliation between the protective function of the state and the nonviolent requirements of Christianity. This happened relatively early on in Christian history, and Just War has been dominant in Western nations ever since, though there have always been nonviolent Christians. The Just War tradition insists that war is a last resort, and subjects all wars to a list of criteria, which includes criteria for starting wars and for conducting them. To start a war, a competent authority (usually a legitimate nation state) may wage war as a last resort to correct a suffered wrong, provided that there is a good chance of success and that the possible good outcome outweighs the damage or harm caused by the war. Once war has begun, the authorities conducting the war must distinguish between enemy combatants and non-combatants; must only conduct actions that are militarily necessary, and then only with as much force as is necessary to complete those military objectives; must not use methods of warfare that are considered evil, such as rape, weapons that cannot be properly controlled (nuclear or biological), or forcing enemies to fight against their own side; and must treat prisoners of war fairly.

There are two problems with Just War theory: first, at its very core it implies that nation states ordering thousands of citizens to kill each other is morally just so long as there are good reasons for it. When it comes to war, just war theory claims, the ends justify the means so long as the means do not exceed certain criteria. The second problem, and I hope this is obvious, is that the criteria are completely impossible to satisfy. War is hell, and the level of control that would be required in order to ensure that no soldiers rape or kill civilians is impossible. The level of intel and precision that would be required to ensure that no non-military targets are attacked is impossible. The greatest so-called intelligence agency in the world told us all that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which began a ten-year war in which no such weapons were used or even found. And the so-called precision of coalition air strikes in the current war in Syria included bombing a hospital, killing not only civilians but also allies from Doctors Without Borders. And the treatment of captives by a nation that pledges “freedom and justice for all” included the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and sensory deprivation and degrading humiliation. And in spite of all of this being common knowledge, much less known by the highest officials of nation states, the United States of America has been involved in 102 wars or military actions in its history, most of which were against indigenous populations within the US. I have read somewhere, though I cannot find where, that Just War criteria are weighed by a special council to the Commander-in-Chief before the US declares war; in Canada, Cabinet makes the decision to deploy troops, apparently without any such counsel. Clearly in both cases not all just war criteria are met, but the wars are deemed justified anyway, and that justified status reinforces the often questionable notion that we are always the good guys. In many wars, the US has been the aggressor and has had duplicitous intentions, or even bald ambitions. Canada has been involved in 15 wars in our history, though we’ve had token involvements in others, but those 15 include two against the Metis peoples of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, in which Canada was the aggressor as part of racist colonial policies. In Afghanistan, which was ill-advised in the first place and shifted the purposes of its military action regularly, we knowingly handed prisoners of war over to other nations to be tortured – keeping our hands clean, but still getting blood on our souls. We are not always the good guys.

But what does all of this have to do with our response to terrorism?


Terrorism is a term referring to the implementation of psychological tactics in warfare. It is unclear whether psychological warfare is prohibited by just war criteria, but terrorism is also often used to describe guerrilla warfare and insurgency because of the tactics used – often in densely populated areas, using imprecise and unconventional weapons with high possibilities for civilian casualties, and often with civilians as targets. Terrorists are not considered to be authorized by a legitimate authority (i.e., the government of a nation state) either. So terrorism fails the just war criteria in many ways, which has an enormous effect on how we see and combat terrorists.

How are we currently fighting terrorism?

We do not negotiate with terrorists. Doing so would imply that they were a legitimate party, and we dare not give them any sense of legitimacy – after all, they fail so many of the criteria of just war with their military actions. The result of this, intended or not, is that we not only dismiss terrorists as legitimate organizations, but we also dismiss their grievances as being illegitimate. This is a problem, because terrorists often have very legitimate grievances, and very important goals. The difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, after all, is which side you’re on; terrorists are often simply the most extreme and committed of a population that is being oppressed, economically or militarily or culturally, by another power. Whether or not we understand or agree with their grievances does not mean that they are unimportant or grounded in real harm and oppression, but when we disregard those grievances because of the way that terrorists attempt to address them, we only feed the oppression that they experience. When we fight them, we legitimize their use of violence and their claims of oppression, which only helps them recruit more frustrated and oppressed people to their cause.

