Canada ignores national security threat posed by violence against women

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister Ralph Goodale announce the appointment of the new Commissioner Designate of the RCMP on March 9, 2018. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

Every other day in 2018, a woman in Canada was murdered. These crimes were almost always committed by men. Sexual assault crisis centres reported a record numbers of calls last year. And according to a new report, male violence against women has claimed the lives of at least 10,495 women and girls in Canada since 1961, an average of 184 murders per year.

"Femicide is recognized internationally by the United Nations as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls," according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. "Its definition varies across disciplines and world regions, but broadly captures the killing of females, primarily by men, because they are female."

Despite such massacre-scale figures, successive federal and provincial governments have refused to recognize and act upon the scale and severity of a national security threat that daily targets more than half the population. It's certainly not news to those who courageously -- and almost always without the necessary funding and resources they need to do their jobs -- staff the shelters and sexual violence hotlines counselling the targets of hundreds of thousands of daily acts of male violence.

While the Trudeau government has thumbed its nose at a United Nations commitment to enact and properly fund a National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women and Girls, its Public Safety minister also refuses to recognize the national security implications of male violence. Indeed, when a man inspired by extremist misogynist ideology (the so-called incel movement) went on a murderous Yonge Street rampage in 2018, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had the audacity to declare the terrorist act did "not appear to be connected in any way to national security."

Instead of naming and addressing this major national security threat, the Canadian government continues to rely on racist tropes generated by white supremacist state security agencies to imagine threats that are minimal at worst but which, when parroted by a compliant media, actually make life even more dangerous for anyone who does not enjoy the protective shield of white privilege.

A flimsy terror plot

Nowhere was that more clear than in the arrests last week of two people in Kingston on an alleged terror plot. While one of those arrested was released without charge, the media continue to spout inflammatory lines about the non-charged individual being part of a refugee family fleeing Syrian violence. Needless to say, that irresponsible reportage was immediately picked up by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who reinforced the utterly nonexistent notion that falsely equates refugees with terrorism. (Indeed, research concludes that new immigrant communities have lower crimes rates than those who came before them).

While we have yet to learn the details about this alleged plot, its timing is, as with all so-called terror arrests, curious, coming as it does as the Senate is set to renew hearings on the dangerous new state security powers being debated in Bill C-59. Its substance is also open to some very reasonable questioning. A tip from the FBI led some 300 Canadian agents into high-octane motion, even though there was "no specific target identified;" the superintendent in charge confirmed there was "no specific time, date or location affixed to" the alleged plot of the 16-year-old suspect; there were only "elements and trace elements" of a "potentially" explosive substance allegedly found in one of the houses raided by police; and the superintendent in charge declared: "At no time was the city of Kingston or any Canadian area under direct threat." It appears there was some vague talk of "facilitating" someone setting off a non-existent explosive device at a place and time that had not been determined, which sounds a lot like the kind of plots that are cooked up by eager FBI and RCMP informants who fish the internet to find vulnerable individuals who might take the bait.

The arrests also play into what will likely be a significant racist narrative during the 2019 federal election: Canada's allegedly "porous" borders and equating refugees with security threats. Evidence of this trend was a lazy and fear-mongering CBC piece that read more like a press release from CSIS than the work of a responsible news organization. In reporting on a heavily redacted government document entitled "Subject of national security concern granted permanent residency," CBC took great pains to point out, adding fuel to the fire, that the granting of landed status here "means the person is entitled to most social benefits -- including health care -- can live, work and study anywhere in Canada, and is protected by Canadian law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but isn't considered a Canadian citizen."

While the document allegedly could not detail why the individual was considered a threat because to detail CSIS's "derogatory information" would allegedly harm "the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada," the CBC failed to properly contextualize the consistent pattern of state security agencies claiming "national security confidentiality" as a means of covering up anything that could prove embarrassing to the government. Such rationalizations are also employed to cover up the fact that "derogatory information" in the hands of CSIS is often the product of torture or other forms of mistreatment that Canada's spy agency eagerly receives from some of the world's worst dictatorships.

The CBC also failed to question what it meant to declare that CSIS had "derogatory information" against this individual, especially given the spy agency's lengthy historical record of falsely naming individuals as security threats (often leading to torture, as we have seen in the cases of Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad ElMaati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Abousfian Abdelrazik, among others).

In addition, CBC failed to place this allegedly bombshell document within a long history of Canada using overly broad definitions of security threats to declare individuals inadmissible to Canada. That includes, for example, those who were involved in struggles against South African apartheid or death squad dictatorships in Central America. The overly broad interpretation of what it means to be a member of an organization -- membership being a ground to make one inadmissible to Canada on security grounds -- is so broad that it can encompass someone who wrote for a party newspaper or provided catering services to a political meeting. Ottawa fails to consider, for example, whether someone joined a group before it took up arms or after it eschewed violence. It also fails to distinguish between membership in groups with a single brutal purpose -- the employment of violence without regard to civilian casualties -- and multi-faceted organizations that, while possessing a military wing, also act as de facto governments that provide social services (such as the Palestine Liberation Organization).

