Civil Liberties Hang by a Thread in Western World

Within hours of the October 22 shootings in Ottawa’s Parliament, which killed one Canadian soldier, the Canadian population, still reeling from the brazen attack, braced for a new round of anti-terrorism legislation.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the nation after the Oct. 22, 2014 shootings in Ottawa.

It was to be expected. On that very day, the Conservative majority planned to table a bill boosting the powers of Canada’s central spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

“Terrorism has been here with us for a while and dangerously close on a number of occasions,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on October 23, the day after the attack. “I draw our members’ attention back to incidents such as the Toronto 18, the Via Rail conspiracy in 2013, and I could point to a number of others, as well as many that most will never know about.”

These well-publicized cases of the past, and the new event in Ottawa, have since become a part of the narrative which has spurred the Conservative government to pass anti-terrorism legislation. It’s modeled eerily after similar measures passed in the United States which have severely eroded privacy and boosted the powers of law enforcement and spy agencies, to the chagrin of many US Americans.

In fact, the degree to which these events could have been foiled by law enforcement has not only been overstated and oversold by the government, but has actively been hyped so as to dupe Canadians into accepting deeply troubling anti-terrorism legislation they otherwise wouldn’t accept.

It’s troubling for Canada, a traditional nation of peace and peace-keeping, but also threatens several of its allies in the Western world.

The Toronto 18, the 2006 attempted plot, was busted by two Royal Canadian Mounted Police agents who infiltrated the group and most likely supplied the suspects with the materials needed to commit the acts of which they are accused.

Shaher Elsohemy, a former informant for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was paid CAN$4 million by the government for his role in nabbing the suspects, even though he was accused of “entrapping” them into committing the illegal acts during the official trial. Mubin Shaikh, a prominent Islamic leader in the Toronto area, also infiltrated the group and was paid over $300,000 by the government for his role. They both have been outed as RCMP agents vital to uncovering the plot and have had their direct involvement questioned by many in the Muslim community, wary of government efforts to find the perfect Islamic radical foes.

The Via Rail conspiracy of 2013, described by the government as “Al-Qaeda linked” was similarly infiltrated by agents of the RCMP and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. But yet no precise details have been released to the public and the suspects have yet to be convicted of a crime.

These tactics are facing increasing criticism in the United States, especially when exposed within plots concocted by the FBI to justify its domestic operations against suspected terrorists.

For Canada, the shootings in Ottawa and the running over of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec on October 20 by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a French-Canadian man who converted to Islam, are the most recent events invoked to justify the government’s new anti-terrorism legislation.

“This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terror attacks we have seen around the world,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the hours after the attack on Parliament Hill.

Canada is following in the footsteps of the United States and leading its allies Australia and New Zealand in passing anti-terrorism legislation which boosts the power of spy agencies.

Other Western nations have also recently passed anti-terrorism laws boosting the power of domestic spy agencies and law enforcement without proving their effectiveness.

In September, Australia passed anti-terror laws which gave “unprecedented power” to its spy agency to monitor the web for domestic threats.

The Countering Terrorist Fighters bill, recently adopted in New Zealand in early December, was staunchly opposed by the Green Party, NZ First, and the Māori Party because it allows the national intelligence agency to “place people’s homes under surveillance for 24 hours without a warrant,” as well as gives the government the authority to cancel passports of those suspected of terrorism.

Despite little evidence that any previous methods have actually netted the efforts of terrorists, including the recent Sydney cafe hostage situation in Australia, the peoples of Western nations continued to be duped by governments that such measures must be passed.

That’s the same path being followed in Canada.

Bill C-44, also known as the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, introduced just days after the Ottawa shootings, would give the CSIS more authority to conduct operations overseas, as well as shield their assets and agents from Canada’s courts. The bill would also make it easier to revoke citizenship from those linked to terrorism.

These types of laws should worry those in the Western world because it gives momentum to governments aiming to pass similar laws, as seen in Australia and New Zealand, without them being effective.

Much the same occurred after the September 11, 2001 attacks on various targets in the United States. The Liberal government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act on December 11, 2001, just over 13 years ago, giving powers to the police that had never before been realized on Canadian soil.

Parts of the bill, including preventative arrests without warrants and rushed trials lapsed in 2007, but were quickly rushed through to passage after the Boston Bombing attack in April 2013. It now gives police the power to arrest anyone who is “believed to have information about a terrorism offense.”

These worrying laws demonstrate that even a strong independent nation like Canada, which thankfully stayed out of the Iraq War from 2003 onwards, can still succumb to the authoritarian tendencies exported by its American neighbor.

And that should worry everyone in the Western world.