Disregarding the cause of terrorists causes us to make stupid, unsustainable reductions about their motives. We say “they hate freedom,” as if that even makes sense. This general sense that terrorists and their struggles are illegitimate has led us to use the term “terrorist” as a blanket term for anyone we deem illegitimate, even our own people. We use the word, poorly defined, in legislation such as C-51 to refer to anyone who “interferes with critical infrastructure” such as oil pipelines. C-51 and other laws strip “terrorists” of basic legal and human rights, allowing them to be arrested and held without charge, surveilled without warrants, and even possibly tortured. Our attempts to control terrorists tends to stir up more dissent, both abroad and at home, and the broad net cast over “terrorism” keeps getting broader.

Why can’t we control terrorists? Because they do not conform to our nation-state-centric, just-war governed world. Terrorism is warfare for the globalized world, in which combatants are not representative of a nation state with a clearly defined border, but rather represent ideas and cultures that move freely around the world. The tactics of terrorism were developed in insurgencies, where the governing force has difficulty distinguishing between enemy combatants and civilians. Enemy combatants are no longer marching over a border from another nation state, they are springing up among us.

This puts us in an impossible situation, because we are fighting a 21st century war, with 21st century technology, on 19th century terms. We use invasion and occupation to attempt to control enemies whose tactics were designed specifically for such situations. We try to use conventional combat to fight insurgents and guerrilla fighters, not unlike the British and French lining up on fields to shoot at each other in a gentlemanly sort of way, while their Indigenous enemies laid ambushes and hamstrung their supply lines.

This is not to say that we haven’t innovated to deal with the situation. The US has used drone strikes incessantly over the past several years to hit priority targets without engaging in open combat. As Noam Chomsky points out, this is our own brand of terrorism:
“A drone strike is a terror weapon, we don’t talk about it that way. It is; just imagine you are walking down the street and you don’t know whether in 5 minutes there is going to be an explosion across the street from some place up in the sky that you can’t see. Somebody will be killed, and whoever is around will be killed, maybe you’ll be injured if you’re there. That is a terror weapon. It terrorizes villages, regions, huge areas. It’s the most massive terror campaign going on by a long shot.”
There have also been efforts to combat ideology, usually in the form of building schools and promoting educational programs, but more often it’s simply talk. How can we speak meaningfully of undermining extremist ideologies when we’re actively bombing a region? Other less violent solutions involve training locals to fight, and arming them to do so, but that runs into the danger of using local populations to wage a proxy war, as the US did against the USSR in Afghanistan, training and arming Osama bin Laden in the process.

Our conscience and economy demand action, but our outdated mindset on nation states and just war force us into violent conflict against an enemy that does not wage war by our rules and is often indistinguishable from our own peaceful, law-abiding citizens. Perhaps it’s finally time to give nonviolent conflict resolution a chance.

What is Nonviolence?

Nonviolence is a conflict style, an ethical choice, a way of life. For some, nonviolence extends to all aspects of life, leading some nonviolence practitioners (notably Dukhabors and some Buddhists) to veganism; for most, nonviolence is a commitment to refusing to perpetuate the cycle of violence – because violence always begets more violence. But nonviolence is not just a refusal to participate in violence, it is also the active opposition to evil without committing evil. It is not the avoidance of conflict, but rather an attempt to foster healthy conflict resolution that does not escalate to violence.

A prominent myth of pacifism or nonviolence is that it is passive, and that it is weak. It is neither: nonviolent direct action takes incredible courage and enormous amounts of work, just as fighting a war does. Most of us assume that nonviolence involves being vulnerable to the attacks of others, and this is true – but the opposite assumption, that having weapons or using violence provides safety, is not true; nonviolence recognizes that weapons and the threat of violence only increase the danger of any given situation, and works to de-escalate conflict.

