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The Roots of Rage

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Section: Opinion Geography: Canada Topics: terrorism, racism

July 16, 2006

The Roots of Rage

Terror and Repression in Canada

by Stefan Christoff

Canada has charged five Muslim Arabs under "Security Certificates," a provision of national legislation that allows for indefinite detention of non-citizens without any presentation of evidence or a public trail. photo: Justice Coalition for Adil Charkaoui
In June 2006, Canada was thrust into the spotlight of the "War on Terror" when over 400 state security officials and military officers staged a pre-dawn raid on the outskirts of Toronto. Seventeen Canadian Muslim men were arrested in this high-profile operation and are currently being held in a maximum-security prison in Ontario.

Major accusations toward the suspects have been publicly pronounced by Canadian officials, who have charged the accused under Canada's "Anti-Terrorism Act," a highly controversial piece of legislation drafted and institutionalized after the events of 9/11.

International media outlets like the BBC have reported Canadian authorities claim that those arrested in the operation were "inspired by al-Qaeda" and planned to target Canada's Parliament Buildings and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service [CSIS], among other government institutions.

According to Canadian officials, the recent Toronto events were the "largest anti-terror operation in recent history."

The follow-up response of the Canadian state has been unprecedented. Armed officers patrolled the streets and perched on the rooftop of an Ontario courthouse during a recent court hearing for the accused. Imprisoned in windowless isolation cells lit 24 hours a day, the Canadian Muslims arrested have been denied the right to meet their lawyers in private.

When vandals smashed more than 30 windows of a major Toronto mosque in the days after the Toronto raids, Canadian officials voiced little condemnation against the apparent hate crime.

Racist backlash in response to the Toronto raids commenced in the hours preceding the arrests, an illustration of the ugly realities of bigotry faced by Arabs and Muslims today in Canada.

As the Toronto terrorism plot continues to unfold in Canada's largest city, critical questions regarding the roots of growing discontent toward Canada's domestic and foreign policy relating to the "War on Terrorism" are not being posed.

Canadian Terror & Afghanistan

Addressing the direct correlation between the recent Toronto events and Canada's major role in supporting the U.S.-led "War on Terror" is a necessity.

Canada currently maintains over 2,300 military troops in Afghanistan under the umbrella of N.A.T.O [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization], who are today entangled in a war against an armed indigenous opposition throughout the country.

During recent N.A.T.O.-led military operations, hundreds of Afghanis have lost their lives. The Associated Press reported that recent military violence in Afghanistan claimed the lives of more than 500 people in June, the majority having been Afghani fighters and civilians who perished in military battles with N.A.T.O. armed forces led by U.S. and Canadian military forces.

Canada's current Conservative government led by Steven Harper has fuelled a major military and political boost to the highly contentious N.A.T.O military operations. In February 2006, Canada established a major military base in Kandahar, cementing a long-term military role in the country.
Canada's thousands of military troops in the country have been continuously cited by Muslim voices in Canada and internationally as a central reason for growing hostility toward the Canadian government at home and abroad. Recent surveys in Canada indicate that upwards of 60-70 per cent of people across the country do not support Canada's current military role in Afghanistan.
Ehab Lotayef, a respected community activist, recently wrote in the Montreal Gazette that, "Internationally, Canada's policies have been shifting and continue to shift away from peace, justice, UN resolutions and international law, particularly in causes dear and close to Muslims."

Lotayef continued: "Whether we speak of Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan this is clear, and despite the Muslim community's lobbying efforts, political meetings and protests, the response is comforting words, at the best."

War creates political enemies and Canada's major combat role in Afghanistan must be understood as a central reason for the growing international hostility toward the maple leaf.

Major Media & Muslims in Canada - Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Response to the June 2006 Toronto terror raids by all mainstream political parties and major media has revolved around a repetition of common themes: the thundering approval for the Canadian state security forces and the criminalization of the accused.

To date, none of the vast allegations against the 17 suspects have been proven in a Canadian court of law. Despite this fact, Canada's Muslim community -- today numbering in the hundreds–of thousands -- has once again been placed at the centre of a national political debate and put on trial by the major media. While the word "alleged" continues to appear, a presumption of guilt has underscored most media coverage both of the accused and also of Arab and Muslim communities across the country. Major publications in Canada have been saturated with articles expounding on the domestic threat of terror in Canada whereas media coverage attempting to contextualize the recent Toronto events is obscenely absent.

The Economist magazine published a feature article with the headline, "The plan to behead the prime minister", the National Post featured a front page article entitled, "PM says terror suspects represent only hatred," while the Toronto Star ran an editorial titled, "Time to challenge Muslim extremists."

Maclean's published a feature article entitled "Homegrown terror: It's not over." The article details how Canadian security forces were "vigilant" and how recent events in Toronto should be viewed as "a wake-up call for trusting citizens, a reminder of just how vulnerable we are to attack."

