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Trade Freedom for "Security"? That's a Raw Deal, Canada

Posted: 07/07/2013 3:51 pm

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The odds of dying in a terrorist attack on North American soil are roughly 1 in 20 million. Canadians have a better chance of being killed by a stray bullet in a random Toronto shooting -- 1 in 222,000, or suffering a fatal car accident -- 1 in 11,000.

According to the Terrorist Risk Index, Canada enjoys the lowest risk of terrorism out of all major Western economies -- and at 1 in 14 million, even winning the Lotto 649 is more probable than experiencing an act of extremism here at home.

If we scrutinize the recent history of alleged terror plots foiled in Canada, we are met with a few hastily planned and easily thwarted attacks on the B.C. legislature and a VIA Rail passenger train, a loosely associated terror bunch --"Project Samossa," and a meagre attempt to smuggle parts of an AR-15 rifle through the airport in Montreal.

Evidently -- if past experiences and expert analyses serve as any indication, that is -- terrorism is not one of the most serious threats to Canadian safety and security. Urban violence and negligent drivers are responsible for more deaths in a month than every terrorist incident on Canadian soil since before September 11th.

Unfortunately, the sensational language employed by the Harper administration and law enforcement agencies when referring to terrorist threats tends to be substantially more dramatic than the realities uncovered by those expert non-partisan analyses, past historical experiences, and irrefutable statistical evidence.

For example, the 2013 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada -- an annual review by the Ministry of Public Safety -- is teeming with rhetorically charged phrases such as "radicalizing homegrown violent extremists," and speculative claims about the imminent dangers posed by the increasing power of omnipresent terror cells.

"Canada continues to be featured on al-Qaeda's list of priority targets... The terrorist threat impacts how we conduct diplomacy, business, travel, security and development assistance, both at home and abroad... The majority of domestic terrorists are influenced by the ideology of al-Qaida."

These statements -- and the countless others spouting from the report -- illustrate the Conservative government's unsubstantiated conviction, which Prime Minister Harper himself has reiterated time and again, that "the biggest security threat to Canada is Islamicism."

For its part, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has also chimed in to stress, "there are many terrorist organizations active within Canada's borders," not to mention the fact that "Canada's solidarity with the United States and other Western democracies in the fight against terrorism has rendered Canada a potential target."

What's more, arrests in the above mentioned alleged planned VIA Rail passenger train and B.C. Legislature attacks were accompanied by flashy RCMP press conferences where stark-faced liaisons brazenly trumpeted links between the would-be extremists and some sort of domestic "al-Qaeda recruitment force" -- even though neither government nor the RCMP has yet to present any evidence to the public substantiating such claims.

Nevertheless, I can probably guess what some of the more credulous of Canadians are thinking...

The reason we have had so few terror-related incidents in Canada -- that our risk is lowest in the Western world -- is because our law enforcement agencies and government intelligence services do such an outstanding job containing terrorism. Moreover, the reason they cannot tell us more about their operations is because it will expose the government's plans to all the terrorists out there.

Regrettably, that is exactly the sort of dangerously convenient rhetoric the Harper administration wants us to believe. It's political posturing par excellence -- the classically tyrannical "we can't tell you what we're up to for security reasons, but trust us, there are plenty of scary terrorist threats out there that we're keeping you safe from."

But why in the world would our governments and law enforcement agencies want to inflate the terrorist threat you ask?

The answer is simple: to engage the strongest political validation of them all -- fear.

With fear come easy justifications for augmented military spending, increased political leverage, and, above all, a terrified citizenry which longs for security, safety, and refuge -- the kinds of things we were told could only be guaranteed if we were willing to give up some of our Charter-imparted rights and freedoms in return.

In the wake of 9/11 we allowed the Liberal government to pass Bill C-36 -- an anti-terrorism act containing provisions allowing for secret trials, pre-emptive detention, and expansive surveillance and security powers. When the Maple Spring gripped Quebec, the provincial Liberal Party passed Bill 78 -- a law that required protests of 50 plus to register with the authorities beforehand. And when the Boston bombings presented an opportunity, Harper's Conservatives pushed through Bill C-309 -- a bill banning the wearing of masks during laxly defined "riots or unlawful assemblies."

Also in the works, Bill C-12, a further surveillance act legitimizing the warrantless acquisition of customer information from ISPs, email hosts, and social media sites on a voluntary basis; the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement regulating the sharing of digital content and further eradicating privacy safeguards online; and the new Strengthening Counter-Terrorism Legislation, amendments to the Criminal Code reinforcing the power and influence of that original "anti-terror" Bill C-36.

So here we are -- witnessing the slow and painful death of freedom in Canada as the Harper administration relentlessly wages a war on critical thinking that has left us with drastic reductions to our anonymity, due process, freedom of assembly, and virtual privacy, all in exchange for some intangible conceptualization of security.

And therein lies the problem -- security is not a tangible thing. Rights and freedoms are definite and palpable public goods that once earned, can be invoked and enjoyed. Security is a vague and mysterious assurance that once engaged, can operate outside the parameters of a free and transparent democratic society.