An important point about nonviolence is that it sees the very notion of just war as hypocritical: there’s a big difference between violence being necessary to meet a goal and violence being justified. One of my heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who, in spite of his commitment to pacifism, took part in a conspiracy that ended up attempting to kill Hitler on more than one occasion. While it is not clear whether Bonhoeffer himself was in favour of those assassination attempts, what is clear is that he accepted his guilt, not only before men but also before God. When we commit violence, its necessity does not get us off the hook. We must always consider our own guilt when we count the cost of violent action.

Another important point about nonviolence is that while it should logically precede just war – which is supposed to be a last resort – it rarely does. Nonviolent direct action includes an entire toolkit of tactics and strategies that are rarely used, but when they are used they are found to be at least as successful as more violent strategies. Going back to WWII for another example, the Scandinavian nations were able to save most of their Jewish citizens despite the fact that they did not offer much in the way of violent resistance to the Nazis. Instead, they used nonviolent strategies such as diplomacy, negotiation, and sabotage, making a full invasion too costly to be worthwhile.

Nonviolent direct action was instrumental in the liberation of India from centuries of British rule (thanks to Ghandi), the enfranchisement of Black Americans under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the fall of South African apartheid through leaders like Nelson Mandela, and the removal of several dictators in the recent Arab Spring, to name just a few. While violent revolutions tend to lead to counter-revolutions as other powers rush in to fill the power vacuum left by the deposed rulers, nonviolent direct action tends to build movements that result in lasting cultural change.

Can a Nation Act Nonviolently?

Nonviolence is easier to understand as a personal choice or way of life than as a national defence strategy. After all, a nation must defend its people, and there may be foreign threats to our safety that are not concerned about using violence against us. But this feeling, this fear of outside threats, is a reflection of our assumptions about nation states and the other – and as we’ve seen, some of those assumptions need updating. In the age of terrorism, a standing army is not a particularly effective safety measure. In spite of having the biggest and most expensive military in the world, more Americans die at the hands of neighbours with handguns than in war on the other side of the world. There are mass shootings every single day in the US, and a vast majority of those have nothing to do with terrorism at all; ideological terrorism is indistinguishable in result from racism, sexism, homophobia, deluded narcissism, drunken arguments, or road rage – all of which end in seemingly random killing. Our primary enemies are not other nations at all, but rather our very selves: whether because of ideologies found online that influence people toward extremism, or simple ignorance, hatred, and drunkenness, our greatest threat of violence is domestic.

Even so, let’s think about what kind of nonviolent practices Canada could employ. Here are a few:

First, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Armed conflict doesn’t come out of nowhere, and helping others to address their needs and crises goes a long way toward developing international goodwill and alliances. Until recently, Canada has always had a sterling reputation: we are global leaders who contribute disproportionately to international causes. We have the opportunity to use trade as a tool of economic development rather than strictly for enriching our own economy, and we should strive to exceed the UN target for aid contributions of 0.7% of GDP (we’re currently at 0.24%, well below the average). The world is better with Canada in it, and we should strive to be more valuable to others than our natural resources and empty land would be if we were destroyed. Our ability to share and to welcome outsiders is the greatest defence strategy we could ever have, and our current opportunity to welcome in refugees is an excellent place to start rebuilding our reputation.

We’ve already seen that terrorism is often home-grown, the result of ideas that spread across traditional boundaries such as borders and cultures and that are fed by legitimate grievances. One prominent grievance is cultural marginalization. Canada has a history of cultural marginalization, from the attempted cultural genocide perpetrated against our Indigenous peoples, to the cultural and language division between English and French, to common attitudes toward Muslims and visible minorities. If you don’t think that Canada is a racist place, you haven’t been on Facebook lately. Cultural marginalization breeds extremism, so a national conversation about our so-called mosaic of cultures is an important step toward not only a more friendly Canada, but also a safer, less extreme Canada. As we welcome Syrian refugee families over the next few years, we have an excellent opportunity to reach out and grow in our understanding of a different culture, and through that to reduce cultural marginalization in general in Canada.

