January 29 marks the first anniversary of the mass murder of six Muslim worshippers in Quebec City, the worst terrorist attack on Canadian soil since the 1989 atrocity that claimed the lives of 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. As the date approaches, caution seems to be the watchword with federal and provincial governments alike trying their damnedest to mark the occasion without addressing the white supremacist roots of the massacre.
Indeed, as Trudeau packs an extra Kleenex box for his trip to Quebec City — where he will shed his usual quota of public tears with others commemorating the six Muslim worshippers murdered by white terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette on January 29, 2017 — his government continues to unfairly target Muslims in Canada as inherently suspicious and dangerous. While the Liberals’ language differs from the outright inflammatory rhetoric of Conservatives like Kellie Leitch, Jason Kenney, and Stephen Harper, their policies are, with the odd tweak, one and the same.
A combination of Canadian state security practices, the Liberal government’s “anti-terrorism” legislative agenda, so-called “counter-radicalization” programs, and ankle-deep analysis from potential allies and irresponsible media outlets continues to stigmatize and marginalize Muslims, those perceived to be Muslim, and anyone whose heritage includes countries where Islam is widely practiced.
When a young Scarborough girl claimed that a man had tried to cut off her hijab with a pair of scissors, Trudeau used the occasion to plug a mythic, self-loving Canadian nobility and white liberal tolerance, reassuring her and the rest of white Canada with a tweet: “that is not what Canada is and that is not who Canadians are.”
After Toronto police said the attack did not happen, many criticized the girl for apparently lying, but no one bothered to call out Trudeau on his own disingenuousness. The idea that someone would try to rip off her hijab is not theoretical. It happens often, so much so that at Dalhousie University, emergency hijab kits are made available to respond to such attacks.
Racism IS who we are
The hijab attack that apparently did not take place in Scarborough — but which does takes place often — is nevertheless far more “who we are” as Canadians than we care to admit.
An Angus Reid poll two weeks after the Quebec City mosque massacre found 46 per cent of Canadians hold negative views of Islam, while the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s December 2017 Taking the Pulse report found that 44 per cent of Ontario residents believe “police are at least sometimes justified in profiling or targeting” Muslims.
While some of the blame appears linked to Donald Trump’s Muslim travel bans and Islamophobic tweets, they tend to overshadow a historic home-grown discrimination that saw a 253 per cent increase in police-reported hate crimes against Canadian Muslims from 2012-15. Given the reluctance to come forward to police when such attacks occur, the numbers are likely far higher. In the lead-up to the last federal election, the Trudeau Liberals voted to support some of Stephen Harper’s most regressive legislation, from the inflammatory Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act to the infamous C-51 (Anti-Terrorism Act), both of which remain on the books and disproportionately target members of the Muslim community.
The National Council on Canadian Muslims maintains a continually updated online map of hate crimes, a chilling litany describing tales of racist graffiti, women having their hijabs ripped off, death threats, the firebombing of a mosque, and a bullet fired into an Islamic centre where children were studying. Trudeau never tweets about these almost daily occurrences. When Mississauga Liberal MP Iqra Khalid introduced the non-binding motion M-103 to condemn Islamophobia and study racial and religious discrimination last year, she received thousands of hate messages, forcing her to change office protocol, from door locks to selective answering of phones.
As Trudeau prepares his photogenic Muslim Hugging Maneuvers, he is less enthusiastic about a call made by almost 100 national organizations to make January 29 a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia. “We are in reflection on this,” Trudeau said, noting in his well-developed spirit of white nobility and Muslim tolerance that “we want to avoid the kind of backlash we sometimes see when we launch such actions because unfortunately there is still a small, intolerant minority.”
In other words, the Liberals would like to launch another consultation that will delay and deflect, after which they hope to latch on to a broader statement condemning intolerance against all faith groups. Three years ago, the Liberals joined a unanimous House of Commons in passing a motion condemning anti-Semitism. Then Liberal MP Irwin Cotler rhetorically asked why the motion was not broader to include other forms of discrimination. He answered his own question: “There are certain features that do make anti-Semitism unique.” His ideological colleague Jason Kenney chimed in as well, declaring that “it is important to condemn all forms of xenophobia and to combat them all, but I also believe that it is important for us to recognize the uniquely durable characteristics of anti-Semitism.”
