Making stuff up is not helping, people

I learned a new word this week: swatting.  This phenomenon describes  when someone calls in a fake crisis to get local law enforcement involved and often entails sending out the SWAT team (hence the name_ to an address to prevent a murder or resolve a hostage situation.  This very thing happened to a Calgary woman last week and a Los Angeles man with a record to doing stupid s**t like this is now in custody.  I imagine it is hard to figure out who gets targeted by this kind of act but the Calgary victim is a fitness and yoga vlogger with a large online presence  and that could explain in part why she was chosen.

Undoubtedly the people who get their jollies seeing cops race to the scene of an alleged crime are sick.  To willingly put unsuspecting people through having their door kicked in by serious-looking cops with guns cannot be fun.  I hope that authorities take this kind of activity seriously (I am sure that they do) as it is not only disruptive but it has to be very expensive to deploy these forces.

So what then should we make of a story out of Toronto that an 11-year old girl who claimed just last Friday that a man had accosted her on the way to school and tried to cut off her hijab apparently made the whole thing up?  The original news got a lot of attention and raised the issue of Islamophobia in Canada, an all too real scourge.

But when someone invents attacks that did not take place it drains some of the seriousness from the issue.  All it takes is one false claim to cast aspersions on every other claim and lead people to doubt those who are telling the truth.

The fact remains that racism and hatred do exist in Canada.  To what extent I do not know but I certainly saw it in my career in intelligence (and for the record I did everything I could to try to convince people that, for example, not all Muslims are terrorists).  I’d like to think that my country is somewhat less beset by racism and xenophobia than others and I do think that Canada’s record on immigration does support my gut feeling to some extent.  Nevertheless it does happen here and we must both be vigilant about it and do what we can to challenge those who express these views.

Why an 11-year old girl would invent this episode is beyond me.  There must be something going on in her life that needs attention for her to do this.  Whatever that something is I hope it gets addressed.

For those who jumped on the story right away last week there is a lesson here as well.  Not everything you read is true.  We tend to take a lot at face value even in this era of ‘fake news’.  We also tend to engage in what I call ‘instant analysis’, extrapolating from piecemeal facts and drawing wide-ranging conclusions based on little data.  Those who ran with the alleged attack as an example of rampant Islamophobia in Canada must feel a little sheepish today.

I am not arguing for censorship or radio silence when it comes to events like these.  What I am calling for is measured analysis based on what we know and what we can reasonably build on based on past experiences.  So the next time an event of this nature occurs, sit back for a moment, wait for more info to trickle in, then bombard the airwaves and social media with your analysis.  Not before.

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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