And speaking of legitimate grievances, let’s stop bombing people. Violence begets violence, and the Parliament Hill shooter was very clear in his pre-rampage message when he said that he was doing this because we were bombing Muslims in other countries. He was right – we were. Now we’re pulling out of that mission, in spite of tremendous pressure from our citizens and our allies to continue. I applaud Mr. Trudeau’s courage in doing so. When we begin using nonviolent means by which to address or call attention to our own concerns, we will stop provoking violent opposition.

Second, the use of nonviolent protest, or even government campaigns, to raise awareness about important issues of the other can undermine support for terrorist organizations. People become violent or support violence when they feel like they have no other voice or options; providing or amplifying their voices by raising awareness for their issues can provide a nonviolent avenue for those frustrated by the lack of attention on their legitimate concerns. But this requires listening.

We’ve seen that the just war model cannot negotiate with terrorists for fear that doing so would legitimate an illegitimate government or institution. Nonviolence is not threatened by perceptions of legitimacy, because it is grounded in the value and sacredness of life. In the just war model, something else legitimizes a state, and therefore that state’s actions (divine right, perhaps?); in a nonviolence model, we actually have to be good and show genuine concern for our neighbours. Which means listening, negotiating, and generally treating them as if they were people. The lives of people on both sides are more valuable than nationhood or pride. That said, listening and even sharing concerns does not mean that we must agree: the aims of Daesh are simply wrong, and we should absolutely oppose them. But if we can address and draw attention to the concerns of the people of Iraq and Syria, perhaps Daesh will not be an attractive option, and they will wither from a lack of recruits and support.

Third, we can train Canadians, both civilian and military, in nonviolent conflict resolution. This means developing a pro-conflict attitude in our culture that promotes addressing conflicts in a healthy manner, without allowing them to fester or escalate. I would suggest that we begin with training our police forces in nonviolent conflict resolution, and devoting a considerable portion of our military to the same; from there we could begin national campaigns or support volunteer programs of unarmed civilian peacekeeping such as Peace Brigades International. Peace Brigades is an organization that physically “gets in the way”, providing protection to people in conflict zones by physically accompanying them; another such group is Christian Peacemakers. Another option for our military that is still potentially violent but not necessarily so, is to reinvest Canadian troops in the UN Peacekeeping forces; we used to be the number one contributor, but we haven’t been for a very long time. The Green Party also suggests that a considerable portion of our military forces be retrained as disaster relief forces; climate change will cause disasters to increase, and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable before conflict arises is a solid strategy.

Fourth, we can stop selling weapons internationally. Before losing the 2015 election a few months ago, the Conservative government worked to broker a $15 BILLION dollar purchase of Canadian military hardware by Saudi Arabia, a nation known for harbouring extremism and with a terrible record of human rights abuses. Canadian production of weapons has increased by about 5x in the past few years, we are the 12th largest exporter of weapons in the world, and we have refused to sign on to the international arms trade treaty that would prohibit the transfer of conventional weapons that promote acts of genocide or war crimes, violate arms embargoes, or be used against civilians. Those 15 billion dollars might come in handy economically, but they’re not worth as much as peace. Weapons we don’t produce can never be used against us.

These are a handful of options. There are more, and I want to encourage you all to be creative in your conflict resolution and share your ideas with your MP. But the general gist of nonviolence, as an individual or as a nation, can be summed up pretty well by Jesus: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. There is no reason why we cannot do all of those things before resorting to violent military actions; I believe that if we actually did, we would never need military actions at all.

