The Views of Canadian Scholars on the Impact of the Anti-Terrorism Act

4. ROBERT MARTYN Department of History, Queen's University

4.1 What has been the impact of the Anti-Terrorism Act on Canada?

If Canada has changed dramatically in the post-September 11th world, it is largely of our own doing. There has been no discernable increase in actual risk to Canadians at home. The predominant change has been in awareness of the existence of terrorism. Beyond the circle of security-related officials and academically interested scholars, Canadians have been largely disinterested in terrorism. News reports of periodic aircraft hijackings or suicide bombings brought the issues to our attention, yet it remained 'someone else's problem'.

Terrorism is fundamentally an issue of perceptions, to which I will return momentarily. For now, suffice to say, Canadians have developed a schizophrenic perception of terrorism. Canada's population settlement corresponding with our US border makes the influence of American media an almost inescapable reality. The American emphasis on the terrorist threat, be it to justify the Iraq war or the upcoming Presidential election, leaves one with an unremitting sense of great anxiety. Given that it takes a great amount of input to change an opinion that is already formed, this sense of doom is contrasted by Canadians' self-comforting belief that we live in a 'fireproof house, far from flammable materials'. We're peacekeepers; the world loves us.

Canadians are therefore accepting that something must be done, but more in order to reassure the Americans than because we face any significant threat. As Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, noted, what we do regarding security “opens doors like no other key”. One of the measures demonstrating our resolve in facing the threat is the Anti-Terrorism Act.

If the primary purpose of the Anti-Terrorism Act is reassuring the Americans that Canadians are 'doing our bit', then the law is likely proving effective. However, for actually providing increased security to Canadians, it gives every impression of failing the test for a number of reasons. In order to provide for any legislation in this area to prove effective, it must be included as part of an overarching, coordinated national security policy, which Canada presently lacks, notwithstanding government assurances that one is in the offing.

As for the efficacy of the Act itself, there seems to be a mixed response. This legislation has induced Canada to ratify the two outstanding United Nations anti-terrorism conventions (Suppression of Terrorist Financing, and Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, Conventions), in addition to the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel Convention. These are important steps in supporting the UN as it slowly, even tentatively, begins accepting that its member states have responsibilities to act forcefully, and pre-emptively, against terrorist threats. International collaboration is one of the keys to combating terrorism. Notwithstanding the UN's dubious reputation in solving large-scale crises, it remains a viable forum for exchanging opinion and informing a global audience.

Domestically, the Act provides more potentially advantageous means for investigating and convicting terror-related activities. While national-level security personnel have lauded these measures, recently published accounts admit that no one has yet been brought to trial, nor any terrorist acts thwarted, by virtue of this legislation. This will be one aspect of Canada's response that may require more time to assess.

As it stands, two groups in particular are attending to the fallout from the legislative changes: legitimate charitable organizations, and human-rights consortia. Various charities have begun bearing the burden of increased bookkeeping scrutiny inherent in the Act's terrorism funding clauses. Although the Act compels the Crown to prove a charitable organization's fundraising supports terrorism, groups are actively ensuring due diligence to avoid any wrongful accusations of terrorist affiliation; even suspicion of such activity could harm their requisite public support.

The other assemblage monitoring the Act are those closely attuned to human rights issues. There is widespread concern regarding the potential for abuses by those in authority, tied in with unease about a lack of transparent oversight. We have witnessed numerous examples from the Americans of basic liberties being denied, coupled with the accusation of non-patriotism to anyone who questions such activities. Although there is no manifest reason why Canadian security officers must act in the same manner, there exists potential that some of these concerns may come home to roost at a later date.

Amongst average Canadian citizens then, and even small city law-enforcement professionals, there appears to be a complete absence of awareness regarding the Anti-Terrorism Act or its ramifications. It appears therefore that the Act's effects are only visible at the Federal level, where its utility in showing the Americans that we are ‘doing our part’, or amongst civil rights observers concerned for potential abuses.

4.2 What emerging trends in terrorism do you foresee and what threats do they pose to Canada? In discussing these trends and threats, please describe what you consider terrorism to be.

Defining terrorism is one of the thorny issues which continues to cloud rational debate and stymie effective responses. In his book, The Terrorist Trap (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), former-RAND analyst Jeffrey Simon asserts that there are at least 212 common definitions of terrorism. Even a particular terrorist group such as Al Qaeda, which despite being at the centre of the American's massive and multifaceted 'war on terror,' continues to defy definition; is it an enormous international organization or merely a more nebulous association of like-minded fellow travellers? For the purposes of this submission, however, only some commonly agreed attributes are necessary to understand likely terrorist trends. Terrorism will be regarded as deliberate violence, threatened or actual, intended to create and exploit fears for the advancement of a belief or cause.

Regardless of ones definitional details, it is essential to remember that terrorism is merely a tactic. While repeating a mantra of “fighting a war on terrorism” makes for simplistically effective propaganda, it is as logically flawed as saying the Second World War was a 'war against blitzkrieg', or perhaps a 'war on kamikaze attacks' - - these were merely tactics, not the overarching goal. Considering it as more than this runs the risk of developing ineffective responses. It is merely a socio-political method of acting, regardless of the perpetrators motivation.

