Doug Ford’s unhelpful arrival on the counter terrorism scene

Foreign fighters are all the rage these days in Canada (hmm, ‘all the rage’ – kinda describes jihadis to a T doesn’t it?). Many, many Canadians are going ballistic over reports that some of our citizens who left our land to join Islamic State or other terrorist groups abroad have had a change of heart and want to come home. They are apparently tired of killing, raping, beheading and engaging in other heinous acts and have reached out, through academics and reporters, to seek help in returning to Canada. The fact that they are in custody is probably going a long way to sharpen their focus.

I would wager that most Canadians would reply “let them rot!” when asked if the government should facilitate the jihadis’ exit from Iraq and Syria. That does not mean that there may not be obligations the state has to meet when it comes to Canadians held abroad (consular, etc.). In an event, this issue is hot right now and the Trudeau government is dithering on what to do, maybe in light of the bad press over the Omar Khadr and Joshua Boyle affairs (I have written on both these PR disasters – here and here).

Into the breach steps the Ontario government of Premier Doug Ford. He has told ‘Ford Nation’ that his government is proposing legislation that will “strip offenders of their Ontario drivers licence and hunting and fishing licences, as well as access to OHIP, grants and loans for post-secondary education, disability income and housing support, rent-geared-to-income under the Housing Services Act, and WSIB coverage.”   In addition, “dependent children would also be considered ‘in need of protection’ as defined by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.”

Look, I am just as enraged about Canadians who fought for IS as the next citizen and I think that they should face charges upon their return – if they return, which I am also against for reasons I have spelled out on many occasions. However, who does Doug Ford think he is to say that he can do what he says he can?  Terrorism is a federal offence and must be prosecuted at the federal level, as difficult as that is proving to be.

How does the Ford government plan to prove that these people fought for a terrorist group? The feds are already struggling to come up with enough evidence to gain convictions and they have the advantage of CSIS, the RCMP and others. Who does Doug Ford have? Is there an intelligence service Ontarians don’t know about? I am pretty sure there is not and I am probably in a position to know in light of the fact that I used to work for the Ontario Provincial Police’s Anti-Terrorism Section (OPP-PATS) and still have ties to that agency.

This announcement strikes me as naked populism, red meat for ‘Ford Nation’. And, based on a cursory glance at the Twitter replies to Mr. Ford’s tweet he is getting exactly the reaction he needs. So, mission accomplished I suppose.

None of this is helpful. There are bodies actively working to bring these terrorists to justice and they must be given the tools and resources to do their jobs. Throwing the province of Ontario into the mix adds precisely nothing to our efforts and in fact detracts from what we must do. Premier Ford has to learn that this is a serious matter to be handled by serious people. He does not belong in the national security sandbox and should leave and take his toys, er laws, with him.

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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