The July 1 arrests of B.C. residents Amanda Korody and John Nuttall -- charged with planning to blow up a pressure cooker cluster bomb at the B.C. legislature -- raise many disturbing questions about the nature of the Canadian government's "counter-terrorism" operations. Equally troubling has been media coverage playing up hot-button themes that trigger fears of marginalized people, whether they be drug addiction and reliance on social assistance, to heavy metal music and the popular catch-all description for anyone who doesn't quite fit into a sick society: mental illness.
As anyone can gather from news reports, the two suspects have not trod the easiest of paths, and the pair's friends doubt they would be capable of planning, much less executing, the alleged acts. Their right to privacy has also been invaded, with media thumbing through their personal effects in an apartment that, remarkably, was not taped off as a potential crime scene by the police.
Interestingly, following a month of revelations about massive spying on the global citizenry, the attempt by the Mounties to scare up a little self-serving attention by trumpeting themselves as The Heroes Who Saved Canada Day appears to have fallen flat, as many are questioning what role undercover operatives may have played in facilitating the apparent attack. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout noted at the press conference announcing the arrests, "We employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm. These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety."
In other words, they appear to have had someone on the inside with a great deal of influence over events, either a Mountie or someone from CSIS, the spy agency that allegedly spoke to the Mounties about the case in February. As the Vancouver Province noted in an editorial, "On April 2, police had enough evidence leading to charges of facilitating a terrorist activity and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, but the couple was not arrested. On June 25, there was enough evidence for Nuttall to be charged with making or possessing an explosive substance, but again there were no arrests." Did the RCMP stage-manage things so that the connection to Canada Day would provide them with a blast of patriotic coverage?
The questions point to practices south of the border, where the great majority of so-called terrorism arrests are in fact set up by and facilitated by the agents who then bust them: the FBI. A 2011 investigation by Mother Jones magazine examined the FBI strategy of "pre-emption" and "disruption" -- the latter a term used by the RCMP in the present case -- and found that the agency targets "tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity."
Mother Jones quotes lawyer Martin Stolar, who defended one man caught in a 2004 FBI sting, as noting that with many of the terrorism cases, "defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents. They're creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror."
The magazine points out that with three exceptions, "all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings," all of which tend to target socially marginalized individuals.
Were the B.C. arrests part of an RCMP/CSIS sting operation? Some recall that the so-called Toronto 18 case may never have gotten off the ground without the able assistance of undercover, paid government informants who facilitated key elements of the case. In the case of Mr. Nuttall, his paintballing friend was quoted as saying, "Personally, I think he was hanging out with the wrong people and they screwed with his head a little bit." Was one of the apparent "wrong people" a government agent encouraging Mr. Nuttall? And is the RCMP above staging terrorism arrests?
History of illegal acts
If history is any indication, the answer would be no. Much of the Mounties' lengthy history of corruption, illicit activity and outright lawbreaking was summed up nicely in a 1970 memo from then RCMP Commissioner W.L. Higgitt. Labelled "RCMP Protection for Members Engaged in Sensitive or Secret Operations," the Commissioner wrote: "Though it has not been the subject of general conversation, and should not be, it may have been considered necessary in the past, and may continue to be necessary in the future, to transgress the common, civil, or criminal law of the Country in order to work effectively or to achieve the desired results in a given case. More recently it has come to my attention that some members involved in delicate operations are concerned with the protection they and their families will receive in the event that an operation goes sour and they become subject to civil or criminal processes as a result."
Later in the memo, the Commissioner advises that "where the member acts within the scope of the direction or the expressly approved plan, he will be protected to the greatest extent possible from criminal, quasi-criminal or civil responsibility. In the event complete protection cannot be afforded, a solicitor will be appointed to protect the member's interests. The Force will accept responsibility to pay any fine or reward levied against our member. In the event of incarceration for a period of time, the member will be paid as usual and on release will be employed again by the Force… Information contained herein should be disseminated on a 'need to know' basis to the members of your command."
This attitude of impunity for crimes committed riddles the RCMP like a cancer. It is why the RCMP authorized the questioning of Canadian Abdullah Almalki, then detained in Syria, knowing those questions would lead to his torture, without a thought for his human rights, much less the complicity in torture provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada or Canada's legally binding obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
Things are no better at CSIS where, as investigative reporter Andrew Mitrovica pointed out in his expose Covert Entry, Canada's spies have "routinely broken the law, treating the rights and liberties of Canadians as no more than a nuisance...[it is] riddled by waste, extravagance, laziness, nepotism, incompetence, corruption and law-breaking." There is a culture of impunity at CSIS, whose agents often refer to a Ways and Means Act: "if you have a way to get things done, the means -- legal or not -- are justified."
