No, terror is not a synonym for terrorism and no, terrorism is not limited to ‘brown people’

I am afraid of heights.  Even climbing a ladder scares me.  I also don’t like amusement park rides.  You could say that both of these things terrify me.  I am not ashamed of that.

So, if I read a few columns lately by Doug Saunders and Allison Hanes correctly, I should call high places and roller coasters ‘terrorism’.  After all, they terrify me and terrorism, according to those two, is an act that terrifies people, no more and no less.  As a result, anything that causes people to fear – sharks, spiders, snakes – is in the same category as mass shootings – like we saw in Las Vegas on the weekend or the massacre in a Quebec City mosque last January (news bulletin: the Crown is NOT laying terrorism charges against Alexandre Bissonnette in the latter incident – more on that later).

This is of course utterly daft.  I do not wish to leave you with the impression that I don’t think that these attacks were not both horrifying and terrifying.  Of course they were.  But that does not make them terrorism.  An act of terrorism – whether we go by the Criminal Code or by anybody who knows better – is a serious act of violence carried out for ideological, political or religious reasons.  If it is not, or it cannot be shown to be, then it is not terrorism.  End of story.  Proving motivation is really hard and that explains to a large extent why the Edmonton suspect from last Saturday has been charged with attempted murder among other offences but not terrorism.  Not enough time has elapsed to lay those charges.  Given what we know already about that man I would be very surprised if he is NOT charged eventually under section 83.1 of the Code but we will have to allow the authorities to gather evidence to justify that decision.  This is also why Mr. Bissonnette has NOT been charged with terrorism: despite a half-year investigation the police have not found sufficient grounds to prove motivation.  I really cannot make this any simpler.

Another inanity that has been spreading of late is that terrorist charges are only laid when the suspect is brown and/or Muslim.  This shows extreme ignorance.  A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist if and only if the offence was driven by ideology.  Race, religion and ethnicity have nothing to do with it.  Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist. So were the guys behind the Air India attack.  So were a whole bunch of white Americans who killed worshippers in Sikh temples, synagogues, churches and mosques.  Things get a little complicated when we try to pry hate and terrorism apart but to say that terrorism has a skin colour is ridiculous.  It just turns out that since 9/11 the bulk of terrorists happen to be Muslim and had drank the AQ or IS Koolaid.  But you might want to get ready for a possible wave of far right, neo-Nazi, white supremacist and even Antifa terrorists if current events are any indication.

There is no ‘double standard’.  Officials can only do what they can do based on what they know.  Not what they feel or think.  What they know.  That is why we have laws.  Yes, laws are constantly interpreted but you have to start with a framework.  You can’t just make stuff up as you go along.

A lot of people are scared and uncertain in the wake of Edmonton and Las Vegas (and Barcelona and Marseille and London and Stockholm and Charlottesville and….) and we cannot and must not dismiss these fears.  Fears are, after all, emotions and not reason, and we cannot wave them away.  But we cannot give in to irrational, albeit comprehensible, fear to change laws and the way we handle serious violence.



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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