If the 1968 'skyjackings' marked terrorism's transition from the national to the global stage, then 2001's World Trade Centre/Pentagon attacks provides the benchmark of two specific evolutions: motivation and tactics. The decline in Marxism as a viable political theory has been accompanied by the disappearance of large, visible Marxist terrorist groups, such the Japanese Red Army. This is not to say that left-wing terrorism has vanished, merely that other motivators have become more visible, due to the declining relative strengths. While always present to some degree, right-wing causes, 'single-issue' groups such as animal rights or anti-abortionists, and anarchist/nihilist factions now provide more readily discernible impetus for terrorism.

The most visible trend, however, is the rise in religious fanaticism. There have been an increased number of attacks attributed to Christian, Judaic, or Hindu extremism. The lion's share of attention, however, has gone to the currently pre-eminent threat of some Islamic adherent's self-declared jihad against the 'Western infidels'. This, notwithstanding terrorist attacks against non-Western targets, or other Muslims deemed insufficiently dutiful believers. The United States has become the 'lightning rod' for this increased animosity, due to its global power and the domineering presence of Western culture. By association with the Americans and their perceived values, other nations and their citizens become 'legitimate' targets in the terrorist mind.

One final trend requiring mention, related to the elimination of political bipolarity, is the decline in state sponsorship. The expansion of personal and financial mobility has altered terrorist funding, such that money is now equally likely to come from traditional criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, or from fundraising in otherwise uninvolved countries. Again, this is not new phenomenon; Boston has traditionally been seen as the greatest source of financial support for Irish terror. The non-state linkages are now merely more visible and/or important, depending on the terrorist group.

The other aspect of terrorism's recent evolution has been the change in tactics. While the number of terror attacks has declined, the number of victims has increased dramatically. Terrorists traditionally attacked 'identifiable enemies' such as uniformed soldiers/police, or national corporations, but there now seems to be less constraint against killing non-involved people. Shootings and bombings, because of simple technologies, remain the most common methods. However, the definition of 'bombing' must be expanded; whereas previously hijackers would blow-up aircraft after disembarking the passengers, airliners are now destroyed in flight, if not used as bomb itself by being flown into a building. Remembering that terrorism is about conveying a message, as an audience becomes blasé to global mortality, the 'shock value' must be increased to get adequate media attention to affect large audiences.

The ability to kill large numbers of victims is aided by escalating technical competence. Groups are becoming quite adept at using Internet, encrypted communications, and international financing to further their aims. The potential for increasingly destructive weapons, such as chemical or biological weapons, is also enhanced by ready access to information. Their scarcity, however, argues against them being used against a Canadian target in the near term. A terrorist group with such a capability is more likely going to use it in a strike against a target with quite obvious American symbolic value, in order to maximize the message being conveyed.

Yet Canada remains inherently vulnerable for a number of reasons. As a western nation, often globally perceived as 'just like America', we are threatened by the same disenfranchised terrorists that despise the US - - Tim Hortons' mugs, or “I Am Canadian” t-shirts notwithstanding. Anarchist and nihilist groups pose a great threat, in that countering their irregular strategy and often absence of political demands cause security forces to rely almost exclusively on luck (e.g. - voluntary surrender, or stumbling upon perpetrators at some point in the planning or execution of their attack). Fortunately, they seem to display little activity within Canada.

In general terms, any attack directly against Canada would likely be intended to target US interests, or be intended primarily for an American audience. A cause and effect example would be bombing the Ontario/Quebec power grid. While physically occurring in Canada, it would disrupt the American economy along the eastern seaboard, and the industrial areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio. It would also reach the US consciousness because Canada enjoys global media connectivity. Such an act however, would generally lack the requisite spectacle of a similar attack conducted directly on US soil.

Our porous border with the US makes us an obvious transit route, and hence, terrorism risk. Our multi-cultural society provides a potential recruiting ground for supporters of various militant causes. Support can take the form of fundraising, providing cover or identity documents, or even recruiting active terrorists. This is particularly troublesome with second- or third-generation residents who may thus escape detection. But perhaps this matter provides the greatest threat to Canada. In the absence of a clear and credible threat, any risks may be more closely tied to an overly stringent domestic response. While the section following addresses potential Canadian reaction, it seems appropriate to sound a note of caution against a very real risk in alienating perceived 'immigrant communities' by specifically targeting these citizens with measures considered unjust or draconian. The ensuing anger and perception of alienation can readily serve to boost terrorist recruiting - - but now with resentment specifically against Canada.

4.3 How should our country respond to these trends and threats? Please feel free to include measures at any level, such as social, economic, political, or legal or a combination of these levels.

The history of anti-terrorism is habitually one of reaction. It is simply not physically or economically viable to pre-empt all possible terrorist options, even if one were willing to accept any resultant costs - - for these costs will run the gamut from financial drain, to curtailed civil rights for all citizens, to alienating sufficient sectors of your society that not only are the initially targeted terrorist groups likely to acquire more support, but you risk creating more than enough animosity to spawn new groups.