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The Politics of Courage

Yesterday I attended the anti-C51 protest at Winnipeg’s City Hall, and was incredibly encouraged by what I saw there. Hundreds of people crowded in front of City Hall, many carrying signs, some carrying flags representing Canada, a few different First Nations, the Pirate Party, and at least four unions. There were speakers from the Green Party, the NDP, and even the Communist Party; Aboriginal nations, Amnesty International, UWinnipeg Student Union, CUPE, and the Raging Grannies, among others. There were English and French, Jews and Christians and Muslims, and people of every race and age, all united around our rejection of Bill C-51, dubbed “the Anti-Terrorism Bill” by the Conservatives, but called “the Secret Police Bill” by Elizabeth May (and “an act to monitor and suppress the Raging Grannies” by Bruce Hyer). This was just one of dozens of rallies across the country. All of the pictures below were taken by me at the Winnipeg rally – I am not a professional photographer by any means, but I hope they capture the energy of the event.

Winnipeg Rally
At Winnipeg City Hall

What is this bill, and why is it so problematic? There are technical problems with the bill, but let’s talk about the foundational problem: it is a reactionary bill, responding to fear with control instead of courage. (This is a big bill, a bigger issue, and I’ve been working on this all day through many distractions and illness, so please forgive any disjointedness in what follows.)

NDP MP Pat Martin
NDP MP Pat Martin

Fear of Terror

In the past October there were two attacks within days of each other. In one attack in Quebec, a man drove his car into two members of the Canadian Forces, killing one of them. Two days later, a lone gunman shot and killed a member of the Canadian Forces in Ottawa, before making his way into the Parliament buildings. Both of the attackers were killed in shootouts, so we lack the ability to question them or get a better understanding of their motivations and connections. A short video from the Ottawa shooter explains that what he was about to do was in response to Canada’s military activities in Afghanistan and the impending re-invasion of Iraq. Here’s the full transcript of what he said:

To those who are involved and listen to this movie, this is in retaliation for Afghanistan and because Harper wants to send his troops to Iraq.

So we are retaliating, the Mujahedin of this world. Canada’s officially become one of our enemies by fighting and bombing us and creating a lot of terror in our countries and killing us and killing our innocents. So, just aiming to hit some soldiers just to show that you’re not even safe in your own land, and you gotta be careful.

So, may Allah accept from us. It’s a disgrace you guys have forgotten God and have you let every indecency and things running your land. We don’t, we don’t go for this. We are good people, righteous people, believers of God and believing his law and his Prophets, peace be upon them all. That’s my message to all of you in this, Inshallah, we’ll not cease until you guys decide to be a peaceful country and stay to your own and I-, and stop going to other countries and stop occupying and killing the righteous of us who are trying to bring back religious law in our countries.

Thank you.

Both of these men were recent converts to Islam, and we were all quick to make connections to the largest violent Islamist movement in the world right now, ISIS. While these men may have been inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the organization’s name tells us a lot: ISIS understands itself as a state, not an international terrorist organization. They also understand themselves as ushering in the apocalypse, which they understand at least partially as their armies defeating Western armies. You can read more about them here. The two attackers in Canada were not members of ISIS, even if they were inspired by them. The Ottawa shooter was indeed a self-described “Mujahedin”, or one engaged in struggle (jihad), but he was previously known to police as someone who also struggled with mental illness and drug addiction. So even if his attack was inspired or even ordered by ISIS, it was not an organized terrorist attack – it was a lone gunman with issues with our government’s foreign policy.

Amnesty International speaker and friends
Amnesty International speaker and friends. These Muslim women stood up for the rights and liberties of their fellow Canadians.