Why, one might ask, do the Liberals and their House colleagues seem so wary about recognizing the “uniquely durable characteristics” of Muslim hatred? Is it really because of Trudeau’s paternal instinct to protect Canada’s Muslims from the backlash of “a small, intolerant minority,” or is the fear that a day of remembrance and action will reveal the Canadian state’s long-standing, continuing practice of Islamophobia, one that predates the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?
Pavlovian keywords for Muslims
Just before the Christian state holiday break in December, Trudeau’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale released the federal government’s latest ode to Muslim hatred, the 2017 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.
Goodale writes that his report takes a “clear-eyed view of the dangers to Canada,” and concludes, without any factual backing, 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.” In a description that sounds like Goodale is talking about a Canadian Forces recruitment video, we learn that violent extremists “produce and spread sophisticated online content to boast about battlefield victories, promote intolerance, justify attacks based on violent beliefs, and recruit individuals from around the globe.”
But in recognition that Ottawa’s state security targeting can no longer be so blatantly “all Muslims, all the time,” the anti-terror communications strategy has rather reluctantly and awkwardly tacked on right-wing extremism to some of its otherwise boilerplate Muslim-hating documents. Hence, while 2.5 full pages are dedicated to alleged Muslim threats, fewer than two paragraphs are used to describe white supremacist and right-wing extremist threats, and even then, they are largely downplayed. Indeed, the report ignores readily available public information, concluding that right-wingers are primarily active in chat forums “rather than openly promoting outright violence.” Apparently, Mr. Goodale overlooked the picketing of mosques and the hate rallies that have been organized in Toronto and Quebec City, among other cities.
While some of the anti-Muslim language is toned down from earlier government documents, Goodale’s report still uses key buzzwords so inexorably fused to Muslims — radicalization, extremist traveller, foreign fighter, cross-cultural roundtables — that they are guaranteed to generate the desired Pavlovian response. Indeed, it is not at all politically neutral to write, as Goodale does, that “extremist groups continue to use social media as a means to recruit followers and promote their ideology,” inasmuch as this trope has been associated almost exclusively with so-called “jihadist” individuals and rarely, if ever, with Nazis and other white supremacists.
Meanwhile, the government’s Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence doesn’t come right out and say that its main target is Muslims, but it becomes pretty clear when we learn that the centre is engaged in a number of “intervention initiatives” in cities (Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto) that just happen to host the largest number of Muslim residents.
The report also perpetuates the notion that terrorism is not born of Canadian soil, but rather from outside infiltration byforeigners, who, inevitably, are viewed as Muslims. “Terrorism is a global phenomenon, yet Canada’s geography protects us to a certain extent from the main source of conflict,” it reads. Yet Canada’s geography did not protect Muslim worshippers from a white supremacist terrorist, nor did it protect New Brunswick RCMP officers gunned down by a white militia fan and gun-nut in New Brunswick in the 2014 Moncton shootings. With helpful maps, we learn that the sources of conflict are countries seen as Muslim lands, not Canadian communities where white supremacy takes on ever-more menacing iterations. Notably, the report’s global “overview” of terrorism fails to mention a single instance of right-wing extremism.
Goodale claims there are “just over 190 extremists with a nexus to Canada who are abroad,” with half of them allegedly in Turkey, Syria or Iraq. It does not identify Canadian youth who sign up to join the Israeli Defence Forces, a military that regularly commits gross human rights abuses and annually places on trial an average of 700 children. Nor does he say where the other half are located. The report says that while the number of returnees is minimal, Goodale suspects they have engaged in combat, but cannot reveal more because that “could identify specific operational interests,” the standard line for “we don’t really have anything of substance but we don’t want you to know that, which is why we say it’s secret.”