The Maclean's article attempts to sanctify the actions of Canadian authorities, concluding with an indictment of the Muslim and Arab community across the country. "In the uproar following the Toronto raids," the article concludes, "it's been difficult at times to tell a moderate from a radical, a jihadi from a hormonally challenged high-schooler."

In Ontario, The London Free Press published an opinion column linking the supposed threat of domestic terrorism to the migration of immigrants and refugees to Canada. "Tens of thousands of immigrants and refugee applicants from terrorist-exporting countries" enter Canada each year, the Free Press article said, "without proper screening." The author went on to underline the fact that "20,000 immigrants have entered Canada from the terrorist-beset Afghanistan-Pakistan region alone since 2001."

It is a fact that thousands of refugees have claimed asylum in Canada from Afghanistan in recent years. However, the obvious connection to the U.S.-led and Canadian-supported military invasion was not drawn.

War creates refugees and in the case of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Canada's military has been directly involved in the reality of forced migration at the hands of military warfare.

Major media within the country has failed to pose hard questions to Canadian authorities regarding the country's growing role in the "War on Terror," which is increasingly unpopular among the majority of people living in Canada.

It is the current Conservative government of Canada who should be forced to answer for the creation of the social and political climate in which the very discussion and potential reality of "domestic terrorism" has become a reality.

Terrorism, Law & Democracy

Arabs, Muslims and racialized communities in Canada have experienced a legislated and legalized form of state repression since 9/11 and before. Racism in Canada is an institutionalized reality.

Canada has charged five Muslim Arabs under "security certificates," a provision of national legislation that allows for indefinite detention of non-citizens without any presentation of evidence or a public trial.

Security certificates in Canada have become a central issue of debate relating to the "War on Terror" and its domestic face.

In recent years, broad sections of Canadian society have publicly demanded the dismantling of this legislation, which many say has become a legalized tool of repression directed toward the countries Arab and Muslim community. Security certificates have been widely condemned and have been questioned by legal associations in Canada, notably the Canadian Bar Association [CBA].

Recently the constitutionality of security certificates was brought to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association attained intervening status during the legal proceeding, adding legal weight to growing grassroots demands to halt the Canadian government's use of security certificates.

The CBA called the legitimacy of the legislation into question, focusing on the fact that security certificates don't allow "effective representation," because hearings take place "in secret, without participation of the detainees or their lawyer."

Also, the CBA outlined that the use of security certificates "interferes with a person's right to liberty, because the detained person cannot effectively challenge the lawfulness of the detention if he or she is prohibited from participating in the process."

In recent years the security certificate has been used solely against Arabs and Muslims in Canada, producing a strong sense of resentment, distrust and opposition toward the Canadian government among sectors of the Arab and Muslim community throughout the country.

The use of law to institutionalize repression in Canada has become a growing reality since 9/11. The legislation used to charge the suspects in the recent "anti-terror" raids in Toronto was the "Anti-Terrorism Act," introduced after September 11.

Since its creation, this post-9/11 "anti-terror" legislation has been criticized by social activists and civil liberties organizations within Canada as an assault on basic civil liberties and a legal tool to counter domestic political dissent.

Under this legislation, the Canadian government defines terrorism as: "actions that are taken for political, religious or ideological purposes that threaten public or national security," going further in defining terrorism as an act that "disrupts an essential service, facility of system." In this context, the concept of "terrorism" can be widely applied, encompassing acts of political dissent or public protest.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), "the legislation gives police sweeping new powers, including the power to arrest people and hold them without charge for up to 72 hours if they're suspected of planning a terrorist act. It also made it easier for police to use electronic surveillance in their investigation of suspects."

This legalized lexicon of fear, persecution and repression is also essential to understanding the reality of growing discontent and rage within Arab and Muslim communities in Canada.

Social Solidarity Against Repression

Canada today is infused with a climate of fear, fuelled by the corporate media and top officials. Given the dominant political discourse revolving around the "War on Terror," marginalized political voices stressing social solidarity in opposition to the current Canadian government's foreign and domestic policy must be stressed.

Amina Sherazee, an immigration lawyer based in Toronto, addressed the arrests in an interview on CKUT Radio in Montreal, outlining that the arrests "serve the political interests of the Canadian government as they renew the threat of terrorism fuelling fear that Canada is some how at risk and therefore justify repressive laws."

A mutually reinforcing relationship of domestic social repression and international military conquest between the current Canadian government and current U.S. Administration must be opposed. In the face of growing domestic repression against Arabs and Muslims in Canada, voices articulating social solidarity must be highlighted by independent media.

The present Conservative government has used the recent Toronto events as justification for the country's growing role in the "War on Terror."

"This country is as much a [terrorist target] as the United States," Harper said in a radio interview in June. "That's why not only is the government acting nationally against terror threats, but we're working globally in Afghanistan and all over the world to deal with this problem."

Threats of terrorism in Toronto have been used to justify a domestic assault on the rights of Arabs and Muslims and an increased military role in an international war, which to date has undermined the security and self-determination of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.

In response, those who stand for a just society and against oppression at home and abroad must be vigilant and unequivocal.

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