Doug Ford, Sikh extremism and the unhelpful political interference in threat assessments

I want to start this blog with a confession: I am not a Doug Ford fan.  Hell I am not a Ford family or a Ford Nation fan either but all that is besides the point I want to make.  The latest of Mr. Ford’s gaffes has me very worried about political interference in national security issues.

In case you haven’t heard, although you  would have to be living under a rock to do so, the Ontario Premier appointed a best buddy to be the next commissioner of the OPP (full disclosure: I worked as an adviser to the OPP’s Anti-Terrorism Section in 2015), despite the fact he does not appear to be qualified for that position and it looks like the rules were changed to allow him to be considered.  Oh and there is that matter of having his aides try to influence what vehicles the OPP provides, and even which officers should protect him (more Ford family BBQ pals?).  The current acting commissioner, a former commissioner and a former RCMP commissioner all say this stinks and needs to be investigated.  That three high-ranking police officers feel this is rotten should tell you something.

The bottom line here is that the state, whether that be federal, provincial or municipal, CANNOT and MUST NOT interfere in the workings of police (or intelligence – I’ll get to them below) agencies.  These organisations must be independent and at arms’-length as they are called upon at times to investigate state officials.   What the Premier is doing could very well be influence peddling and in light of his family’s past (do we really have to bring up images of Doug Ford’s crack cocaine deceased former Toronto mayor Rob??) it is worrisome.

On a similar note, the Canadian Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, appears to be going all wonky on the inclusion of Sikh extremism in his department’s 2018 terrorist threat report.  In fairness to critics of that section – who all happen to be Sikh MPs and Sikh activists for the record – there was little evidence provided to back up the claim that Sikh extremism is still an issue.  That is the problem when you publish an unclassified report that may be based on intelligence you cannot put into the open sphere.  

If the minister gives in to these demands this will be a travesty.  These overviews are published to inform a nation’s citizens about the level of threats as seen by security intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  These players call it as they see it, political sensitivities be damned (I can attest to those sensitivities: I have been speaking on Islamist extremism for going on 20 years and still get criticised for calling it ‘Islamist’ terrorism).  The document must be allowed to state the assessment as those agencies deem it to be.

I do not disagree that the current Indian government under President Modi encourages Hindu extremism and wants to paint Sikh extremism in the worst light.  At the same time, however, Sikh extremism is a real thing.  People may believe that the 1985 Air India attack was the pinnacle (nadir?) of violence but it was not.  Violent acts continue, perpetrated by those who want to see an independent Sikh homeland – Khalistan – and are willing to get their way through acts of terrorism.  Is it possible that members of the Sikh diaspora in Canada are helping this effort?  Damn straight it is!

Public threat assessments will always suffer from the fact that they are written in wishy-washy politically correct ways and cannot disclose classified intelligence.  Maybe they should not be written at all then, but then again they are better than nothing.  In the end though they cannot be subject to political interference just because they point out some uncomfortable truths.

Hey politicians!  Leave the police and our intelligence agencies to carry out the valuable jobs they do for us. Are you listening Messrs. Ford and Goodale?

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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