The tunnel vision of state security

That Canada's state security agencies would not focus on real threats to security and instead pin blame on individual targeted communities is understandable. They have always demonized Indigenous people, immigrant communities, and anyone who threatens an unequal status quo. It's in their DNA, reflected recently in a 2017 lawsuit by a group of CSIS employees who declared they had been "harassed and discriminated against by CSIS management and colleagues, on the basis of religion, race, ethnic and/or national origin, and/or sexual orientation." That lawsuit was quietly settled with the usual promise to "do better."

Meanwhile, the 2018 "Terrorist Threat to Canada" report, issued just before the December holiday season, proved a significant dose of cognitive dissonance. While Ralph Goodale inaccurately described it as "a balanced and frank assessment of the current threat environment," it is in reality a recycled hash of racist nonsense produced by a nation that Goodale describes as "being a collaborative force for good in the world." While the 2017 public report declared, without substantiation, that "the principal terrorist threat to Canada continues to be that posed by violent extremists who are inspired by violent Islamist ideology, and terrorist groups such as Daesh and al-Qaida," the 2018 report returns to the tired evil Muslims nostrum of "violent Sunni Islamist ideology."

The basis for such conclusions is a timeline dating back to 2006 that features a series of incidents that almost exclusively relied on the role of highly paid RCMP and CSIS agents in creating and organizing various plots, leading vulnerable individuals right into lengthy prison terms via elaborate entrapment schemes. Others -- single individual incidents -- were carried out by people with serious mental health challenges but, given their ancestry, were translated into so-called terrorist acts.

In the check-box virtue-signalling and faux political correctness that defines the Trudeau regime, some space is devoted to right-wing extremism. But it is seriously downplayed, noting in a major affront to the lived reality of millions that "while racism, bigotry, and misogyny may undermine the fabric of Canadian society, ultimately they do not usually result in criminal behaviour or threats to national security." It's a remarkable statement -- not only because racism, bigotry, and misogyny actually make up the fabric of Canadian society -- but also because it flies in the face of readily available public figures.

Indeed, whether it's the epidemic of male violence against women -- perhaps most dramatically illustrated in 2018 by the Yonge Street misogynist massacre -- or racism (January 29 marks the second anniversary of the terrorist attack that murdered six and injured 19 Muslim worshippers in Quebec City), there is clearly a growing threat from white supremacists that's been well documented by researchers Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens.

Downplaying white supremacist violence

Indeed, as the Toronto Star reports:

"Between 2015 and 2018, researcher Barbara Perry said she's observed a 20 to 25 per cent jump in the number of right-wing extremist groups active in Canada. Based on Perry's previous estimates, that would mean anywhere between 100 to 125 active right-wing extremist groups operating from coast to coast. Between 1980 and 2014, there have been more than 120 incidents involving right-wing extremist groups in Canada, according to Perry and co-author Ryan Scrivens's 2015 research. The 'incidents' range from drug offences to attempted assassinations, firebombings and attacks."

The researchers noted, by comparison, only seven incidents during the same time period that could possibly be described under the government's definition of "Islamist" ideology.

(Notably, a recently released report from the Anti-Defamation League also confirms that every single extremist killing in the U.S. in 2018 was committed by right-wing extremists.)

Despite such readily available figures, it remains controversial within the Canadian government to mention this reality. Indeed, an initial muted reference to right-wing extremism in the 2017 Canadian terrorism report almost didn't make it given the objections of CSIS.

According to documents obtained by Global News, CSIS originally proposed that the 2017 report would include the claim that "Within the broader context of extremism in Canada, the number of right-wing extremists who promote or are willing to engage in politically-motivated violence is extremely small." (This false claim would be consistent with CSIS behaviour: the spy agency's review committee found that CSIS dropped an investigation into Canada's far-right in 2016 because Canada's spies felt these groups did not represent a national security threat.) Global News continues that while Public Safety Canada initially included the CSIS statement on the far fight, it was later changed from "extremely small" to "quite small," and then cut altogether. CSIS also disputed that right-wing extremism was "a growing concern in Canada," saying that was a "subjective statement" and demanding, "What is your facting for this?"

CSIS could have easily found that "facting" via a search on Google. They would have discovered a rigorous academic study by the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security & Society (whose partners include CSIS and Public Safety Canada) that concluded the right-wing extremist movement in Canada "is more extensive and more active than public rhetoric would suggest." They noted there were over 100 groups, some of which "were actively engaged in brutal acts of violence directed at an array of targets" including Muslims, Jews, Indigenous people, LGBTQ communities, and "people of colour, such as Afro-Canadians, Asians, and South Asians."

