On September 27,  2014 an unlikely trio of organizations published a handbook entitled United Against Terrorism: a Collaborative Effort Towards a Secure, Inclusive and Just Canada. Its three collective authors include the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, a national Muslim defense and advocacy group, and—surprisingly—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Not only Muslims, but all Canadian citizens concerned by increasing state encroachment upon civil liberties in the name of “combating terrorism”, should welcome the initiative. The issues the handbook raises can only be fully addressed through open and informed discussion and debate. United Against Terrorism should be welcomed as a contribution to a debate that is just beginning.

But at the same time, United Against Terrorism arguably raises more questions than it answers; questions of editorial and even of political judgment.

One question heads the list: by what logical contortion did the RCMP, which the late Frank Scott once described as the “greatest enemy of human rights in Canada,” become a co-signatory to a booklet that levels serious implicit criticisms against it?

Have United Against Terrorism’s two other organizational authors chosen discrete silence over historical accuracy in their reluctance to alienate the Mounties? For the history of “anti-terrorism” operations in Canada, before and particularly after the events of September 11 2001, reveal deep and persistent connections between the RCMP in the arrest and detention of terrorism suspects and the manipulation and/or intimidation of alleged participants in “terror plots” if not direct involvement in these plots.

The most egregious—and outrageous—example of such behavior remains the case of Maher Arar. The 2006 O’Connor report, which cleared Mr. Arar of any wrongdoing and resulted in a full apology and a substantial financial indemnity paid to him by the Canadian government, found that the RCMP had unfairly identified Mr. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, as “Islamic extremists” with links to al-Qaeda.

On the basis of misinformation provided by the Mounties, Mr. Arar was kidnapped by American authorities and rendered to Syria where he was violently abused for ten months before being released, largely due to the unremitting efforts of his wife.

In the immediate post-9/11 period, a culture of impunity arose in both Canadian and American law-enforcement agencies. Both were given carte blanche to track down and neutralize “terrorist threats.” This culture of impunity created in turn an atmosphere of suspicion directed at Muslims in both countries, resulting in aggressive programs of surveillance that often mutated into entrapment and provocation in the attempt to soothe a frightened population–and justify draconian restrictions of civil liberties.

[Readers with longer memories will recall the findings of Québec’s 1977 Keable Commission, which revealed direct RCMP involvement in criminal and/or terrorist acts—including arson and the use of explosives--designed to incriminate the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ), which in 1976 formed the government of the province. Although its mandate did not extend to the events leading up to the 1970 October Crisis, testimony before the Commission pointed to RCMP involvement in those events.]

Historically, Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal law-enforcement agencies have never refrained from the use of violence, intimidation and even blackmail to coerce or manipulate potential “terrorists” or to discredit dissidents, either as individuals or groups. The two Muslim contributors to United Against Terrorism should have been aware that, far from being friends of civil liberties in Canada, police agencies, and particularly the Mounties, have long been at the forefront of restricting and repressing those liberties. This they have done at the behest of unscrupulous politicians, from Pierre-Elliott Trudeau to Stephen Harper.

The booklet’s editorial shortsightedness is also on display in its uncritical reference to a New York Police Department (NYPD) definition of “terrorism.” This from the same New York Police Department that worked hand in glove with the notoriously Islamophobic Clarion Fund to screen a “training film” called “The Third Jihad” to more than 1500 NYPD officers in 2011 and carried our large-scale domestic spying program that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and created databases on where Muslims eat, shop, work and pray in the city.

To the credit of the booklet’s two Muslim contributing organizations, United Against Terrorism produces a checklist of precautions entitled “What to do I do when approached by the RCMP or CSIS?” The list, which cautions that cooperation with CSIS/RCMP is voluntary, undermines the RCMP’s self-serving claims that it serves and treats all Canadian citizens equally when it clearly does not.

The list also curiously states that lying to a law enforcement officer is a crime, while remaining silent on the lies of law enforcement officers to entrap or incriminate innocent people. What constitutes a lie can only, in fact, be decided by a court of law, and never by a law enforcement officer or agency.

The handbook’s final section, “How do we act proactively to avoid crisis,” calls on Muslims to encourage and develop trust between your communities and RCMP. “Invite them to your events and encourage youth to see RCMP as a career option,” it advises. Recent events and the historical record of RCMP activity in Canada would indicate that this is exactly the wrong course of action for Muslim communities to take. The RCMP has done little to merit the trust of Canadian Muslims—not to mention that of Canada’s First Nations and of all Canadians in general. Until clear evidence of a radical shift in policy emerges, this particular recommendation should be dismissed as wishful thinking.

Muslim organizations would be far better advised to follow the lead of the NCCM and vigorously challenge slanderous allegations directed against individuals and organizations by the country’s highest political authorities, including the Prime Minister’s office. RCMP and police policy toward Muslims, as toward other dissenting groups in Canadian history, has been shaped by political considerations, and by ideologically driven, power-hungry politicians.

The Canadian Muslim community’s efforts to defend its good name should begin with a refusal to be intimidated, and with an uncompromising defense of civil liberties for itself and others. United Against Terrorism should have been much more forthright in pursuing this approach.

In a second article, I will address the question of what Muslim community organizations can do to combat “terrorism.”


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