Friday, February 23, 2007

Security Certificates

23 February 2007

OK. Let’s say it now. All together. There is an elephant in the living room.

Canada's security services have demonstrated one of the most enviable records in the western world in the protection of our citizenry from terrorist activity, with the recent arrest of 17 terrorist suspects in the Toronto area. Yet, in a manner that could perhaps unfold only in Canada, the citizens of our country are now preoccupied with the process by which we safeguard the rights of suspected terrorists, and there is much recrimination directed towards our national government and security services. We seem unable to discuss the fact that a terrorist plot has been narrowly averted which would have brought grief to hundreds of Canadian families.

Let me for one offer a voice of gratitude to our security services for their recent accomplishment.

And what again was that accomplishment? More than 400 police officers conducted a series of raids in southern Ontario on June 2-3, 2006, arresting 17 terrorist suspects. Evidence was brought forward that the plans of these evildoers were far-reaching, with targets including the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the CBC Broadcast Centre and the CSIS office in Toronto, and an unspecified military installation. The amount of explosives being accumulated exceeded by several times the quantity used to accomplish the Oklahoma City bombing.

Our police officers and security personnel have just saved the lives of hundreds and averted the injury and permanent disability of perhaps thousands of Canadians. Though it has hardly been discussed, and no honour seems to have been brought forward for those who have accomplished this feat, let me say, more power to them. Job well done!.

Let me now turn to today's topic of security certificates.

The Supreme Court ruled today that Canada’s system of
security certificates is unconstitutional. Let us not forget that they also agreed that some system must exist for the assurance of national security and for the preservation of the confidentiality of intelligence-based information.

Are the men presently detained under security certificates guilty of terrorist conspiracy, actions and/or crimes? I have no idea. I haven't seen the evidence either.

But here is what I do know:

1. Canada’s system of civil and criminal law is predicated on the notion that citizens desire to participate in and at least cooperate with, if not contribute to, civil society.

2. Our system does not work particularly well for individuals who have no commitment to the health and wellbeing of our society, including those who wish to subvert or destroy it.

3. There are individuals – in fact, many of them – whose heart’s desire is to cripple and ultimately demolish Western society, and the means to that end includes the formulation and execution of detailed plans to kill and maim citizens of Canada by the hundreds or thousands. We now know that the implementation of the plan which was averted in June 2006 was well-advanced, as I have discussed above. Most of us have probably given scant thought to Ahmed Ressam, the Canadian-based criminal, terrorist trainee and Millennium bomber, who was halted when importing massive amounts of explosives into the United States with the intention of blowing up Los Angeles International Airport shortly prior to the onset of the new millennium. We also forget that Ressam warned of Osama bin Laden's plot to attack the United States, and that President Bush was briefed on this matter on August 6, 2001.

4. Would that this were a paranoid fantasy, but it is in fact a daily news item, in Canada, as around the world. Thanks to the alertness of Canadian security personnel, the most recent known terrorist plot in Canada appears to have been averted. But one need only follow the daily news to appreciate that terrorism is a rising global phenomenon, and that terrorists are operating in Canada as well as in many other regions of the world.

5. If we did not have a system for the surveillance of terrorist activities and the apprehension of terrorists, the balance of probabilities in my view is that hundreds of Canadians would already have been killed, and probably thousands more permanently injured and disabled – in ways that are horrific to contemplate – based on what we already know about terrorist activity in Canada.

6. Granted, the so-called “war on terror” appears now to be making the problem worse by spurring the conscription of new recruits to terrorism by the dozens or hundreds daily in the Islamic world, including among Islamic populations in Canada and other western nations. The west is without a strategy in its encounters with Islamic extremism, and we are undoubtedly our own worst enemy. We cannot forget this fact as we move forward to combat terrorism.

We do not know if the particular individuals detained are or are not terrorists. There are probably some sound reasons why the authorities charged with our protection chose to confine these particular persons, though the possibility of error is not without precedent, as seems already to have been the case with Meher Arar. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in a civil society.

The Supreme Court has determined that a process must be developed by which the evidence against these particular individuals can be reviewed. However, the Supreme Court has not ruled that we should abandon efforts to protect society from the depredations of those who plot and conspire to cause mayhem and terror amongst our people.

So, what do we all know?

1. Terrorists are different than the great majority of Canadians in one fundamental respect. They reject pluralism. There is no wish nor desire that we “all” get along. From the standpoint of the terrorist worldview, virtually all of us deserve to be crushed and to die, and it is their chosen duty and desire to carry out the crushing and the killing.

2. Terrorists globally exist by the hundreds of thousands, and they operate within Canada as well as abroad. They have already killed and maimed tens of thousands, and plan to murder and injure many more. Their cause is growing, they are feeling strong, and they are actively and aggressively acquiring new recruits by a variety of methods, none of which is conscionable within the pluralistic values and laws of Canadian society.

3. Terrorists are trained to lie and deceive. A terrorist who is apprehended is unlikely to confess to his or her actual allegiances and intentions, and the primary reason for this is quite elementary. To acknowledge his or her role in a terrorist organization, a member would be forced into compromising the identities and plans of his/her compatriots. Let us recall that it is to his and her colleagues that the terrorist is loyal – and certainly not to our collective vision of a pluralistic, tolerant, fair and civil society.

4. The individuals presently detained may or may not be terrorists. The Supreme Court has determined that an improved process will be required to answer this question.