Significantly, their research confirmed that "a key factor enabling the emergence and sustainability of right-wing groups was a weak law enforcement response. Typically, activities of the far right have not been monitored or taken seriously…there was a tendency for officials to deny or trivialize the presence and threat."

Still, Canadian officials tried to soft pedal right-wing extremism, questioning why it was listed as a Principal Threat to Canada. "Is far-right a 'principal threat' to Canada?" asked an official in the released documents obtained by Global News. "Good that it is outlined in this document, but may want to revisit how this is framed."

Naming new unsubstantiated threats

The unwillingness of Canadian state security agencies to develop threat profiles based on readily available public information is another reason why CBC's abovementioned reportage of alleged security threats receiving permanent residency in Canada is so irresponsible. Indeed, the CBC's preferential option for the powerful assumes that CSIS and the CBSA actually know what they are doing. Notably, these terrorism threat reports are produced by the same agencies that treat as security risks land and water defenders from Wet'suwet'en to Muskrat Falls (a chilling but consistent historical practice well documented in the excellent book, Policing Indigenous Movements).

The 2018 public report on terror threats also suddenly raised out of the blue alleged "Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism," pointing to events that happened over 30 years ago as part of its rationale. It also backs up this claim by declaring that two Sikh organizations were listed as terrorist entities in Canada, but that is old news that dates back to 2003. This understandably upset Sikh groups, prompting Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to say he would look into tweaking the language of the report because "words matter and being precise matters," but six weeks later, the libelous reference remains on the website.

And because Canada's state security agencies are equal opportunity Islamophobes, they also bring in alleged "Shia Extremism" with the very lazy, vague claims that some people in Canada "may sympathize with [Hizballah] for political reasons" and that individuals in Canada send material and financial support to the group, without providing any evidence. Hizballah was listed as a terrorist entity in 2002 by Canada.

The largest amount of space in the report is dedicated to "Canadian Extremist Travellers," even though the report notes that "Canada has not experienced, and does not expect to experience, a significant influx of returning Daesh-affiliated extremist travellers." While the report claims that these travellers pose a threat because they return with the "capability to conduct unsophisticated attacks, such as with knives and vehicles," it completely ignores the fact that white Canadian men are perfectly capable of conducting such attacks against women with no need for overseas training, as reports from hospital emergency rooms and women's shelters will bear out. Indeed, a December 2018 report from the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative found that the most common means of men murdering women in Canada was by knifing, all carried out without the support and inspiration of Daesh or Al-Qaeda.

The report offers an extensive explanation of initiatives being undertaken to counter what it already admits is not much of a threat -- those who have travelled overseas -- while completely failing to list any efforts being undertaken to counter right-wing extremism and misogynistic attacks.

Will Canada acknowledge an epidemic?

As billions of dollars continue to be poured into state agencies chasing almost non-existent threats (including the commitment to purchase warships at a staggering cost of anywhere from $62 billion to $100 billion) , those whose lives are on the line from racism and misogyny are left out in the cold. But with a federal election on the horizon, there is an opportunity to push all political parties on the epidemic of misogyny in Canada.

Former NDP Women's Critic Sheila Malcolmson pointed out that "direct federal funding to women's organizations represents less than 0.01 per cent of total federal program spending; only about $1 for every woman in Canada," and that proper core funding for said groups should be a cornerstone commitment that would allow Canada to live up to international and domestic constitutional obligations ensuring women's equality.

When she testified before a Parliamentary Committee last fall, Megan Walker of the London Abused Women's Centre reminded MPs that any program going forward must consider that:

"male violence against women is an epidemic. If we were talking about violence in any other format except against women and we knew that 106 women were murdered this year, largely by men, with 33 murdered by their intimate partners, all bells and whistles would be going off. If it were an epidemic with respect to a flu or SARS or anything like that, we would be taking immediate action, yet for some reason we still continue to minimize the lived experiences of women and pretend it doesn't happen.

It's time to get our heads out of the sand and realize that we all have a role to play, especially government, in preventing women across this country from being murdered, particularly when they're being murdered by a man who is supposed to love them, and in their homes, which for most of us is the safest place we can be. That's our first recommendation: we want the Government of Canada to recognize this as the epidemic it is.

Further, we want the government to respond to this epidemic by including full core funding for all services that are helping women live their lives free from violence and abuse. We want to see major public awareness and education programs so that future generations of girls and boys grow up knowing that this is wrong, that the value women and girls have is not from the attention paid to them by boys and men, but in fact from who they are as people.

We also want to see a heavy investment in prevention. As I say, I think if we can see the results of one woman being alive today because of preventive action, we've done our job. We need to do that with much more frequency and with a much greater investment."

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: Adam Scotti/PMO

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