In Stephen Harper’s Canada, we’re all potential terror threats. Until proven otherwise. So suggests a recent study by Queens University’s Jeffrey Monaghan and Kevin Walby, published in the journal Policing and Society. Welcome to Multi Issue Extremism (MIE), Canada’s new classification of so-called domestic terror threats.
We saw it coming.
In a January letter, Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources, labeled environmental movements “radical groups” funded by “foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.” Oliver believes these groups are also pursuing “their radical ideological agenda”. And their goal is “to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.”
In other words, Oliver perceived these defenders of our besieged environment as enemies of the state. This, from a minster we expect to do his job of defending the environment.
Before we’d the chance to digest Oliver’s propaganda, another Conservative cabinet member, Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety, released a brand new “anti-terrorism strategy”. The “Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada’s first Counter-terrorism Strategy”, repeats the oft-repeated mantra that “violent Islamist extremism is the leading threat to Canada’s national security.”
But it does much more. “Domestic, issue-based extremism” enters the fray. The strategy identifies as potential terror threats movements concerned with “various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.” Other unidentified “historical sources of Canadian domestic extremism” are also mentioned, but they “pose less of a threat.”
The Canada of Harper and Company is a wrathful country where dictatorship-style policies, attitudes and propaganda are part of the political process. It’s a country that perceives itself as being under unprecedented attack. As facing a clear-and-present terrorist threat. It is, in short, armed and dangerous.
On November 23, 2011, I tasted the wrath of this new Canada. That day, my country became a police state far too eager to criminalize dissent, and abuse power, resources and the law. I was part of eight unarmed Occupied Ottawa (formerly Occupy Ottawa) protesters peacefully resisting the movement’s eviction from Ottawa’s Confederation Park. Between 150 and 200 Ottawa Police officers were dispatched just after 2am to evict us and issue eight $65 trespass tickets.
Furthermore, the Ottawa police had no qualms about spending $16 000 on the four-hour operation. Meanwhile, 600 aboriginal women and girls are either murdered or mission and the feds remains unwilling to act.
The police applied disproportionate and unnecessary force. I was treated differently than my two white colleagues with whom I made the final stand. I was subjected to cruel and unusual treatment. I ended up in hospital with injuries to my back, legs and left arm. I now experience frequent headaches and memory loss or temporary blackouts. I was recently certified temporarily medically unemployable.
Harper recently appointed Vernon White, the man who was in charge of the Ottawa Police that morning, to the senate.
As a pro-democracy activist, I couldn’t let this circus waltz through town unchallenged. I recently ended an 85-day hunger strike protesting the appointment, and Harper’s new “crime law”, the “Safe Streets and Communities Act” (omnibus Crime Bill C10 ). In my protest narrative, I questioned the senator’s judgment in a situation that demanded sobriety and a quick glance at Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That day, I argued, a failure of judgment and Canadian leadership occurred that morning.
In their study, Monaghan and Walby try to help us understand what’s going on in the mind of those who currently control political power. They analyzed multiple classified reports from CSIS and other Canadian policing and intelligence agencies, gained through Access to Information requests. The agencies see an “ongoing threat to Canada from listed terrorist entities in Canada, and other ideologically motivated extremist entities active in Canada” (emphasis added).
The dilemma the agencies face is that it’s not clear to them who the enemy really is. But the agencies have a way around the quagmire, the study suggests. They simply resort to “creating classifications” and categories of terror threats. Next, comes the “the blurring of these categories” as a strategy “to rationalise domestic spying campaigns that target grassroots social movements.”
In essence, the absence of credible terror threats does not restrain the agencies in their overzealousness. They simply “construct” potential threats. For example, by blurring “the categories of terrorism, extremism and activism.” The result is that Canadian grassroots movements, especially the more vocal and politically-engaged ones, end up receiving more undue scrutiny. We have already seen how the Conservatives recently targeted the David Suzuki Foundation.
The study makes it clear that the Conservative government’s anti-terrorism propaganda and policies are based on half-backed information. Fantasy even. The Conservatives’ war is not just against the pronounced terror groups. Introducing the terror, Toews said: “Our government is committed to keeping our streets and communities safe.”
Sounds familiar? You bet. There’s a war on for every Canadian’s mind.
Together with the other draconian pieces of legislation the Conservatives are currently bulldozing through parliament, the propaganda seeks to create a vindictive, divisive, pro-punishment, poverty-ignoring and anti-minority right-wing Canada. A security state. They seek to create a society that is cowed, uncritical, fearful and divided. They seek to force us into a state of permanent fear; a place from where we’ll clamor for protection from the state.
And yet, fear and terror create an intellectual and moral void. It disarms society of its power to question.