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Federal Politics

Don't Overreact, Don't Degrade Our Democracy

We can't let this week's attacks turn Canada into a garrison state.

Crawford Kilian 23 Oct

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

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The Oct. 22 attack on the Cenotaph and Parliament was as personal as a punch in the nose, and a direct attack on Canadian democracy. The challenge now is not to let Canadian democracy cooperate in its own demise.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a handful of fanatics paralyzed the greatest country in history. We have been living with the consequences ever since: the advanced nations have turned themselves into surveillance states, and innocent people have been handed over to torture (in the case of Maher Arar, outsourced to Syria, where our current troubles originate). Our old-fashioned anti-Semitism has transitioned into an equally shameful hatred of Muslims.

One journalist tweeted that this was our "loss of innocence," as if the FLQ, Air India 182, and many other incidents didn't count. We've dealt with terror, state-inspired or otherwise, since the War of 1812.

Yet the more secure we have become, the less secure we feel. We were caught up in the wake of 9-11, though Jean Chretien saved us at least from the murderous folly of Iraq. Afghanistan was bad enough. Yet behind the scenes the surveillance state was strengthening its grip, following our every email in hopes of spotting a "security threat."

Never mind that our own surveillance state notably failed to stop two demented young men this week. Both were reportedly recent converts to Islam, but they were more obviously disturbed young men, choosing Islam as a flag of convenience for their internal demons. The perpetrator of 10-22, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, appears to have been a small-time thug with nothing going for him but a good imagination and a couple of firearms. If he had allies, they were equally stupid young men, alienated for whatever reason from their society, and with no more political significance than the thugs who shoot each other for control of the B.C. drug trade.

But after 9-11 we have to be extremely alert to governments that know a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Stay cool and collected

If this violence had been inflicted on the guy's wife and kids, or on an American school, it would be just another sad story for the media to enjoy for a week or so. But now it's an attack on the Canadian government itself, in a venue that's been the backdrop for countless momentous events.

So of course we take it personally, but this is the kind of event we know from movies, or news reports from faraway countries. In movies, a rapid and violent response is satisfactory. When it happens in other countries, who cares? Does anyone remember where they were when Saddam Hussein purged his Baath Party comrades and seized control of Iraq? Does anyone in North America really care about the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, or the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram?

For our present government, this is an opportunity beyond hoping for: a chance to stampede Canada as George W. Bush did the U.S. in 2001, to turn us into a garrison state where we all cower in our homes while the government protects us from harm with the media as cheerleaders. Now the opposition parties will have to fall in line or face erasure by a terrorized electorate. Further debate will be only on how savage the response should be.

Every society has its outliers, people who don't quite fit. Some struggle along; others run into trouble with the cops and go to jail. A very few end up justifying themselves by claiming a political excuse for their actions. The politicians themselves are quick to exploit these outliers, granting them a power far beyond what they really exert: they are lizards presented as dragons to be slain.

And as dragons, they provide a pretext for governments to strip their citizens and institutions of their powers, and to take those powers for themselves. They can count on plenty of opportunists to support them.

Imagine a grizzly bear reacting to a mosquito bite by attacking its own flesh, ripping into its ribs or chewing off its own leg. That is the position we now face: shrug off an objectively trivial attack, or cripple ourselves over it and make ourselves vulnerable to far worse attacks.

If this week's assaults on Canadian Forces personnel and on Parliament are "inspired" by overseas groups like ISIS, we can take some cold, deliberate revenge overseas. If they were merely personal attacks by psychotic individuals, we need to spend more attention on our own social and psychological state.

But to ditch our democratic values and institutions would be to hand victory to the thugs.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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