A burning desire for revenge…or terrorism?

If arson is committed for political purposes does that not make it an act of terrorism? Not in Canada it seems!

This piece appeared in the Epoch Times on January 24, 2023.

To assert that Canada has had a less than stellar record of relations with our First Nation fellow citizens is nothing new. Whether we are talking about residential schools, relegation to inhospitable land areas or the seizure of territory, we have treated these people terribly.

We appear to have acknowledged this history to some degree, the truth and reconciliation commission is but one example. On a more local level, every meeting I attend starts with a line which goes something like “the land we are meeting on is the unceded territory of the _____ people.” That is something, I suppose, but many activists want more. Much more.

As reported in a recent Epoch Times piece, several churches were burnt, some to the ground, in the summer of 2021. In all, 48 Christian places of worship were affected (not all were set alight: some were vandalized or desecrated). The RCMP, which is responsible for the investigations into these attacks for the most part, admits that progress in hunting down the perpetrators is proving to be slow. As one Camrose, Alberta corporal put it: “Arsons are very hard to solve. Quite often the evidence that would normally be left around for another type of crime is destroyed by the fire.”

The purpose of this article is not to take law enforcement agencies to task for not solving these crimes – for that is exactly what they were, crimes. I have no experience in criminal investigations and am of the belief one should walk a kilometre in someone’s shoes before railing on them. Let the professionals do the job they are trained and paid to do.

No, what I want to point out is the Trudeau government’s odd reticence over these acts. Surely we would expect our leaders to condemn them and ensure the necessary resources are in place to bring those responsible to justice? What do we hear, however? Crickets. Oh, and Prime Minister JT said he was ‘disappointed’ as this was ‘not the way to go’. That’s it?

We also get the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde saying he ‘understands’ the anger which likely motivated the crimes (role of Christian churches in residential schools, sexual abuse, and the discovery of mass graves among other reasons). Yes, all of which are horrible, but does the violent and destructive response not get an equal condemnation? It is safe to assume that these fiery deeds occurred in the aftermath of the uncovering of the mass burial sites, no?

Furthermore, unless I have missed something, I have yet to see anyone in a position of authority to utter the dreaded ‘T’ word – terrorism. And yet even a cursory glance at the Canadian Criminal Code (Section 83.01) would provide ample justification for labeling these acts of destruction as, in fact, terrorist-related. To wit: “an act…committed in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause… that intentionally…causes substantial property damage”.

This sure makes the church attacks sound like terrorism to me!

Let us take this in another direction, for illustrative purposes, shall we? Imagine the following sequence of events. During last year’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Ottawa grand poobahs stating publicly that they ‘understood’ the frustration over COVID lockdowns and subsequent economic hardship and that the participants had a point worth considering. Hard to believe, no? No, what we got instead was the terrorism label from some, despite the inconvenient fact that no violence was used and no substantial property damage was done (there were no buildings burned down that I am aware of).

When it comes to the summer of 2021 can we not acknowledge and continue to deal with the errors of our past with First Nations and still use the strongest language (and judicial tools) possible to describe and categorize the arson committed against churches? Why not call them acts of terrorism? The definition does fit as I have tried to demonstrate (NB I have long argued that the term is grossly overused but we can at least strive for consistency when it is warranted).

OK, I did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday. There is next to zero chance that anyone found to have been part of these acts will be charged with an offence under section 83.01 of the Code. No government official will haul out the ‘T’ word in referring to them. It is both inconvenient and not in keeping with the current narrative.

We will see where this all goes. Let us hope the Mounties do discover who was behind these atrocious crimes, or at least some of them, and lays the appropriate criminal charges. And then we will see what the official government line will be. I for one am not holding my breath for any clear condemnation and, heaven forbid, the characterization of these acts as terrorist in nature.

Surprise me.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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