5. The development of such a process is a matter of critical – life or death – importance for Canadians.

6. A new (generalized) process will now be required to make the determination as to the terrorist status of suspicious individuals going forward.

One boundary defining this process is familiar, even reflexive, to our habitual way of thinking as Canadians. It would be very costly at the individual level to err in finding these particular persons guilty if they are innocent.

However, the contrary boundary in this dilemma is new in Canadian experience. In the instance of detecting and preventing terrorism, it would be unimaginably costly to allow even one Islamic extremist to go free, given that the plans of Islamic terrorists have been writ large in world headlines since the original bombing of the World Trade Centre in the early 1990s. These people have made no secret of what they are about. Driven by a new cult of hate, they choose to despise us and thus desire our unalloyed harm. Whether they can or cannot overthrow our society or subvert our way of life, even one terrorist can kill or injure hundreds or thousands.

To the democratic conscience, therefore, the risks are extraordinarily high on both sides of the security certificate debate.

The logic of terrorism is a bizarre and unbalanced calculus with which we have little relevant historic experience (in Canada) to guide us.

Historically, Canadians as individuals or in small groups have not engaged in plans to kill and maim their neighbours en masse and indiscriminately, targeting citizens randomly precisely because of their collective innocence.

There is something distinctly disturbing and foreign to our manner of thinking about the operation of the terrorist mind. We have so little experience with this malignant and alien mindset that we literally lack the words and language required even to discuss it, let alone to formulate a coherent response to it.

(Canadians in the recent past feared that Japanese Canadians would engage in terrorist activities during the Second World War. However, this paranoid fantasy was just that, and the over-reaction of internment of Japanese Canadians at the time was out of all proportion to the evidence at hand. Our current dilemma is quite the opposite of that encountered during the second Great War. We now know all too well that terrorists are operating malevolently in our midst, yet we can no longer abide the fear-driven response of the containment of an ethnic population – and rightly so.)

The familiar democratic adage is that it is better that one hundred guilty men go free than that one innocent man be condemned. In this instance, that principle will be our undoing. To permit one hundred terrorists to go free to assure the protection of the one falsely accused innocent man is a risk our society truly cannot abide.

A new principle, or set of principles is thus required, principles that still balance individual against collective rights, and which certainly do not bow to racism, but which recognize that a new level of collective threat is now being encountered in Islamic extremism – and let us call it what it is.

Our present difficulty is that we are able to converse only in terms of the threat to individual rights, and we have no acceptable language for the rights of the Canadian collective.

I would like to suggest that in our search for the development of new mental tools to address this dilemma, it is perhaps now time for us to look eastwards to our oriental neighbours, who have many millennia of experience in the development of collective values, principles and manners of thinking and speaking in the arena of human rights and responsibilities.

I am confident that the west well leads the east in its articulation of individual human rights, but I now fear that we greatly lag the east in our articulation of human responsibilities to the collective, and thus of collective rights.

We simply do not know how to talk about accountability, rights and responsibilities within this new framework.

We have been “forced to fit” into a strange and unknown world of new possibilities and consequences by the rise of Islamic terrorism. At this time, we are without a framework. The framework of laws and values which we carry from our past will certainly endanger us if we cannot free our minds of it – though paradoxically we must still adhere to the validity of its most fundamental principles.

A new process is being born, and it is agonizing to us to participate in its birth.

Our first response will be to recoil from the agony of the painful decisions we face, but the cost of retreat at this point will be our certain undoing. So we must somehow go forward into this unwelcome, undesired and unchosen venture.

Once again, I cannot at this time even imagine the precise answers to the dilemma that I have framed, but my instinct is that we have much to learn, and that for the sake of our survival as a society, we had better go about learning it expeditiously.

But let me conclude with this idea. The resolution of the problem of security certificates will fail if it becomes lodged at the level of a discussion of individual human rights – or mired in a misleading debate about the possibilities of a new racism.

We must somehow discover a means by which issues of individual rights and responsibilities can be framed against a background of collective accountability.

What do I mean?

I mean that we must develop a language to enable us to discuss our present accountability to the not-yet inured, maimed and killed who are slated to suffer and die through the Canadian expression of the global terror agenda.

If this new dialogue framed in a new language cannot take place, I fear that it is then a certainty that hundreds if not thousands of Canadians will needlessly suffer and die at the hands of the terrorist insurgency which is already known to be at work in Canada.

The particular individuals concerned in the present security certificate debate have important rights under Canadian law, and therefore require juridical protection.

Their innocence is possible, and it is thus a presumption.

However innocent or guilty these particular individuals are eventually found to be, I am certain of one thing, and that is, at this historic juncture, the people of Canada are more innocent still.

I am convinced that we have not yet grasped what is arrayed against us. We do not see what is coming, and we will have difficulty comprehending it, even when it arrives in all its heartless force and brutal disregard of every principle that we as Canadians hold dear.

Let us then not shrink from the duty of parsing the responsibility for the assurance of justice in the matter of security certificates in such a way that sheer disaster will not be unleashed upon our land as a foreordained consequence of our inability to hold terrorists – whoever they may eventually be discovered to be – collectively accountable to the people of Canada as a whole.

And above all, let us be ever mindful of our own accountability as citizens and collective decision-makers to the not-yet-harmed as we muddle through the security certificate debate.

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