Canadians are ultimately assured that if something bad were to occur, we thankfully have an important Government Operations Centre (GOC) “which is responsible for providing an all-hazards integrated federal emergency response to events of national interest.” Goodale fails to mention that the GOC has historically spent most of its time monitoring and reporting on peaceful demonstrations and vigils for groups concerned with, for example, the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Diminishing mosque massacre’s meaning
Unlike last year’s CSIS threat assessment that specifically and consciously avoided mention of the 2017 terrorist attack on the Quebec mosque, Goodale’s report does mention the massacre, but in such a way as to diminish its horrific implications and to decontextualize it to the point where it will not be seen as the logical outcome of institutional racist violence. In fact, the mosque massacre does not even deserve its own stand-alone sentence, but is instead equated with the sickening, though very much unrelated random killing of 18 people, including two Canadians, in Burkina Faso.
“Sadly,” this telling sentence reads, “Canadians have become all too familiar with the tragic consequences — from the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, which claimed six lives and injured many more, to the terrorist attack in Burkina Faso in which six Canadians were killed.” In this sentence, Goodale carefully avoids calling Quebec City a terrorist act — using the term “shooting” instead to describe a clearly targeted terrorist attack — and then tries to equate it with the mass murders in Burkina Faso, the perpetrators of which have yet to be caught but who are, by xenophobic default, assumed to be “suspected Islamic extremists.” Goodale also shockingly gets it wrong because only two Canadians were killed in Burkina Faso, not six. The message is clear, however: although it is sad that Muslims were killed in Quebec, don’t let that be a distraction from the culturally accepted “norm” of always viewing terrorism through the framework of Muslim perpetrators.
(Notably, while Trudeau originally labelled the mosque attack as a terrorist act, his government is refusing to treat it as one. Last October, the federal government chose not to lay terrorism charges against the Quebec mosque shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, which critics say perpetuates the harmful stereotype that only Muslims are terrorists, and never victims.)
One would think that in a document as significant as this one, Goodale’s “clear-eyed” view of the dangers would take pains to be factually accurate, but such insidious misrepresentation is accepted widely. Not a single media outlet in Canada has commented on this gross inaccuracy, while Goodale claims “all available data is steadily and expertly assessed and re-assessed to ensure that we are current and effective.”
It’s reports like these that illustrate why a national day on Islamophobia would be helpful: what better way to start unpacking the many layers of Muslim hatred that so pervade daily discourse that they are simply accepted without question?
A fact-less fantasy world ignores femicide
Among the gravest threats to life in this country is the risk of femicide, defined by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability as “the killing of all women and girls primarily by, but not exclusively, men.” According to figures compiled by the Observatory, between 1997 and 2015, there were 3,208 femicides in Canada, and the trend of a woman being killed every other day continues in 2018. The threat of male violence remains a low priority for the self-proclaimed “feminist” Trudeau government, and there is no national action plan (with the massive funding required) to end violence against women and girls, even though the United Nations called on all nations to have such plans in place no later than 2015.
Instead, the resources that could help prevent male violence are instead invested into some of the most violent institutions in Canada, from the War Department and the Canadian Border Services Agency to CSIS and the RCMP, all of which target and discriminate against Muslims (and all of which are well-known for internal staff cultures riddled with misogyny, homophobia and racism). A dissociative narrative of Canada under threat from Muslims is necessary to sustain the high funding they all receive.
That dissociation is evident throughout the Goodale report, which labels the terrorist risk as “medium” when, as statistics show, it is in fact high for women, who face acts of domestic terrorism daily in their homes and personal relationships. A growing body of literature is raising this issue, concluding that “When half of the population is routinely unsafe, a drastic revision of ‘national security’ is needed.” As more reporting reveals that the men behind terrorist acts are routinely implicated in histories of woman abuse, campaigner Janey Stephenson suggests:
“If terrorism has its roots in domestic violence, then instead of having public transport announcements to ‘report anything suspicious,’ we should have strong community-based approaches to tackling and preventing domestic violence. It’s becoming more and more clear that the most dangerous group within society is not, in fact, Muslims but domestic violence perpetrators, so community intervention on intimate terrorism is vital.”
Goodale’s parallel universe is also reflected in statements that declare we are witnessing an increase in “low-sophistication, high-impact terrorist attacks” using vehicles and knives, which could just as easily describe the oft-preferred weapon used in violence against women. But even though a woman or girl is killed every other day in Canada that violence, like the violence perpetrated against Muslims, simply does not rate as a government priority.
