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Was the Senate report on 'countering' the threat of terrorism intended to incite hatred for political gain?

The Canadian Senate Chamber

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That the interim report of the Senate's Standing Committee on National Security and Defence on countering terrorist threats to Canada is lazy, slapdash and sophomoric ought to surprise no one.

Consider the source: The House of Patronage filled up by a government that is now on the verge of open distrust of people who wear eyeglasses or read books, let alone, God forbid, believe in science.

This is precisely the kind of body we would expect to conclude that publishing a "Wanted Terrorist List" on the Internet would be a big step forward in protecting national security -- worded with enough loosey-goosey imprecision to include people for whom the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper itself is already providing "non lethal" military aid and signing eternal friendship pacts!

What does it say about the Senate of Canada that it would include in this report a section alleging defamation laws are being misused "to deter people from discussing in frank terms terrorist and other threats" that sounds as if it were written by Ezra Levant himself?

"On a number of occasions, primarily in the context of public debate about terrorism, extremism and radicalization, plaintiffs have claimed to be defamed, and have launched lawsuits against those whom they alleged to have inflicted reputational damage upon them by stating or implying they had an association or affinity with radicalism," the senators bloviate.

A number of occasions? Such as? Can a single lawsuit against Levant be what the senators had in mind? Now that a verdict has been rendered in that case against Levant, are the senators telling us they think the judge is a terrorist sympathizer too?

Let it be acknowledged that defamation law in Canada is frequently used to chill free speech and deter democratically legitimate criticism, just as the senators say. But not by terrorist supporters. Rather, it is done with regularity by powerful individuals and corporations with connections to the Conservative Party that appointed the senators in question.

The senators call for criminal prosecution of people who have committed no criminal act -- or, as they put it, have acted in the "pre-criminal space," whatever that means. Crimethink?

They demand innocent donors to charities be held responsible for terrorist acts if those charities are later declared by someone to have somehow aided terrorism.

They say the police should be able to lay terrorism charges without the inconvenience of getting approval from the Crown or any of that due-process stuff.

They want to keep people they disagree with out of the country -- like British MP George Galloway in 2009, I guess, refused admission after less than two hours of research by the Canadian Border Services Agency, viz., what they were pretty sure then immigration minister Jason Kenney wanted.

They also want to help out the unelected military government of Egypt by declaring that country's last elected government, overthrown in a coup, to be a terrorist organization. Makes sense, I guess, if you weren't elected yourself and the Opposition's been talking about abolishing your sweet sinecure.

And what the hell did they mean when they recommended, "government authorities establish a protocol with Canadian Security Intelligence Service to require mandatory screening of citizens involved in public outreach?" The muddled explanation of this muddled recommendation seems to me to suggest they have in mind denying politicians who are not members of the Conservative Party of Canada access to information.

I will admit I laughed out loud at the senators' recommendation that "the government develop measures to prevent foreign funds from entering Canada, where such funds, donors or recipients have been linked to radicalization." Don't they realize that could put the Fraser Institute out of business?

This shabby piece of work would be lucky to qualify for a C+ if some academic underachiever handed it in as an undergraduate assignment. If that were the only problem with it, we could just laugh it off and advocate playing "Send in the Clowns" at the opening of every Senate session.

That it advocates "solutions" to a real and troubling problem that are bound to make the problem worse, and quickly, and, moreover, that it openly advocates legislation that would seriously infringe on the rights of all Canadians, could simply be chalked up to well-meaning incompetence by an intellectually inferior cadre of senators were it not for the deeply troubling effort by the report's authors to promote hatred against an identifiable group.

Let me say that again: The report of the Senate committee appears to have been written to, in the words of the Criminal Code, incite hatred against an identifiable group, in this case Canadian Muslims. That said, it leaves plenty of scope to expand its recommendations against the Conservative Party of Canada's ever-growing list of enemies du jour in numerous other religions, labour and the environmental movement.

Judging from the comments section of The Globe and Mail -- known as the Good Grey Globe in its heyday, but increasingly just another slipshod yellow digital rag in this epoch of incredulity -- this strategy of inciting hatred is working, and working well.

However, before anyone rushes out and tries to bring charges against the senators responsible for this tawdry manifesto, I'd advise you to hold your horses. Without even checking, I can assure you this unelected House of Parliament enjoys a privilege protecting its members from consequences for actions that take place within their august chamber, and monotheistic-heaven only knows what the Conservatives' organs of state security would make of such an effort.

It diminishes the enormity of the acts or the degree of the tragedy in no way to say it borders on the bizarre that the senators use the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, an act of terrorism by members of a different religion, themselves a tiny and unrepresentative minority of that faith's millions of adherents, as their principal justification to call for a national scheme to have the government of Canada determine who gets to be a Muslim cleric and who doesn't!

As the Toronto Star observed in an editorial yesterday, "The Conservative movers and shakers who were so eager to kill the gun registry now want to create an imam registry. It's the Senate that needs certifying, not imams."

Were this not so obviously a desperate political ploy designed to save the Harper Government's bacon --  an appropriate enough metaphor under the circumstances, I suppose -- in the face of its obvious bungling of the economic file, it would be easy to dismiss the committee's Conservative senators as mere simpletons.

Alas, stirring up religious hatred for political gain -- and inevitably enabling and encouraging the very kind of activities this shabby report purports to try to suppress -- is much worse than that, beyond the pale, really, even by the cynical standards of the Harper Government.

Given Canada's constitutional arrangements, there is not much hope of abolishing the Senate, unfortunately. But at least most past Canadian governments, including Conservative governments, have tried from time to time to fill that body with people of quality.

Illustrating this were the three Liberal Senators on the committee, including Alberta Senator and committee deputy chair Grant Mitchell, who had the good sense and decency to dissent from the corrosive screed.

In that sense, at least, we have some control over the kind of Senators who represent our regions. It's just that to exert it we will need to elect a government that will go the traditional route and appoint members of the Upper House prepared to serve the interests of Canada and Canadians, and who don't have to suppress the urge to put on fright wigs and giant slap shoes before they come to work!

If you think this commentary overstates the flaws of the Senate report, I strongly recommend you take the time to read it yourself.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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