Canada’s Conservative Party and terrorism

No, you are not watching the US Republican Party propose measures to stop terrorism that each time are more and more draconian and more and more dismissive of basic human rights.  This is the Conservative Party of Canada talking, the holders – until recently – of government in this country.  And yet if you didn’t know any better you’d swear that those seeking to replace Stephen Harper as leader of the party have all taken speaking lessons from Donald Trump.

In what seems to be a race to the bottom, high profile party members have given voice to some pretty crazy ideas.  Before last October’s election we had the “barbaric practices” law and the useless nikab debate, both moves that probably contributed in some way to the party’s loss to the Liberals.   Now we have one wannabe leader calling for values tests for immigrants (Kellie Leitch) and another calling for those on peace bonds in terrorism cases to be incarcerated until such time as they no longer present a danger (Tony Clement).

It is hard to know which aspect of Mr. Clement’s plan is worst.  For one, you cannot incarcerate anyone until they have been found guilty by a court – or at the very least pending trial – and peace bonds are used specifically when there is not enough evidence to lay charges let alone have a trial.  Secondly, how do you determine when someone “no longer poses a threat”?  No one has figured that one out – conceivably under Mr. Clement’s system that would mean indefinite jailing.  And who gets to make the determination of threat – security services, law enforcement, mental health workers or the next “terrorist expert” charlatan?  By the way, he also wants face-to-face video screening for immigrants (we already have specialists at our embassies and consulates for that sir), citizenship revocation for terrorists (been there, done that) and an independent body to ensure that charities are not contributing to terrorism or radicalisation (um, Canada Revenue Agency already does that sir).

I know that politicians say lots of dumb things, especially when they are appealing to their party’s base (and sometimes the base is truly base, if you get my drift).  But you would think that party  members would not resort so soon to the very set of policies that contributed to the Conservatives’ loss last time.  Or am I missing something here?

It’s too bad in a way that Mr. Clement’s ideas are so bad because we really do need a solution to the radicalisation problem in Canada.  I found it very telling that he said nothing about the Trudeau government’s plans for the Office of Coordinator of Counter Radicalisation and Community Outreach – a great idea that during Mr. Clement’s previous time in government received short shrift.

But this office is not a panacea.  It will probably help in cases where radicalisation to violence has not taken root or is in its infancy.  It will do little, however,  in those instances where people are on the precipice of acting, either here or abroad.  To use but one example, Aaron Driver, killed by the RCMP while on a peace bond and in possession of explosives after having made a martyrdom video, was in all likelihood well beyond intervention or religious counselling.  As I have noted many times before in this blog, the peace bond did not work and is perhaps not the best tool for these kinds of situations.

We need to talk about what our agencies must have in their tool kits. The Liberal government’s green paper on national security is a good start but the conversation has to go much further.  Difficult choices will have to be made and some of these choices will not make some very happy. The balance between fundamental freedoms and the ultimate freedom – life – is not an easy one.  And still it is the task before us.

With respect to Mr. Clement and Ms. Leitch and others, I have but one more thing to say.  We need 21st century approaches to a 21st century problem.  A return to medieval thinking is not helpful.

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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