Since then, our government has kept “violent jihadism” (to quote Stephen Harper) in the front of our minds, and drafted C-51 as a direct response to what they describe as a global terror threat. The last time our public safety policy got this big of a makeover was in the wake of 9/11, when Al Qaeda’s successful attack on the US, killing thousands, made us all more aware of the power of a global terrorist network with cells in many countries planning organized attacks around the world. Then, as now, new legislation gave powers to law enforcement agencies that in effect sacrificed the freedom of Canadian citizens for the sake of security. We’ve had almost fifteen years to reflect on whether or not that was necessary; we’ve never used many of the provisions put in place at that time, lowered our airport security after the initial increase, and while we’ve simply gotten used to some restrictions there are many Canadians (even most) who believe that freedom is not worth sacrificing for the sake of security. That sentiment hasn’t changed with these new attacks, despite the government’s fearful rhetoric. The big difference between then and now is that Al Qaeda really was planning organized attacks around the world, while ISIS is summoning all “true” Muslims to help establish and grow the Caliphate or state. ISIS actually considers people like the two attackers in Canada to be lesser, as they did not respond to the call to serve and live in the Caliphate. Lone wolf gunmen responding violently to Canada’s foreign policy are not likely to be picked up by spy agencies tracking the movements of terrorist organizations, so this “response” is both unwarranted and misdirected.


When I say that the response is misdirected, it’s not only because the attacks that inspired C51 weren’t by a terrorist organization. It’s also because it’s inherently difficult to define a terrorist organization. We use the word all the time, but rarely with any particular definition in mind other than a vague sense of attacking people and causing fear in the general population (which I’m sure has always been a result of attacks). The Criminal Code of Canada describes terrorism as

  • (b) an act or omission, in or outside Canada,

    • (i) that is committed

      • (A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and

      • (B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of 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, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada, and

    • (ii) that intentionally

      • (A) causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence,

      • (B) endangers a person’s life,

      • (C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public,

      • (D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), or

      • (E) causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work that is not intended to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C)

I’ve bolded some of the text to show how fine the line can be between the definition of terrorism and the definition of political protest. If it weren’t for the caveat at the end of section E, a sit-in or roadblock at a pipeline would be considered an act of terrorism, especially if it were carefully organized. I’m very pleased that this caveat exists; civil disobedience and protest are part of the history of political action going back thousands of years, and if legitimate political engagement is limited to what happens inside Parliament, our society is in trouble.

A Tree Hugger, NOT a Terrorist. A Raging Granny.
A Tree Hugger, NOT a Terrorist. A Raging Granny.

C-51 muddies the waters a little bit. This is from the first section of the bill:

“activity that undermines the security of Canada” means any activity, including any of the following activities, if it undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada:

(a) interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada;
(b) changing or unduly influencing a government in Canada by force or unlawful means;
(c) espionage, sabotage or covert foreign-influenced activities;
(d) terrorism;
(e) proliferation of nuclear, chemical, radiological or biological weapons;
(f) interference with critical infrastructure;
(g) interference with the global information infrastructure, as defined in section 273.61 of the National Defence Act;
(h) an activity that causes serious harm to a person or their property because of that person’s association with Canada; and
(i) an activity that takes place in Canada and undermines the security of another state.
For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.

Here we see terrorism listed alongside other offences, all of which are lumped together by C-51. Most of these other offences would satisfy most of the definition of terrorism already provided by the criminal code – so are they terrorism, or separate offences to be treated the same as terrorism? Again, I’ve bolded the sections that cause me concern. While I appreciate the inclusion of the caveat regarding lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression, who decides what is dissent and what is terrorism?

The Raging Grannies led us in a rousing chorus of "Harper is a dic...tator"
The Raging Grannies led us in a rousing chorus of “Harper is a dic…tator”

The government likes to pull out the argument that law-abiding Canadians don’t need to be concerned if the law is heavy-handed. Former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews famously said, of a bill that would allow the government to spy on Canadians ostensibly to control child pornography, that “you’re either with us or with the child pornographers.” If the world is divided into good guys and bad guys, the good guys should be able to be as tough on the bad guys as necessary, and only bad guys would object, right? But who are the “bad guys”?

