Frisked at the ACC: 19,000 of us were patted down during the recent holidays on our way into Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to see the Leafs beat the Predators. The line stretched back up the long corridor toward Union Station. The security guards said the practice coincided with the U.S. Orange alert for Christmas. Before then, all they checked was bags, now we had to spread ’em. The head of operations at the ACC says the National Hockey League ordered heightened checks and draws no lines between Canadian and U.S. arenas.

It was frustrating, like the longer lines at airports since 9/11. But it was irksome in a way that airport waits are not. At the airport, you know planes were used on 9/11, so you don’t question the attention. That isn’t true of sports arenas. Okay, but what’s wrong with playing it safe, on the no-harm-done principle? Yet this one made me feel less safe, rather than more, though it is a bit hard to figure out why.

I would say it amounts to putting all the effort in the wrong place, and so making the spread of the terrorism virus more likely. It is like treating the spread of drugs by going after only individual users and pushers, but never the cartels and sources. (The cartels would be the terrorist groups, and the sources would be aggrieved populations in various parts of the world.) At least in the drug example, there are numerous local targets to target.

There are pitiably few, in the case of retail terror in North America.

Focusing on the other end, especially on festering grievances, would mean altering U.S. policy in places like the Mideast and Asia, something U.S. planners do not intend to do. So it suits them to have people fixate in the wrong direction, especially since current U.S. practice in Iraq or Afghanistan involves repression, lots of bombing “errors,” home demolitions, or continuing illegality in the human cages at “Gitmo.”

The ACC is back down to Yellow alert now, along with CNN. But the damage continues. Yesterday a chilly parking-lot attendant in downtown Toronto was vehemently analyzing the RCMP raid on Ottawa reporter Juliet O’Neill’s house. “They call this democracy? Look, the day after Maher Arar says he is going to sue the U.S. for taking away his rights, Canadian police start intimidating anyone who challenges U.S. behaviour.” He happened to look like he came from the Third World, though the rant could easily belong to people born here. Then someone goes by and notices. Maybe he was at a Leafs game over Christmas and got a bit more anxious about the bombers among us.

The passerby slinks away fearfully, ready to support further tightening of the security laws, which will increase anger among those particularly targeted and affected. You don’t have to be a conspiracy nut . . .

The gracelessness of Paul Martin. Chapter, um. . . I wish they would stop playing those eighties clips of shrill, feisty Sheila Copps taking on the good old boys in the House. You’d think that was the person Paul Martin has been, in effect, trying to eject from his party.

In fact, as culture minister she scored one of the most impressive accomplishments of the Chrétien years. You may recall that the free-trade deal of 1988 was supposed to protect and exempt Canadian culture from its terms. But the exemption was so brutal that it was never used; it was better to avoid the special treatment it promised. Yet Sheila Copps led a multilateral effort to create a convention that will genuinely protect national cultures everywhere from commercial philistinism. In the fall, it even won that holy grail of international consensus: reluctant support from the United States.

That is achievement on a level far more positive than the Martin victories: cutting social programs and taxes under the approving gaze of the rich, then claiming it as a sign of creativity and grit.

The successor to Sheila Copps in the culture post, Hélène Scherrer, began her tenure in Martinesque fashion, by meeting in Toronto with the richest, most largesse-favoured arts organizations in Canada — the opera, the ballet, the symphony — and sympathizing with how badly they had been “neglected by government in the past decade.”

It’s time to retire “ironic.” Isn’t that ironic? I mean, as in: “U.S. officials are now faced with the ironic . . . image of a devout Muslim cleric appearing to be a greater advocate of democracy than the nation that invaded Iraq promising liberation.” (U.S. News and World Report)

Come now. Shia Iran — whose spectre the United States sees behind the mild demands of the Iraqi cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — had a blooming democracy in 1953, which the United States overthrew to install their client, the Shah, on his peacock throne. The Iranian revolution of 1979 aimed to restore the popular will, and through all its vicissitudes a democratic impulse has never yet been wiped out there, as one could see in recent weeks. The U.S. confrontation with democracy in the region isn’t ironic; it’s traditional.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.