Will Canada respond to terror like the United States or like Norway?

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A memorial for vicitms of Norway's 2011 massacre.

Last week, the National Post's Christie Blatchford wrote about Canada's response to the alleged Al Qaeda-linked terror plot to derail a Via Rail passenger train.

In the piece, she referenced Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz's fist-pump inducing speech at Fenway Stadium in which he told fans that, "This is our fucking city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom."

 Blatchford went on to- rightfully- declare that while Canada has seen terrorist-related activity in the post 9/11 era, the bumbling ineptitude of the so-called Toronto 18 doesn't compare to the weight of what the Al Qaeda brand carries.  If the two men accused of plotting to blow up a Via train are genuinely connected to Al Qaeda in some way, we've -- in her words -- finally "made it to the bigs."

I love baseball, therefore, I love baseball analogies. Blatchford is right in her analysis; a country being targeted by Al Qaeda for the first time is, in a way, like being called up to the Majors.

But the real question that emerges is this: in response to this alleged Al Qaeda-linked terror plot, are we going to play small ball, or embrace the power game?

It's a crucially important question because it's not terrorism that shapes a society, but how society responds to acts of terrorism. There are two different game plans that Canadian policymakers might want to consider. 

First, small ball. Small ball is the reason why baseball is referred to as the thinking man's game.  It's best described as being fundamentally sound, while doing all of the little things -- bunting, stealing, hitting and running -- to win. 

When the anti-Muslim terrorist Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 77 people in Norway, the Norwegian government's response strategy was careful and measured.

Issues like arming the police were debated, and small changes so as to improve emergency response times were made, but the terrorist attacks did not result in any radical policy shifts or serious upheaval to Norwegian life.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said it best, of course, in his famous statement about his country combatting terrorism with "more democracy and more openness." The Norwegians knew that their society was a fundamentally sound one (strong pitching and defense, in keeping with the pillars of small ball), and didn't need to swing for the fences, and drastically remodel their country.

There is more than one way to play baseball, however.

I don't think it's a big surprise as to who the heavy hitters on the world stage are. In fact, never was there a country that more closely reflects the traditional power hitter than the United States.  Powerful yet lumbering, the U.S. is eerily similar to the Chicago White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn. Dunn is a prolific home run hitter, who last summer became just the 50th ball player in Major League history to clout 400 home runs. He also strikes out more than anyone in baseball, and has a reputation for laziness. Essentially, Dunn has some glaring holes in his game, but is guaranteed to drop bombs. That just about describes the U.S. in terms of geopolitical affairs and international relations, doesn't it?

In response to September 11th, the Americans embraced domestic policy and legislation -- indefinite detentions, extrajudicial killings of American citizens, torture, the Patriot Act -- that would have made both major parties (and Norwegians) recoil in horror only a generation ago. 

Under the threat of terrorism and with the help of media fearmongering, the United States began swinging for the fences. Many would argue that it's swinging and missing, and that we're spectators in the gradual decline of a once great society.

The Canadian experience, admittedly, doesn't parallel the Norwegian one or the American one exactly. Unlike in Norway, the alleged would-be bombers here are not Canadian citizens, thus we aren't forced to ask ourselves how a Canadian could plan to kill his fellow citizens. And unlike the American context, Canada isn't a world power that's viewed with seething contempt in many parts of the world. Most important among the differences, however, is that this alleged plot never came to fruition and no one was killed.

But still, the threat of terrorism -- even if an actual attack didn't even materialize -- is enough for many citizens to demand some type of action, and politicians are usually only too willing to demonstrate how tough and unyielding they are in the face of violent extremism. It is noteworthy, therefore, to consider how Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives have responded so far, and what further action they might take in the future.   

Last month, Parliament passed Bill S-7, the Combatting Terrorism Act -- reviving legislation like that crafted in the aftermath of 9/11 that was originally intended to be only temporary.

The Bill allows police to detain people pre-emptively and hold them for as long as three days without charges. Additionally, it gives authorities power to compel testimony through so-called investigative hearings at which suspects are brought before judges to answer questions. It's not quite Guantanamo Bay, but it's not an insignificant threat to civil liberties either. 

In the days and weeks ahead, more information on the alleged terrorist plot will emerge.  Canadians will find out if this country is, indeed, fair game for Al Qaeda and its operatives. Then Canadians will have to decide what kind of ballplayers they are.

 

Matt Moir is a teacher and a graduate school student in journalism. 

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