Calgary Herald

Security a ‘ partisan football’

Anti- terrorism expert says all parties leave him cold on issue


MONTREAL University of Ottawa professor Craig Forcese is a top scholar in an admittedly small pool of experts on Canadian antiterror­ism law.

On the eve of his book launch for False Security — the Radicaliza­tion of Canadian Anti- terrorism, written with University of Toronto professor Kent Roach, he spoke to the Gazette about how security issues have been addressed during this election campaign.

The short answer: “a pox on all your houses!” Forcese and Roach are non- partisan but not neutral, they say, and all the parties leave them cold on the national security front.

The longer answer points to big gaps in security measures and questionab­le political messaging on C- 51 ( the anti- terrorism legislatio­n that became law in June), radicaliza­tion and the foreign fighter conundrum.

This interview has been edited for length.

Q Bill C- 51 dominated headlines for months this year, and yet there has been little mention of it in this election campaign. Do you think it has received the attention it deserves?

A It’s a hard question. It’s an issue that requires close scrutiny and sober second thought, so when it comes up in the election campaign things are said that make me wince. Tories promise to turn the ratchet tighter, Liberals came out with a platform ( Tuesday) that raises enhanced accountabi­lity, and other things to consider. The Liberals have offered the most detail. But it’s not just what Bill C- 51 says but what it doesn’t do that’s the problem.

Q You’ve said Canada’s new anti- terrorism measures show that our government has not learned from mistakes made in the past, and from the Air India and Maher Arar inquiries. Can you give me an example?

A: We haven’t moved to ensure our intelligen­ce services and police services work in much closer lockstep. They work in parallel dimensions and exchange only very carefully lawyered informatio­n. So with the Toronto 18, CSIS knew the police were following the wrong guys but didn’t tell them. Then there’s the conundrum of converting intelligen­ce to evidence ( in court). The Air India inquiry laid out 500 pages on how to solve this, but C- 51 doesn’t improve the situation. We need checks and balances to minimize false positives.

Q In your book you describe yourselves as non- partisan but not neutral. So how would you rate the major party platforms when it comes to security?

A Hurdles in informatio­n- sharing in government are a problem. How you deal with a new risk like ( ISIL) is a problem. Reconsider­ing intelligen­ce services is a good exercise. The problem has been the execution and content. The government took approaches that raised unnecessar­y constituti­onal concerns and provoked foreseeabl­e negative consequenc­es, then foreclosed the possibilit­y of any serious conversati­on when the bill was tabled. That is a damning indictment of the way government has chosen to conduct national security.

The other agenda has been to say the solution is to repeal C- 51. It needs serious renovation but if you don’t address omissions and problems that led to C- 51 we are no further ahead in solving them.

Obviously the Liberal party is trying to come up the middle. I’ve talked to members of all parties and been consistent in saying we need to open up a consultati­on process so we do not have another done deal. So the Liberals opening the door to consultati­on I consider among the most important ( of the platform elements).

Q You’ve criticized the Conservati­ve party for focusing only on Muslim political terrorists, and divisive political messaging. What effect will that have on security?

A It’s not just the Conservati­ves. If we look at the pattern of ( terrorism) prosecutio­ns since 9/ 11, all but one has involved al- Qaida or ( ISIL) inspired terrorists, so Muslims. In the book we trace other candidates, that prosecutor­s chose to prosecute using the regular criminal code. It’s not necessaril­y that there’s structural racism, but violence by white supremacis­ts can be easier to prove as assaults than trying to prove complicate­d elements of terrorism. But the consequenc­es of having anti- terrorism universall­y used against Muslims is it leaves the impression it’s a specific law for one ideology, and it wasn’t designed for that.

When ( then justice minister) Peter MacKay commented ( on a plot by neo- Nazis in Halifax), he said it’s not terrorism because there was no cultural element — which many perceived as a sub message about religious or Muslim ideology.

The minister honestly believed there had to be a cultural element in the crime. But that’s not in the law — it’s only because of the way the law is being used ...

This is a complicate­d, nuanced issue which doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker slogans. For the first time in our modern history national security has become a partisan football. We will look back and ask how did that happen?

Q In all the anti- terrorism measures introduced over the past four years, there is little devoted to preventing terrorism and specifical­ly radicaliza­tion. How important should prevention be?

A At the federal level there is contempt for what the Prime Minister calls “committing sociology” ... But it’s very important and very hard. In terms of Canadians joining ( ISIL), we haven’t seen this since the Spanish Civil War. For us it’s a brand new problem: how to stop people from going to fight in civil conflicts for organizati­ons like ( ISIL)? Threatenin­g jail and revoking citizenshi­p is not a deterrent or a solution. We need tools to stop ( fighters) from travelling, like no fly lists, etc. But it’s not just about stopping the supply but stopping them from wanting to become fighters. We still don’t understand why people radicalize to violence and so if we don’t understand it’s tough to know how to stop them or get them to disengage. But we can look at other jurisdicti­ons and learn from their mistakes, and it’s possible to think through an effective program.

Q Referring to Bill C- 24, the bill allowing the government to revoke citizenshi­p for dual citizens convicted of terrorism or treason, you have said banishment is not a good antiterror­ism policy. Why not?

A I’ll give you an extreme example. There’s only been one prosecutio­n for trying to join a terrorist group and that was ( Mohamed) Hersi in Toronto. He attempted to join al- Shabab in Somalia and was stopped at the airport, found guilty and incarcerat­ed. The government has now moved to revoke citizenshi­p against 10 people, but if they move against Hersi, we’re faced with the prospect he then becomes a foreign national and is deported back to Somalia. That’s a problem. You’ve convicted him for wanting to fight in Somalia then you shove him back to Somalia. It’s anti- terrorist NIM-BYism ( Not- In- My- Back- Yard). It’s potentiall­y dangerous and not likely to be welcomed by other countries. It’s not sustainabl­e to export terrorists.

 ?? DARREN BROWN/ OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? University of Ottawa national security scholar Craig Forcese says Bill C- 51 needs revision, checks and balances.
DARREN BROWN/ OTTAWA CITIZEN University of Ottawa national security scholar Craig Forcese says Bill C- 51 needs revision, checks and balances.

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