In short, we're trading something irreplaceable that will in all likelihood never be returned to us for nothing but a vague promise by a government asking us to "trust them." When you simplify the exchange, it doesn't sound like a fair deal does it?

After all, while we cannot say for certain how much safer all this "security" has made us, we can say how much less free it has made us -- and that right there should serve as a stark reminder that those willing to trade freedoms for "security" will end up with neither.

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  • 9. Cuba

    Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez listens to a question from a journalist outside a Migration Office, on January 14, 2013 in Havana. A law allowing Cubans to travel abroad without special exit visas took effect on the communist-ruled island for the first time in half a century. The measure does away with the exit visas that have kept most Cubans from ever traveling abroad. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 8. Vietnam

    A street newspaper vendor looks at the building of the Hanoi People's Court where two journalists are standing trial for their coverage of a major state corruption scandal on October 15, 2008 in Hanoi. The court sentenced one of them, Nguyen Viet Chien from Thanh Nien daily to two years in prison being found guilty of 'abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state'. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam

  • 7. China

    Police take the details of foreign journalists outside the studio of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Beijing on November 14, 2011. The lawyer for Ai Weiwei Pu Zhiqiang said the tax office in Beijing has refused to accept money the activist needs to pay in order to lodge an appeal against a huge tax bill. AFP PHOTO/Peter PARKS (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 6. Iran

    Jens Koch one of the two German reporters freed by the Iranian authority, is seen at Tehran's Mehrabbad Airport after arriving from Tabriz on February 19, 2011. The German reporters Marcus Hellwig and Koch, who were held by the authorities for interviewing the son and lawyer of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, were freed after the courts commuted their jail terms to 50,000-dollar fines. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE

  • 5. Somalia

    Somali journalists holding up the picture of their colleague arrested, Abdiaziz Abdinor Ibrahim, participate in a meeting for condemning his long term in jail on January, 27, 2013 in Mogadishu. General attorney of Somali nation Abdikadir Mohamed Muse, announced on Saturday that the Somali police investigation on Abdiaziz ended and will be courted. Abdiaziz has been accused of reporting false rape, and giving the women bribery so as to tell lie. Lul Ali Osman, the rape victim told to the journalist she was rapped by five Somali police-dressed men, but the police refused that. AFP PHOTO MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB HAJIABIKAR (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB HAJIABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 4. Syria

    A Syrian man reads the daily state-run newspaper Tishrin in a cafe decorated with portraits of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 3, 2011. Syria's former agriculture minister Adel Safar was asked by the president to form a new government, the state-run news agency SANA reported. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO

  • 3. Turkmenistan

    ASHGABAD, TURKMENISTAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (R) sit during their meeting in Ashgabat, 11 May 2007. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov promised closer energy ties on Friday as the Kremlin leader continued a visit challenging European and US influence in the Caspian region. AFP PHOTO / ITAR-TASS POOL / PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2. North Korea

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  • 1. Eritrea

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  • 10th BEST Country For Press Freedom: Sweden

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  • 9. Iceland

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  • 8. New Zealand

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  • 7. Liechtenstein

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  • 6. Denmark

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  • 5. Andorra

    Jaume Bartomeu (C), head of Andorran government, answers journalists' questions on November 8, 2009 in the Massana valley in northwest Andorra, where two more workers died overnight after a bridge under construction in the Pyrenees principalty of Andorra collapsed, bringing the death toll to five. Police are investigating to determine the causes of the accident at the bridge that was to link the tunnel to a road leading to two nearby villages. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG (Photo credit should read RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 4. Luxembourg

    British Foreign Minister David Miliband (C) speaks to journalists on June 16, 2008 before a General Affairs Council meeting at EU headquarters in Luxembourg. EU foreign ministers admitted on June 16 that they had no quick-fix solution after Irish voters plunged the bloc into crisis by rejecting its reforming Lisbon Treaty. Irish voters, the only ones in Europe obliged to hold a referendum, delivered a resounding 'no' to the European Union's reform treaty by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent on June 12, plunging the 27-member bloc into a new period of institutional uncertainty. AFP PHOTO/JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 3. Norway

    The chairman of the Labor Youth of Norway, Eskil Pedersen, speaks to reporters on June 22, 2012 outside the courtroom in Oslo on the last day of the trial of Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. His defense is trying to prove that Breivik's killing of 77 people in twin attacks in July 2011 was not an act of insanity. Even though there is no chance Breivik will be set free, his lawyers must formally make the request since their client has pleaded not guilty, despite having confessed to carrying out the murderous twin attacks on July 22, 2011, when he first bombed a government building in Oslo, killing eight people, before going on a shooting rampage on Utoeya island, northwest of the capital, where the ruling Labor Party's youth wing was hosting a summer camp. Sixty-nine people died on the island, most of them teens. Breivik, 33, has confessed to the twin attacks but has refused to plead guilty, insisting they were 'cruel but necessary' to stop the Labor Party's 'multicultural experiment' and the 'Muslim invasion' of Norway and Europe. AFP PHOTO / Stian Lysberg Solum (Photo credit should read Stian Lysberg Solum/AFP/GettyImages)

  • 2. Netherlands

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  • 1. Finland

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