When fake news makes us less safe

Think what you want about fake news, or “alternative facts” as they are now known, but I think we can all agree that this is not a good development.  People can definitely disagree on what facts mean and what their implications are, but it is simply wrong and indefensible to say that something is X when it is incontrovertibly Y.  You cannot say, without at a minimum looking stupid and at a maximum appearing to be disingenuous and manipulative, that the crowds that showed up for Trump’s inauguration were greater than those for Obama. Just because you say so doesn’t make it true.

Sometimes though, making stuff up is a lot more serious than whether or not fictitious illegal voters turned out en masse in the US election to give Hillary Clinton a higher percentage of the popular vote.  According to an article in today’s National Post, Nick Kouvalis, campaign manager for Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, has admitted posting false information about the Trudeau government in an effort to draw out left-leaning voters.  Mr. Kouvalis is no stranger to controversy – read this article in McLeans magazine how he got behind former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

So what exactly did Mr. Kouvalis post on-line?  Well, nothing short of saying that the Trudeau government gave $351 MILLION to Hamas last year. Recall that Hamas is what we call a “listed terrorist entity”: this is a group of organisations (and a few individuals) which the Canadian government deems to be engaged in terrorist activity and for which it is illegal to have any ties.  Mr. Kouvalis was apparently trying to…actually it is unclear what he was trying to achieve.  In admitting later that he had lied he noted that he “wanted the left to go nuts”.  What on earth does this mean?  Is HE nuts?

Lying about terrorism to score cheap political points is despicable.  Canadians (and many others) are already freaking out about the possibility of an attack and having people like Mr. Kouvalis feed these fears is indefensible: I sincerely hope that he and his fellow bottom feeders are taken to task over this. Just as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre and you don’t joke about having a bomb on an aircraft, nor should you make light of support for terrorism.  Don’t we have laws against hoaxes in this regard by the way?

As an aside, it is important to point out that when it comes to Hamas not everyone agrees that it is a terrorist group (I am 100% behind saying it is, just for the record).  It is a little complicated since Hamas also happens to be the government in Gaza, a party Palestinians voted for after decades of ineptitude by the PLO.  And Hamas does get some financial support from Qatar to help it run the highly impoverished and besieged strip of land ceded by Israel to Palestine back in 2005.  None of this excuses the use of terrorism as a tactic or the targeting of civilians in Israel.  Nonetheless, Hamas does try to keep the lights on and the water flowing and there is some merit in that.

Getting back to fake news, I am saddened by its popularity, its use by political leaders and how it demonstrates that telling falsehoods doesn’t seem to matter anymore.  But, in keeping with a terrorism-themed blog, there are more dangerous side effects. If a few Canadians now believe that their government, far from fighting terrorism is actually funding it, this takes away from the job that CSIS, the RCMP and others do on our behalf.  If anyone can say anything, irrespective of its relationship with reality, why would citizens believe their governments when they try to warn us of real threats and get our buy in for more resources for our protectors?  We need a sober, measured, adult conversation on terrorism and our response to it, not puerile FaceBook postings on news better left to the National Enquirer.

Shame on you Mr. Kouvalis.  You may have thought your little lie was cute, or even an astute political move, but you have only dragged politics further down the sewer and in the end made us all a little less safe.  Congratulations.


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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