Canada, therefore, should take a multi-tiered approach in our response to terrorism. No single government sector holds a magic solution; cooperation amongst the various justice, intelligence, health, international development, and financial bodies is absolutely necessary. This is where the aforementioned overarching national security policy is required. National security must be comprehended with its myriad of interconnections. It is not predominantly a matter between the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defence, it is a matter increasingly referred to as 'human security', where clean water is of equal importance to passport controls.

Key to Canada's response, regardless of the level, is communications. Because terrorism's strength is rooted in perceptions and beliefs, it is essential that any government action be explained to the populace - - foreign and domestic. Secrecy is anathema to the consensus required in any situation where Canadians will be asked to make sacrifices, be it government spending on foreign aid, or increased security constraints on travellers.

Part of this requisite openness is access to government discussions on 'what is to be done', before it is presented to the voters as a fait accompli. Acknowledging that some issues, such as intelligence sharing with friendly nations, requires varying degrees of confidentiality, maintaining public support will necessitate some manner of oversight. If the recent intelligence-related turmoil in the US is any indication, this oversight must be deemed trustworthy and effective. Even with this openness, however, engaging the public may be one of the more difficult tasks, in that western society seems almost defined by a short attention span. Assuming the anti-terrorism will comprise a war of attrition, we must somehow attempt to avoid impatience. The public must accept that there will be no clear, decisive closure along the lines of 1918's 'eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month'. Honest communications, tied to achievable and justifiable goals are therefore vital.

At the highest, macro-level, Canada must support a complete package of conventions and efforts to ameliorate the impoverishing conditions that serve as a 'breeding ground' for the disaffection that leads to terrorism. As an aside, two related contentious issues with this aspect are in the marketing. Assistance must be provided with respect, so as not to engender bitterness at what may be perceived as a demeaning paternalistic attitude. This will require conscious effort at cultural empathy across the span of Canadian responses. Conversely, any aid programs must be seen domestically as competent, with visible results, in that some segments of society disparage humanitarian projects that are perceived as financially benefiting only the executor. This will require increased openness and communications efforts in situations where some opinion-makers could spin our efforts as providing aid to those that are conducting terrorist attacks against us.

The various anti-terrorist efforts are already seeing calls for increased domestic and international cooperation. While the situation is reportedly working well in the spheres of security and intelligence, some areas still require improvement. Mind you, non-terrorist activities, such as SARS or BSE, may have done more to impel inter-government and international cooperation than the threat of terrorist attack. Responsible government agencies must now assure that complacency does not set in.

Domestic activities should be appropriate to Canadian circumstances. While great sympathy was felt towards the Americans in the aftermath of September 11th, Canadians by and large see many possible security-related constraints as unnecessary. This is not to dismiss US concerns. In much the same way as the hijacking of El Al airliners in the 1970s was often deemed 'an Israeli problem', we cannot now wash our hands of the requirement to act in defence of common western liberal ideals.

The Anti-Terrorism Act may be seen as merely cosmetic legislation to ensure trade with the US remains unimpeded. Whether it meets Canadian needs has yet to be proven. In the absence of any direct terrorist attack within Canada, its restrictive clauses and the as yet unrealized potential for abuse, may cause it to be seen as conflicting with Canadian moderation. In the end, it may be the government's pragmatic concern for re-election, rather than effective anti-terrorism measures, which will determine our future course. The most effective measures for Canada in countering terrorism must include a multi-tiered approach, which includes an effective intelligence system with positive information sharing and trustworthy oversight, supporting balanced international development, and adhering to principles of liberal ideology. Tying all of this together must be a competent communications arrangement in order to counteract the terrorists primary reason for their behaviour - - exploiting our fears and uncertainties in order to make a political statement.

4.3.1 Background Material

This submission was informed by numerous discussions and informal interviews with police, military, and security personnel, academics and students. Additional perspectives were gained thorough the routine perusal of unclassified publications monitoring terrorism trends, (notably, relevant Canadian Security and Intelligence Service's Commentary and Perspectives, and the US State Department's annual Patterns of Global Terrorism). Additionally, the following sources were consulted. The opinions expressed herein, however, remain solely those of the author.

  • Canada. Department of Justice (online). www.justice.gc.ca

  • Carter & Associates (online). www.carters.ca/pub/alert/ATCLA/index.htm.

  • Feinstein, Lee, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. “A Duty to Prevent.” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 1 (Jan/Feb 2004): 136-150.

  • Goldfarb, Danielle. “Thinking the Unthinkable: Security Threats, Cross-Border Implications, and Canada's Long-Term Strategies.” C.D. Howe Institute Backgrounder #77, January 2004.

  • Hoffman, Bruce. “Al Qaeda, Trends in Terrorism, and Future Potentialities: An Assessment.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 26, (2003): 429-442.

  • Peters, Ralph. Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World. Mechanicsberg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002.

  • Richmond, Oliver. “Realizing Hegemony? Symbolic Terrorism and the Roots of Conflict.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 26, (2003): 289-309.

  • Simon, Jeffrey. The Terrorist Trap. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994.

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