The fight against terrorism must not come at all costs

Category: World Affairs Topics: Canada Views: 2317

Though a little early, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) could not have asked for a better Christmas present. The arrests of suspected terrorists trying to cross into the U.S. was a dream come true for Canada's spy agency. Prior to this Godsend, the service had been reduced to defending its very existence after one of its officers lost some top-secret documents that were left in her car during a holiday.

Now you have a number of U.S. Congressman and some terrorism "experts" calling on the Canadian government to make security a greater priority. This is exactly what the Service has been trying to stress to the Canadian public and Legislators for years. In fact, CSIS director Ward Elcock has repeatedly told Parliament and the media that more than 50 organizations, representing Muslim, Tamil, Sikh and Irish terrorists are active in Canada. The Service is also reportedly tracking 350 individuals. Indeed, his spokesperson, Dan Lambert, is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying that "with the exception of the United States, there are more terrorist groups active in Canada than perhaps any other country in the world."

Elcock is supported in his claims by a number of terrorism "experts" and political analysts who would like to see a clampdown even on legitimate political and religious activity. In fact, Yehudit Barsky, senior Mideast research analyst for B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League -- a U.S.-based Jewish group that has spied illegally on Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and anti-apartheid and peace activists -- claims that groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad not only operate in Canada but do so freely as social welfare and charity groups, mosques and clubs. "There are quite a few of these fronts," she told a group of Jewish leaders at B'nai B'rith Canada headquarters in Toronto in October of last year. "They can go about their business quietly."

More recently, others have made similar allegations. In fact, just last week Edward Luttwak, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S.-Mexico border can be crossed easily but it was unlikely that Muslim terrorists would use this route because unlike Canada, Mexico did not have a "welcoming community of Muslim Immigrants of any size."

Luttwak goes further to suggest that security is lax in Canada "because politically correct Canadians do not differentiate between 76-year-old Madame Dupont coming to visit her grandchildren and bearded young men from Islamic countries."

The ridiculous assertion is that all Muslims in Canada are terrorists or sympathizers. If this is not an incitement to discriminate then what is? Indeed, it is more than a call to discrimination, it is incitement of hatred toward an entire community. This is exactly what many feared. Calls for women in hijab and bearded Muslim men to be singled out at airports and a community targeted for special scrutiny. Interestingly, Luttwak's suggestion would not have helped in the recent arrests as the men did not have beards. But he has nonetheless accomplished his task of defaming the Muslim community.

Is Canada being overrun by terrorists? Many critics point out that this claim is ludicrous. Certainly, there must be terrorists and their sympathizers in the country. But to make such alarmist pronouncements is clearly irresponsible and may be motivated by nothing more than hidden agendas and self-interest. The very raison d'tre of CSIS is being questioned by some after the Cold War. Surely, there is a better chance for the Service to survive budget cuts and thrive if it is seen as a last line of defense against terrorism in Canada and now America.

The result of repeating such claims will be the adoption of draconian laws that will stifle legitimate civil and political rights. And there are some signs those earlier calls to do just that are being revisited on both sides of the border.

South of the border, proponents of Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 have some new ammunition to push their agenda. The law, set to take effect in 2001, calls for the tracking of all foreigners entering the United States. Northern states, led by Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), have lobbied against the law citing long lines at the border and reduced tourism and trade. The Federation for American Immigration Reform is using the recent arrests to fuel the debate. Of course the impact of the law will be greater on certain segments of society. The fact that the recent arrests were achieved without such measures appears irrelevant to proponents of Section 110.

The arrests have also given a new lease on life to the CSIS and have revived efforts to clamp down hard on ethnic charities. Last week the Toronto Star reported that the government was reconsidering a proposal to strip the charity status of organizations suspected of being fronts for terrorists. The proposal by former Solicitor General Andy Scott, called for a new legal process more aptly lack of due process -- whereby charity status could be revoked in closed hearings before the Federal Court, where even the charity's lawyer could not participate. The presumption of innocence and right to counsel would go right out the window.

As someone who is serving on a board of a Muslim charity that has been blacklisted, I can confidently say that CSIS barks up the wrong tree on many occasions. In a defense to an application for judicial review brought by Human Concern International (HCI), the government refused to disclose its "evidence" gathered by CSIS claiming that disclosure could "be injurious to national security or international relations or both." From a review of the defense filed by the government it seems that the only evidence against HCI are newspaper clippings suggesting that groups with similar names have been funding terrorists including those carrying out massacres in Algeria. As an officer of the court and a responsible citizen I would be the first to report any such activity. Without a doubt, most Muslims would do the same.

Sure, CSIS must do its job. But it should not be at the cost of fundamental rights. According to some commentators, CSIS often exaggerates the threat. The unfortunate consequence of the fear generated by such exaggerations will be the suspension of some of the fundamental freedoms and rights cherished in a democracy and the denial of humanitarian assistance to those in need around the world in times of crisis. A more cautious, open and responsible solution to address the issue must be found, balancing the rights of the suspected with national security concerns.

Why are the communities affected -- Muslims, Arabs, Tamils, Sikhs, etc. -- not approached in developing measures aimed at stopping terrorists dead in their tracks while not interfering with legitimate civil and political rights?

Faisal Kutty is a Toronto lawyer and writer and is also columnist for the Washington Report On Middle East Affairs

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Canada
Views: 2317

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