Not every case of an alleged Canadian terrorist is Arar

I can’t imagine what it feels like to see your child arrested.  My children were no different than most I suppose, occasionally doing things they should not have, but nothing too serious, nothing that warranted police attention.  Thankfully, I was never placed in that position.

Now imagine that authorities arrest your child after you called them for help.  Is this not an egregious abuse of power?  One Montreal father is claiming so after he called the RCMP once  he learned that his son was being recruited to go to Syria to join Islamic State.  Much to his chagrin, the Mounties arrested his son in front of media cameras and are looking into the possibility that he may be radicalised.  What gives?  Another case of our federal cops run amok?

Not so fast.  There may be a lot more here than meets the eye – or the musings of a BC criminologist (Wade Deisman – see below).  It is a known fact that a small, but significant, number of Quebec Muslims have opted to leave Canada to join terrorist groups like IS. The young man in this case had spoken of a bogus trip to Greece (as a cover to get to Syria?).  It is also known that Martin Couture-Rouleau radicalised to violence in Quebec and ran over two members of the Canadian Armed Forces on October 20, 2014, killing one before being shot to death by police.  So, it is beyond doubt that there is an extremist problem in la belle province.

While I commend the dad’s move to get help, he – and we – must accept that the son in question may possibly be deeper into the jihadi subculture than his family realised.   In other words, rather than just a potential recruitee, police may have learned something more dangerous and decided to act.  Think of the alternative: the RCMP knew this lad had plans to go to Syria and chose to do nothing. Would the family not have excoriated the police for their inaction?

We will hopefully learn more about this case in the weeks to come and gain some insight into why the young man was arrested.  It is likely that the RCMP move was prudent, not hasty.  Furthermore, I sincerely wish that this incident does not discourage other parents from seeking outside help when they fear their offspring are showing signs of violent radicalisation.  In too many instances they do not do so – because they are afraid or they are ignorant of what is happening – and as a result their sons and daughters get caught up with terrorist groups and are sometimes killed in faraway lands, their bodies never returned to their families.

Before I end, there is one other aspect to this story that needs to be addressed. The aforementioned criminologist is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying that the case reminds him of Maher Arar, the Canadian tortured in Syria in 2002 after the US sent him there, since US border officials had recently questioned the family in these current circumstances about the matter when they tried to cross into the US.

This is a patently ridiculous statement.  It reminds me of the reductio ad Hitlerum strategy, one where someone in a debate evokes Hitler to make a point.  This technique is also a sign of a bad argument, a Hail Mary pass to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Are we now heading in Canada towards ‘reductio ad Ararum’ every time a terrorist arrest is made or news that we shared intelligence with the Americans surfaces?  I hope not.  What happened to Mr. Arar was horrendous and no human, not even the worst terrorist or criminal, should be subject to this kind of treatment.  But the Arar case is not a paradigm for how things work in this country.  We’ve had our inquiry, recommendations were made and Mr. Arar got compensation.  End of story.

Evoking Mr. Arar’s torture is shoddy work at best, exploitative and ill-informed advocacy at worst. We are better than that and our national conversation about terrorism deserves to unfold at a higher standard.



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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