Throwing in Islam
Meanwhile, less attention has been paid to pathetic attempts to throw Islamic references into the mix, with desperate efforts to find a landlady or neighbour who can testify to hearing loud "Islamic" recordings coming from the basement and the RCMP's bizarre contention that although there is no international connection, the two appear to be "Al-Qaeda-inspired" and "self-radicalized," two canards that have little connection to reality. (While the Globe and Mail was invading the couple's privacy, they reported on finding amongst their books a copy of the Bible, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and albums by Jethro Tull and Nine Inch Nails.)
"She was into the rave scene, and then she became goth, then she was a big activist, then she was someone who worked out hardcore," a friend of suspect Amanda Korody was quoted as saying. "Before he was a proud Canadian," said a friend of John Nuttall. "Later he said, 'All I care about is Allah' and that Canadians and Americans shouldn't even be in Iraq or Afghanistan at all."
Taken together, these quotes represent a broad swath of Canadian opinion and experience, with the underlying brush that now tars as tainted anyone associated with such activities or beliefs. Yet, unlike some leaders in Canada's diverse Muslim community, no one from Canada's goth or workout scenes has been called upon to condemn the alleged acts or to engage in RCMP "community consultations." Nor is it likely that LA Fitness chains will now be infiltrated by undercover agents to root out the discontented health nuts pedaling their sweaty way atop an elliptical while reading rabble.ca columns on their iPads.
Continual references to the two as apparent "converts" to Islam begs the question: what religion were they following during previous years of mixed up lives, and why has that not been part of media reporting? It also plays into the insidious idea that, regardless of how many times Muslim community leaders plead that they are loyal and peaceful Canadians, the "influence" of their religion is what is ultimately dangerous, a powerful subtext that is repeated with each new scare headline about the growth of Islam in Canada (now estimated at a whopping 3.2 per cent of the total population). In other words, it is bad enough when people born Muslims are alleged to be involved in nefarious activities; it appears to be even worse when "one of ours," i.e., white Canadians, are sucked into the faith. Such pernicious thinking underlined much of the Red Scare: it was not so much the danger of Communists themselves as it was their ability to infect our precious bodily fluids with their subversive thoughts, and before one knew it, former Boy Scouts were marching against the bomb and for civil rights.
Mounties want you to like them
Like the scandal-plagued CSIS, the RCMP is desperate for good press these days, and the language in their early July press conference verged on a plea to like them on Facebook. "These arrests are another example of the effectiveness of our Integrated National Security Enforcement Team who worked tenaciously to prevent this plan from being carried out," said RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia, perhaps a shout-out to CSIS, still reeling from revelations in late May that they failed to inform the RCMP about the Canadian navy's Jeffrey Delisle selling secrets to the Russians.
But the RCMP love-in that followed the arrests of two people in the alleged VIA Rail plot in April does not appear to have been replicated here. (In April, NDP leader Tom Muclair discarded the niceties of presumption of innocence when he led a standing ovation in the House of Commons for the Mounties after he said, without offering any proof of the allegations, that "I'd like to begin by thanking law enforcement officials, as well as a brave religious leader from the Toronto Muslim community who, as we learned yesterday, helped to prevent a potentially devastating attack on Canadian soil.")
In a final irony, the week before the Mounties rode to the rescue to save Canadians from folks who allegedly planned to "produce explosive devices designed to cause injury and death," those very same weapons, cluster bombs, were the subject of an ongoing attempt by Ottawa to water down the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Senate hearings. Rather than ratifying the convention as is, Ottawa has introduced a range of measures that, as the Mennonite Central Committee points out, "Creates loopholes and exceptions on the use of cluster munitions that undermine the Treaty as a comprehensive ban on an inhumane weapon; omits many of the positive obligations of the Treaty, including the destruction of stockpiles; the promotion of Treaty norms; the prohibition of investment in cluster bomb production; and the provision of support for victims."
Ultimately, a government that seeks to enable state use of cluster munitions appears possibly involved in an effort to encourage two hapless souls to build such a bomb, then arrest the couple as a notch in the war on terror, and convince Canadians that the authorities have decent human values at their core. Such logic would appear, in the words of a song in Mr. Nuttall's Jethro Tull collection, to be thick as a brick.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.
Photo: Tony Sprackett/flickr