CSIS and accusations of Islamophobia

Security intelligence services are bound by their legislative mandates and government-delivered requirements to collect information related to threat.

OTTAWA, CANADA — It is all but impossible these days to not see article after article declare in bold letters that racism is ‘systemic’. Whether we are talking about law enforcement agencies or governments at large, we are inundated with story upon story claiming that this or that organisation is imbued with racist practices. Making a counterargument, or even questioning what we mean by ‘systemic racism’ is verboten and dangerous, as RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki just learned. It appears that challenging prevailing arguments and accepted wisdom in this regard is not allowed (what ever happened to freedom of speech and civil debate?).

Never one to shy from a touchy subject, I will wade into this issue, perhaps foolishly. I would like to address this matter within the context of my old stomping grounds, CSIS.

Systemic racism

During my time at CSIS we were often accused of a form of systemic racism, but this was very narrowly focused. I attended public meetings, and read op-ed pieces from time to time, in which we were told that CSIS discriminates against Muslim Canadians. It was rarely said why or how we did this, but on the odd occasion we would be told that so-and-so was approached by a CSIS agent and made to feel ‘uncomfortable’. Never, in the minds of the recipients, was the meeting warranted and it was clear that CSIS inexplicably (or deliberately out of racism) singled out Muslims for attention.

Related – A rare look at what keeps CSIS up at night

It should come as a surprise to no one that I am going to argue against this. Not only is all this untrue, but it points to a worrying lack of understanding of what security services do and why they do it. Those who see Islamophobia at CSIS have either watched too many bad movies or have agendas they are trying to play out.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki

Lawsuit over unacceptable conduct

As an aside, yes there was a lawsuit brought by five former CSIS employees a few years back in which various forms of unacceptable conduct were alleged. CSIS elected to pay out the plaintiffs. This demonstrated that, yes, CSIS, like any other human organisation, has employees who engage in behaviours that anyone should see as counterproductive, hurtful and just plain wrong. This is not, however, the same as maintaining that CSIS is systemically _____ (fill in the blank: racist, sexist, ageist….).

Never one to shy from a touchy subject, I will wade into this issue, perhaps foolishly. I would like to address this matter within the context of my old stomping grounds, CSIS.

But I should get back to the belief on the part of some in Canadian Muslim communities that CSIS does not like Muslims. This conviction stems, I would imagine, from counter terrorism investigations where the Service was trying to collect intelligence on threats to our collective national security and public safety. CSIS was of the opinion that violent Islamist extremism posed a threat of that nature and hence took it upon itself to gather intelligence to help thwart this menace.

Now where on earth would CSIS get the cockamamie notion that a small number of Canadians had radicalised to Islamist violence and could plan an attack here or abroad and kill innocent people? Where indeed! Read on… (this is only a partial list)

The Khadr family, the Toronto 18, Chiheb Esseghaier, Raed Jaser, Hiva Alizadeh, Farah Shirdon, Andre Poulin, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Xristos Katsiroubas, Ali Medlej, Mahad Dhore, Salam Ashrafi, John Maguire, Damian Clairmont, Martin Couture Rouleau Wilyem Plotnikov, Aaron Driver, Rehab Dughmosh, Abdulahi Sharif…I could go on but you get the point. And these are just the names in the public domain.

Timmins, Ontario pride and joy Andre Poulin

Global Terrorism Index

For those still unconvinced, here are a few stats from a non CSIS source, the latest Global Terrorism Index from the Institute of Economics and Peace (2019 edition, covering 2018). Nearly 16,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2018 and five countries (Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria) accounted for 11, 781 of the total, or just a tad shy of 75%. And while I have not studied each and every death I will bet dollars to donuts that 95%+ of these were at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

Related – When everything is seen as terrorism, nothing is terrorism

In other words, CSIS focused exactly where it should have: on the #1 terrorist threat on the planet. This does not imply that it can neglect other forms of ideological violence but when it comes to allocating resources you concentrate them where they are most needed.

Nearly 16,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2018 and five countries (Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria) accounted for 11, 781 of the total, or just a tad shy of 75%.

It is true that there are probably instances where CSIS officers did not employ the best tact or came across as ‘unfriendly’. This can be improved upon. Nevertheless, CSIS does not engage in random interviews or go on ‘fishing expeditions’. It goes where it needs to gather intelligence or to corroborate information already in its holdings.

Even with all this concrete evidence that is irrefutable we can still read in Macleans magazine an article in which the author can shamelessly ask: “Terrorism laws have long been used against brown and black men. When will they be used to protect them?”

CSIS is not perfect and never will be. Yet the service it provides Canadians is vitally important for our safety. I find many of the allegations of Islamophobia spurious.

Phil Gurski

2 thoughts on “CSIS and accusations of Islamophobia

  1. I can’t comment on the environment in Canada (as I am not in Canada or Canadian) but where I was employed as a civil servant, my duties included monitoring the activities of the security service in my country. I can say that the Service at no time decided to or approached a person or conducted an investigation of a person simply because that person was Muslim or black or brown. The Service had to have a “probable cause” as the Americans say. There had to be a reason to approach a person because the person approached had (or was believed to have) information, access to information or other people of interest and there was no other way of obtaining the information that was feasible and offered a less intrusive way to act; and there had to be a reason to justify an investigation of a person, because investigations involve expenditure of public money and invasions of privacy. The justification could only be that the person had displayed behaviors, in word or deed, or was reported to have, that raised security concerns. In the context of politically motivated violence, this was advocating, glorifying, preparing, promoting, funding or otherwise supporting such violence including radicalizing others.
    In my experience, the problem was energizing the Service to look at someone, despite there being good quality public information that the person was radicalised or in some way supporting PMV (such as youttube rants, or posting memes or documents advocating PMV).
    What is true is that some Muslim groups did try to sabotage our efforts to protect the community – including the Muslms – from individuals who wished to do harm because they followed a violent interpretation of that religion or wanted to advance Islamist ideology – which is inherently violent and anti-democratic. This was a problem in my country but others as well: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/12085765/Six-universities-face-inquiry-over-Cage-campus-talks.html.
    I disagree with you that, “Those who see Islamophobia at CSIS have either watched too many bad movies or have agendas they are trying to play out”. I believe many have a political agenda and allegations of “Islamophobia” is a tactic to wrong-foot the authorities and their other advesaries.
    They see “Islamophobia” everywhere because it is a convenient truncheon to use to batter someone with whom you disagree. You can only disagree by seeming to be “Islamophobic”. [In the 1950s, it was allegations of “Communism”.]
    “Islamophobia”, tends to be used by “activists” to refer to any person who rejects Islam or questions it. It disarms criticism, as no one wants to be accused of being “phobic” and few are comfortable with being called “bigoted”, thought I suspect in these past few months a lot more people are.
    I know from speaking to these folks that they believe their religion is perfect and criticism or rejection can only be based on irrational fear not reasoned rejection. And that of course is arrogant nonsense. Many folks who reject Islam do so not because they are bigots or fearful, but because they have reasons to do so. They are not phobic or bigots.
    I read the article in Macleans. It was nonsense and ignorant and perpetuating the myth of Muslim victimhood and detached from the fact of reality. Or the danger to liberal democracies that salafi-islamism presents. [It is not the only threat; but it is an on going one.]
    [This is not to say there is not bigotry against Muslims – there is at times; as there is against a lot of other folks; but the bigotry is not systematic or systemic; not “phobic”.]

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment and provide your views. I’d like to learn more of your background if you are ok with that.

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