This government has a history of describing environmental activists as terrorists. Apparently, so does the RCMP. Government ministers have made statements referring to people who oppose pipelines as being the pawns of “jet-setting celebrities” (referring to American environmental activists like Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio, who’ve commented on and visited the oil sands in northern Alberta); does that count as “foreign influenced activities”? Republicans in the US have made the argument that the Keystone XL pipeline is necessary for North American energy independence and security, and our government agrees; does that mean that Canadians who oppose it are responsible for undermining “the security of another state”? Our government certainly believes that Canada’s economy depends on the oil sands, so are we who oppose their expansion to be considered a threat to “the economic or financial stability of Canada”? And as the link above clearly shows in leaked RCMP documents, oil pipelines are certainly considered to be “critical infrastructure” and protests and civil disobedience around their construction is absolutely considered to be “interference.” All of this means that when an indigenous Nation blocks a road on their traditional territory to stop construction crews from building a pipeline through it, it will be considered, if not a terrorist act, at least akin to it and to be treated like one.

Winnipeg Rally 7

Last week a Simon Fraser University professor and climate scientist who had protested the Kinder Morgan pipeline project through Burnaby Mountain took a photo near the project site. A few days later RCMP phoned his daughter looking for him, noted that they were aware that he had been at the protests, and asked if he had been taking photos near there. All the RCMP will say about it is that they must follow up on all complaints, which shows that Kinder Morgan noted that he took a photo and filed a complaint, and the RCMP considered it important enough to follow up on. If taking photos near a future pipeline site is considered interference with critical infrastructure, then journalists and scientists may be severely limited in their ability to do their jobs.

So while C-51 is ostensibly aimed at terrorist groups, it is worded in such a way as to more easily label activists, and even scientists and journalists, as terrorists. And pipeline companies are using these blurred lines to co-opt the RCMP (and potentially CSIS) as their own security force, intimidating their opponents. This co-opting is unfortunately a predictable by-product of the Conservative government’s emphasis on control: once you start trying to control people, you must always increase the extent of that control in order to simply maintain it.

A concise sign, and... the back of Manitoba Green Party Leader James Beddome's head?
A concise sign, and… the back of Green Party Manitoba Leader James Beddome’s head?

The Politics of Control

Perhaps the biggest distinction between the Conservatives and the other parties is that the other parties all look for the causes of society’s problems, and place emphasis on different issues, causes, and approaches to dealing with those underlying issues. It appears that the Conservatives are not interested in what causes society’s problems at all, and are only interested in controlling outcomes, and people. So for example, when it was suggested that we try to understand what motivates terrorists (after an alleged plot to blow up a VIA train was stopped), Stephen Harper said “this is no time to commit sociology.” The Harper Conservatives instead responded with more rhetoric about fighting the war on terror, in spite of the fact that many terrorists claim to be acting in response to Canadian military action in the Middle East (see above). Similarly, Harper has consistently refused to allow an investigation into the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada, suggesting that all incidents should be investigated individually and treated as a criminal issue rather than acknowledging the broader trend that links them all. This government has worked systematically to remove the ability for our judicial system to use understanding and judgment when dealing with criminal justice, imposing mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the ability for parole boards to release convicts who have actually been rehabilitated. And we don’t have time to even get into the ways they’ve undercut science in this country, seemingly largely because it interferes with their fossil-fuel agenda. No, understanding issues is far less important than controlling them.

Marching down Main Street before turning onto Portage. A big thank-you to the Winnipeg Police for stopping traffic for us! They were courteous and professional.
Marching down Main Street before turning onto Portage. A big thank-you to the Winnipeg Police for stopping traffic for us! They were courteous and professional.

