Published in la Piedra No5,
“In times of war, men commit innumerable and horrific crimes against one another that they do not at the time consider to be crimes”, states Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace’s unforgettable opening chapter. 140 years later, the statement still rings true.
In Canada since 9/11, the domestic climate of rising national security fears, fanned by a sensationalist media trumpeting the “War on Terror”, has led the government to justify practices which undermine long-standing principles of human rights (People’s Commission, 75).
In December 2001, Canada passed the Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) to deal with threats to national security. The ATA makes changes to the criminal code that “aim to disable and dismantle the activities of terrorist groups and those who support them”. It destroys civil liberties and gives police vast new powers, eroding due process and privacy. (CBC News, Feb. 27 2007)
According to Gary Kinsman, professor at Laurentian University, the concept of ‘national security’ is doubly problematic. Nation refers here to groups who fit the image of the Canadian state - white heterosexual males, construed as ‘safe’, while racialized communities are excluded as ‘outsiders’ and enemies of the state. Despite purported concern with ‘security’, state initiatives have only endangered non-citizens and criminalized legitimate social protest.
The arrest of 21 South Asian Muslim men for allegedly plotting to blow up a nuclear reactor in 2003 (known as Project Thread) garnered wide media attention. All were eventually deported on minor immigration charges, not one was charged with a terrorist offence (Faisal Kutty, Washington Report
on Middle East Affairs, August 2006). They were detained up to 5 months, interrogated about their faith and threatened with deportation to Guantanamo Bay, infamous torture camp of the United States, where Omar Khadr, youngest detainee and Canadian citizen, remains after 6 years, subjected to torture methods detailed in leaked FBI files (guardian).
The ATA delegates Canada’s spy organization CSIS with the power to identify possible terrorists. Main-stream media outlets have exposed how refugees have been pressured by CSIS to become informants on Muslim communities by blackmail (CBC, Globe articles). If they cooperate, their
immigration papers are approved; if they fail to cooperate, they risk deportation. These tactics stigmatize and enforce stereotypes of Arab and Muslim men as terrorists, fanning the flames of hatred and ostensibly justifying an imperialist occupation in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the context of colonialism in North America calls into question Canada’s legitimacy to decide who can and cannot cross national borders. Canada continues to benefit from theft of land and conceal the genocide of indigenous peoples. How then can it claim authority to choose who can and cannot stay on Turtle Island?
Published in la Piedra No5,
Racial profiling of Arab and Muslim men affects not only non-citizens in Canada. Canadian government officials and RCMP facilitated the state kidnap and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria, where he was interrogated under torture by Syrian authorities with information provided by CSIS (interview with Monia Mazigh). Nor does the Canadian state act on the case of Huseyin Celil, Canadian citizen and Muslim who was detained in Uzbekistan in 2006 and deported to China where he remains imprisoned today with no access to Canadian officials or his family (Amnesty International).
The ‘War on Terror’ is used to justify not only racist immigration polices, but also the suppression of political protest, handed down in part by the US ‘homeland security’ model. By criminalizing citizens’
rights to political dissent and activity, meaningful spaces to dialogue and challenge ultra-security strategies are in danger of being swept away and eliminated by the war machine.
Police agents have acted as ‘agent provocateurs’, disguised in plain clothes as activists at summit protests and attempt to incite violent behaviour among protesters, notably at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in 2001 and at the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) Summit in Montebello in 2007 (Jaggi Singh).
In 2006, 13 activists from Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC-Canada) were arrested in Montreal at a home demonstration. Court evidence revealed that Montreal police infiltrated the group and undertook year-long surveillance operations including home and cell phone taps and stakeouts. Police took photos and videos of activists at demonstrations, physically intimidated them and followed them around day and night (UTA, 130).
Canadian security policy would have us believe that we live under the threat of terrorists. But nowhere does Canada evaluate it’s own role in global terror. Its definition of terrorism does not include the
imperialist strategies of Canadian foreign policy such as bombardment, invasion and occupation, nor the violation of essential human rights inside its borders.
Canada’s aggressive role in securing transnational interests in Afghanistan, Colombia and Israel is fuelled by a war mentality that is doing away with human rights and due process. It is an imperialist state that is consolidating power by silencing opposition.