Friday, September 18, 2015

In a commentary in the National Post, Prof. Kent Roach and Prof. Craig Forcese of the University of Ottawa discuss what Canada needs to do to create a truly effective anti-terrorism strategy ("Press the reset button on security," September 17, 2015).

Read the commentary on the National Post website, or below.


Press the reset button on security

By Kent Roach and Craig Forcese

September 17, 2015

Security issues are a campaign issue — at least we think they are. To date, little has actually been said on the topic, and what has been said amounts to the parties doubling down on entrenched and vague (even symbolic) positions.

Since its introduction in an election-style rally in January, the Conservatives have sought to use their anti-terrorism law, Bill C-51, and security more generally, to corner and typecast their opponents. Their vision amounts simply to turning the ratchet of hard-nosed laws tighter.

The Liberals seem to have charted an uncertain course in response, with indefinite references to parliamentary “oversight.” And the NDP is trying to use Liberal support for the bill C-51 as a wedge issue. Like the NDP, the Greens have promised to close the door on that law.

The problem is, however, that our anti-terrorism dilemmas are more acute than “C-51 good; C-51 bad.” To be sure, we believe strongly that it is bad. It infringes the Charter rights of Canadians without appreciable security gains.

That said, Canadians are right to be concerned about terrorism. A close examination of the data suggests it is not an existential threat, but it is a real one. Terrorist attacks are overt acts of political violence, the scope and lethality of which are limited only by the capacity and imagination of their perpetrators. They are unpredictable and designed to make us do things, or at the very least fear things. Terrorism is a conscious assault on freedom, in a way that is dramatically different from the accidental perils of living. Such conduct demands a response from the state.

But Canadians are also right to be concerned about the freedoms sacrificed by C-51. They should be even more alarmed that those rights are sacrificed unnecessarily, for no appreciable security gain. And they should be especially concerned that no party has so far shown itself prepared to grapple with the real problems that ail anti-terrorism efforts in Canada.

In our new book, False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-terrorism, we urge that C-51’s misguided “quick fixes” are no substitute for efficient terrorism investigations and prosecutions leading to convictions and meaningful prison terms for terrorism offences. They are also no substitute at the front end for multi-disciplinary and community-based programs attempting to curb radicalization to violent extremism, including in prison.

Bill C-51, read in association with the earlier Bill C-44, runs the serious risk of undermining anti-terrorism efforts, while at the same time sacrificing elemental constitutional rights. But even if C-51 were swept from the earth, we would still have a woefully deficient anti-terrorism strategy. There are many reasons for this, but two stand out.

First, as compared to other democracies, Canadian terrorism prosecutions are unnecessarily unwieldy, complex and remarkably infrequent. The inquiry into the Air India bombings pointed urgently to the need to resolve this issue in its 2010 report, and also underscored long-standing (and still persisting) difficulties in the process by which CSIS intelligence can be used as evidence in criminal trials.

The government ignored the Air India report even in the face of decisions, like one from the famous Toronto 18 case, where a trial judge reported that, “CSIS was aware of the location of the terrorist training camp.… This information was not provided to the RCMP, who had to uncover that information by their own means.”

Any suggestion that C-51 fixes the structural reasons for this dangerous conduct is nonsense. It allows information to be shared about just about everything, but does not compel CSIS to share information about terrorism.

Second, Canada lags behind other democracies in developing multidisciplinary programs to counter violent extremism. Counter violence extremism initiatives require close attention, and then careful consideration of empirical evidence on how best to dissuade persons from moving toward political violence (or for those at risk of further radicalization in prison, disengage from it).

Bill C-51’s new speech crime, the government’s political messaging and its near exclusive focus on hard-nosed tactics without a meaningful overall anti-terrorism strategy are serious barriers to success.

Exactly what the parties would do in these and related areas if elected is unclear. Certainly, we welcome proposals for enhanced accountability review of the security services — long overdue and identified in detail by the Arar inquiry almost a decade ago. We support the idea of a more informed parliamentary process, including parliamentarians competent to review secret information. Our book outlines suggestions in both these areas.

But accountability reform alone is insufficient.

After Oct. 19, a government of some sort will take office. Canadians deserve a government willing to embrace complexity, and the maturity to step back from anti-terrorism as a subset of gotcha politics. There are members in each political party who share this ambition — we have spoken to them. We hope those voices are raised in the weeks to come.