Canada weaponizes Islamophobia
The latest weaponization of Islamophobia comes in the form of C-59, whose telling title — “An Act respecting national security matters” — gives the lie to the idea that this bill is the ultimate “balancing” between state security and human rights. Unfortunately, members of the academic-security complex have eagerly endorsed the bill with some minor recommended changes. Few if any are actually still calling for the repeal of C-59’s notorious predecessor, C-51 (NDP MP Randall Garrison does have a private member’s bill calling for repeal), and so far, public hearings have largely been an exercise in Liberal self-congratulation and softball questions about whether they got it right this time. There is literally no discussion about the need for this very dangerous legislation in the first place, even though it continues to provide immunity to state security agents who “in good faith” violate the law in the vague pursuit of national security.
While this column cannot explore the multi-faceted dangers of the bill, the section on CSIS — the spy agency that regularly harasses and terrorizes Muslims — sets the tone for the same kinds of illegal actions that were so roundly criticized when Harper proposed them in C-51. In Section 98 of the bill, for example, we learn that CSIS will be able to violate your Charter rights only if it can find a judge to authorize said measures (those drafting the bill perhaps did not recognize the symbolism of this section matching the notorious Section 98 originally brought into the Criminal Code after the First World War to repress groups like the labour movement agitating for their rights). Given the cover the Federal Court has traditionally provided CSIS in such matters, it hardly seems much of an obstacle.
Meanwhile, Section 100 of the bill proposes that “No employee is guilty of an offence … if the acts alleged to constitute the offence were committed by the employee in the course of their duties and functions and for the sole purpose of establishing or maintaining a covert identity.” Section 101 recalls the argument that “we had to destroy the rule of law in order to save it” metaphor, as it opens the door to CSIS to engage “in covert activities, in accordance with the rule of law and, to that end, to expressly recognize in law a limited justification for designated employees acting in good faith and persons acting under their direction to commit acts or omissions that would otherwise constitute offences.”
Of particular concern to the group most targeted for such operations, Muslims, is a section of the bill that sets up entrapment operations directed at vulnerable individuals, under which CSIS agents are immune from any liability if they make a false statement “with respect to a covert identity or makes, procures to be made, requests, possesses, uses or transfers a false document or acts on or authenticates a false document as if it were genuine.” Notably, this section speaks to the role of an RCMP informant in the B.C. Nuttall-Korody case, in which a B.C. judge found that the RCMP created and ran a terrorist plot with the aim of pinning it on two hapless individuals who were convinced by the informant that their lives were in danger if they did not pursue a pressure-cooker bomb plot. The informant played the hugely problematic role of “spiritual adviser” as well when Nuttall and his wife expressed their doubts about the plan.
As Judge Catherine Bruce famously wrote in her decision to quash the case:
“[T]he world has enough terrorists. We do not need the police to create more out of marginalized people who have neither the capacity nor sufficient motivation to do it themselves…. The [police] were clearly overzealous and acted on the assumption that there were no limits to what was acceptable when investigating terrorism.”
C-59, like C-51, still allows police to expand those limits. And while Nuttall and Korody are trying to get on with their lives, the Trudeau government has appealed the dismissal of their case.
C-59 also allows CSIS agents to break the law to “prevent the compromise of the identity of an employee acting covertly, of a human source or of a person acting covertly under the direction of an employee.” Hence when someone is called out for spying in the mosque, that individual trying to expose malfeasance could be subjected to illegal acts committed by state agents.
But these very serious threats are being celebrated by the academic-security complex as “improvements” over C-51. Craig Forcese, for example, notes that CSIS lawbreaking is a necessary thing that should be honoured with immunity. “Bill C-59’s CSIS Act changes create new immunities for CSIS officers and sources engaged in intelligence functions that may violate law during those activities,” he testified last month.