So rather than doing important study on the theology and politics of ISIS, we simply label them a terrorist organization and assume that they’re similar to, or in cahoots with, Al Qaeda (they’re not), and then write terror legislation that seeks to fight a terror organization like Al Qaeda through the same means that the US has been using for the past decade. C-51 amps up CSIS (our spy agency) by giving them more power and less oversight, similar to what the US did with their spy agencies in their so-called Patriot Act. Since then it has been revealed that the NSA has been collecting digital data on every American, not just those considered security threats, and the vague wording of C-51 would allow CSIS to do the same to Canadians. The US was also caught using torture, and their own investigations into this found that the information gained from torture was unreliable and of no strategic value, yet C-51 would allow Canadian law enforcement agencies to get a warrant to search or arrest someone based on information gained from torture. It does not sanction Canadians using torture, but we’ve already been in trouble for turning Afghan detainees over to other forces we knew would torture them; C-51 would give us license to do so, and then use the information gleaned from that torture for our own purposes.

In the middle of the intersection of Portage and Main, Winnipeg.
In the middle of the intersection of Portage and Main, Winnipeg.

I can’t stomach the idea of Canadians being accessory to torture, but perhaps even more troubling is that in most cases Canadian law enforcement under C-51 wouldn’t even need to get a warrant to arrest someone – they only need to have a reasonable suspicion that detaining someone would prevent an act of terrorism. Once again, if terrorism is defined as above it would justify preemptively arresting protesters. This would justify actions like the mass arrests made during the G20 protests in Toronto, an event for which the Conservative government shelled out $1,000,000,000 for security and which led to charges being filed against police and allegations of human rights abuses when protesters and bystanders were detained for days without charge.

The strategy behind C-51 is to know what everyone is doing, identify every possible threat, and eliminate threats through incarceration. Not only is this not possible to pull off, but steps taken in the attempt would seriously infringe on the rights and liberties of Canadians.

Turning onto Portage, one flag stood out.
Turning onto Portage, one flag stood out.

The Politics of Courage

The politics of control issue from the politics of fear. The Harper government can only institute Bill C-51 in good conscience if they have the support of the people they represent. Their rhetoric has been fearful, and fear is infectious: the more Stephen Harper talks about the imminent threat of Islamist jihad, the more concerned Canadians get. Fear also weakens our willpower and dulls our confidence, so that even those who would argue strongly for civil liberties can be convinced to give those liberties up for the sake of security when they perceive an imminent threat. Never mind that you’re statistically far more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die from a terrorist attack, or that the attacks we’ve actually experienced may not have been connected at all to any particular terrorist group; if there’s a sense that we’re under attack, it seems almost treasonous to argue against increased security. At least, that’s what fear tells us.

What’s ironic is that our government may be more responsible for the fear Canadians are experiencing than any terrorist is. In order to combat terror, our government instills fear. In order to oppose those who disagree with how we use our freedoms in our liberal society, our government imposes restrictions on us. It doesn’t have to be this way though.

Fear is the enemy.
Fear is the enemy.

There is another response to terrorism. Instead of a politics of fear, we can and should embrace a politics of courage. That’s one of the reasons I’m so encouraged by the thousands of Canadians who turned out to anti-C51 rallies across the country: they’re showing our government, the terrorists, and the world, that we’re not afraid.

When the French magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by terrorists because they had satirized Mohammed the first thing they did in their next issue was satirize Mohammed again. Dozens of satirists around the world stood in solidarity with them, satirizing terrorism. Personally, I think that it was unnecessarily disrespectful for them to satirize Mohammed and antagonize about a billion people in the first place, but the point here is that in spite of many of their staff being killed for exercising their free speech, they immediately responded by exercising their free speech again. They responded to terror with courage, not with fear, and they inspired people around the world to do likewise.

Canada used to inspire hope in people around the world, being a leader in peacekeeping and aid and international cooperation. Now our government is more concerned with inspiring fear in its own people, so that it can then turn around to comfort us by way of tighter security and regulation on our private lives. But when I look at the thousands of people across Canada who stood up and raised their voices yesterday, I realize that Canada can still inspire hope, with our without the support of our government. May we soon have a government that is inspired to hope by its people.

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