Damned if we do and damned if we don’t – revisited

Yesterday’s Canada Day 150 was a bit of a wash, if you consider the weather. I don’t know what it was like outside of the nation’s capital but it rained most of the day here in Ottawa.  That did not dampen the spirits of those that braved the elements from what I saw, however, when I was (briefly) downtown: the usual display of face paint maple leaves, Canada flag capes and T-shirts with every imaginable Canada-themed logo.  We may be a diffident people that wears its nationality with some hesitation on our sleeves but when we do, as I have seen over five decades of Canada Day, we do it well!

Or, mostly well.  This year’s commemoration in Ottawa was seen as a washout by some, and not just because of the rain.  A lot of complaints were registered regarding what many saw as inefficient and shoddily-organised security on Parliament Hill. Lines were long, directions were not clear and food was non-existent once you (eventually) got through.  Those who succeeded after a multi-hour wait decided to go hungry rather than exit and start the whole process all over again.  All in all a disappointment to many apparently.

One question that may surface is: was this all necessary?  Why all the security? After all, many previous Canada Days have gone over with little inconvenience and people were free to move wherever they wanted.  Mostly free, I suppose: I have seen years where progress along Wellington St. (right in front of Parliament) was snail-like even in the absence of security.  Why can’t we go back to the way it was?

Because a lot has changed, that is why.  Not only did we see a terrorist attack two and a half years ago right in the centre of our symbol of democracy when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau tried to cause even more mayhem after having shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial, but we have seen a series of lethal attacks around the world in which large crowds were targeted.  Manchester. London.  Paris.  Brussels.  Kabul.  Orlando.  The list goes on and on.  And it is highly likely that this phenomenon will not disappear any time soon.

Terrorist groups extol these kinds of actions on their Web sites and in their social media posts.  Wannabe extremists are advised to hit where they can with what they have.  If you can build a bomb (Manchester) then great.  If you can’t, get in a car and run people over (Nice, Westminster Bridge, Berlin Christmas market). Or grab a knife (West Bank, London Bridge – this last one combined a vehicle and knives).  Or a hammer (Paris).  We are entering into the world of ‘Canadian Tire’ terrorism where the tool of choice is in the hardware section.  We even saw a possible terrorist attack IN a Canadian Tire by an extremist who used a golf club she found in the sporting goods aisle!

In the face of this what do we want our security services and law enforcement agencies to do?  Ignore the threat and then blame them when something happens?  Layer on onerous security and blame them when it becomes inconvenient?  All of the above?  None of the above?

Besides, some would argue, there was nothing to suggest that the threat level in Canada was any higher on July 1 than it has been for a few years.  ITAC – the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre – which is responsible for setting the national barometer did not change it for Canada Day which suggests that there was no intelligence, no specific threat that our spies had uncovered or that online jihadis had promised.  No, this is, unfortunately, the new normal.  Get used to it.

A lot has changed since 9/11.  We  used to cross the US border with a smile and a wave.  We used to get on planes with all kinds of stuff in our carry on luggage.  We used to not think twice about heading to places off the beaten path.  Terrorism has changed all that.

We must not give in to fear and hence hand a victory to a very small group of violent extremists.  But at the same time we have to accept that security is with us to stay and that deep inside we want to both feel safe and know that the agencies responsible are taking their tasks seriously and doing their utmost to keep us safe.

No, we are not in Kansas anymore and we are not likely to get back there.  So the next time you grumble about security lines remember two things: the folks doing the checking are working for us and, despite what you may think, we continue to live in the greatest, and one of the safest, countries on Earth.


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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