National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

As the war drums beat ever louder across Canada, this seems to be the advice Stephen Harper’s Conservatives want Canadians to follow.

The question is, afraid of what and whom? Islamic terrorism? Right-wing and white supremacist ideologies? Lone wolves? Violent anti-petroleum extremists? Canada’s environmental movement?

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CISIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seem to be unsure and so now are clumping them all together for safety’s sake .

CISIS recently warned that extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideologies are a greater threat to Canadians’ security than Islamic terrorism.

But according to a leaked intelligence report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), it’s  “violent anti-petroleum extremists” and Canada’s environmental movement who are the real  “growing and violent threat to Canada’s security.”

Craig Forcese, a national security expert and associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa, recently warned that until now, previous governments have avoided the dangers of limiting legitimate civil dissent to “lawful protest.”  In the 2001 Terrorism Act, the Chretien Liberals excluded lawful protest from the definition of terrorism and then removed it entirely because of the undemocratic threat it poses to all forms of lawful dissent in a free society.

Meanwhile, academic research prepared for CISIS assistant director Michael Peirce has found that extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideology narrowly trumps all other terror activities worldwide. It trumps Islamic extremism by being “the main ideological source” for 17 per cent of ‘lone wolf’ attacks worldwide.

Islamic extremism accounted for 15 per cent while left-wing extremism and “black power” groups followed with 13 per cent. Anti-abortion activism (eight per cent) and nationalism/separatism (seven per cent) rounded out the list. The remaining 40 per cent of extremist activities had no clear ideological motivation.

“Lone actors tend to create their own ideologies that combine personal frustrations and grievances, with wider political social or religious issues. This study confirms that lone actor terrorism runs the gamut of ideological persuasions.”

The CISIS documents deliver another warning to those keen to ramp up public fear about Islamic terrorism because insisting the Western world is at war with Islam plays into terrorist recruitment strategies.

“International terrorist groups place a high priority on radicalizing Westerners who can be used to carry out terrorist attacks in their own countries,” the CISIS documents state. “The narrative that the West is at war with Islam continues to exert a very powerful influence in radicalizing individuals and spreads quickly through social media and online fora,” the CISIS documents state.

Michael Keefer is Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph, a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, former president of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English and an associate member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.

In a recent article published by the online magazine Global Research, Keefer states the Harper legislation “subverts basic principles of constitutional law, assaults rights of free speech and free assembly and is viciously anti-democratic.”

Among his criticisms are that it has been roundly criticized by four former Canadian prime ministers and five former Supreme Court judges, drawn skeptical editorials in all major newspapers and another letter, signed by a hundred Canadian law professors explaining the dangers it poses to justice and legality.

The bill isn’t really about terrorism, Keefer continues.  “It’s about smearing other activities by association – and then suppressing them is ways that would formerly have been flagrantly illegal.”

He goes on to list the ever-expanding list of peaceful Canadian citizens who could find themselves swept up in an unprecedented assault on their personal liberties.

“The bill targets, among others, people who defend the treaty rights of First Nations, people who oppose tar sands, fracking, and bitumen-carrying pipelines as threats to health and the environment, and people who urge that international law be peacefully applied to ending Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. (Members of this latter group include significant numbers of Canadian Jews.)”

Keefer doesn’t stop there. “But the Anti-Terrorism Act is more mortally dangerous to Canadian democracy than even these indications would suggest,” he continues.

A major section of the act empowers CSIS agents to obtain judicial warrants – on mere suspicion, with no requirement for supporting evidence – that will allow them to supplement other disruptive actions against purported enemies of Harperland with acts the directly violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other Canadian laws.

Then comes this shocking paragraph that amounts to clear authorization of torture: “The only constraints placed on this legalized law-breaking are that CISIS agents shall not “(a) cause, intentionally or by criminal negligence , death  or bodily harm to an individual; (b)wilfully attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the cause of justice; or (c) violate the sexual integrity of an individual.’” (Italics added)

While Keefer acknowledges that Harper’s legislation prohibits acts of the kind that created an international scandal when the torture practices of Abu Graib, Bagram and Guantanamo became public, he warns that “most of the torture methods applied in the black sites of the American Gulag during the so-called War on Terror would be permitted to CSIS under Harper’s Anti-Terrorism Act.”

He goes on to list them: sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation (both of which induce psychosis without

Most of the torture methods applied in the black sites of the American gulag during the War on Terror would be permitted to CSIS under Harper’s Anti-Terrorism Act, Keefer warns. Among those methods are sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation (both of which induce psychosis without, of course, leaving physical marks), stress-position torture and waterboarding (which again leave no marks of “bodily harm”) and techniques of beating and pressure-point torture that produce excruciating pain without leaving visible traces.

“We know already that Stephen Harper doesn’t flinch from covering up high-level Canadian responsibility for torture in Afghanistan,” Keefer writes. He reminds Canadians that in November, 2009, the Toronto Star  quoted a former senior NATO public affairs official saying that flagrantly false denials about Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees had been scripted by Harper and his PMO, ‘which was running the public affairs aspect of Canadian engagement in Afghanistan with a 6,000-mile screwdriver.”

Concludes Keefer: “And we’ve not forgotten that a month later Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament in order to shut down a parliamentary committee that was hearing evidence on the [torture] subject.”


Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.  She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.  She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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