“The breadth of Canada’s terrorism offences makes it certain that a confidential source or undercover officer will commit a terrorism offence simply by participating with the terror group that they infiltrate. An immunity is necessary. The issue is whether there are sufficient checks and balances guarding against abuse of this immunity. Again, I think Bill C-59 does a good job of festooning the immunity provisions with such checks.”
In a discussion on CSIS disruption powers, a representative of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) cozied up to Canada’s national spy agency, CSIS, by saying, “We’ve never been particularly concerned about the kind of disruption you mentioned, such as [CSIS] talking to a parent and saying, ‘Your child’s been getting into some trouble.'” Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding about the power dynamics and historical behaviour of CSIS with respect to Muslims and other members of traditionally marginalized communities who are targeted by CSIS and the RCMP. First of all, CSIS never records its “community interviews,” which means the notes they sometimes jot down later on get expanded into whatever narrative or profile they would like to create. They rarely if ever reflect the true nature of the conversation. Such visits may be ostensibly about a child, but they often turn into an investigation of the parents, their friends, their mosque, their travel plans, their relatives. These are fishing expeditions that lead to no-fly list designations and ruined lives. Many of these parents have come from countries where a visit from the secret police is the last thing anyone would want: having Canadian secret police visit the house (or workplace, as they often do, unannounced, creating stigma and suspicion among co-workers) are traumatizing and cast suspicion on individuals in a community that is already fearful. So the CCLA’s idea that this is an OK disruption power is a dangerously enabling approach to dealing with CSIS that, whether intentionally or not, throws Muslims under the metaphorical bus.
Anyone who thinks this is scare-mongering need only look at the endless cases of people who, after an interaction with CSIS, find themselves in trouble. Whether that’s the cases of Yacine Meziane and Abderrahmane Ghanem, two Calgary Muslim men who have courageously spoken out against CSIS hounding them and destroying their lives, or that of a Canadian eyed by CSIS being blocked from visiting his dying father, these represent the tip of the iceberg of those affected by such disruption schemes.
Voices of reason and Liberal hugs
Thankfully, there have been a few voices of reason at the committee hearings trying to paint the broader context needed to understand how this bill directly impacts the Muslim communities of Canada. While Amnesty International reminded MPs of the names and cases of individuals tortured with the complicity of Canadian agencies, the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ Ihsaan Gardee told committee members that no one has been held to account for that complicity, and that “no amount of administrative oversight can cure the systemic ills. These agencies need reform.” The NCCM’s Faisal Bhabha attacked the notorious no-fly list, which he called “one of the most damaging instruments of racial and religious profiling currently in place in this country. It is the national security analogue to carding in the urban policing context. Since its implementation, it has caused so much damage without any proven or demonstrable benefit that we simply cannot justify it in our rule of law democracy.”
Bhabha added that with respect to CSIS:
“There’s simply too much evidence of systemic bias and discrimination to ask Canadian Muslims and our fellow citizens to trust that any new powers will not be exercised improperly and discriminatorily. In fact, all of the evidence suggests that any new powers will be exercised improperly and discriminatorily.”
Liberal MP Sven Spengemann asked Bhabha if a U.S. approach to the no-fly list — which gives flagged individuals a specific identifying number to help speed up the inevitably secondary screening and interrogations that Muslims face in airports — would be acceptable because “stigmatizing as it may be, it is at least functional.” Bhabha replied that “the stigmatizing effect of the list still needs to be weighed against the benefits of the list, and we await evidence of benefits.”
In other words, Liberal MPs are wondering if Canadian Muslims are willing to suck it up and deal with continuing to be stigmatized as long as things are more efficient when they get pulled aside at airport screening.
In keeping with the Liberal strategy of always playing the concerned “I feel your pain” social worker, Spengemann addressed that morning’s witnesses — including a father whose son has been on the no-fly list since birth — with a sickly bit of concluding treacle that revealed the important role Muslims play in relating stories of their pain so that privileged white people can exercise their empathy glands. “I think it’s important that you hear that you’re making us feel at some level, within the limits of our time together here this morning, the stigma that you’re exposed to day after day, and I thank you for that,” C-59 supporter Spengemann said.
And so as January 29 approaches, hopefully people across the land will do more than shrug and conclude that Trudeau has it all in hand as he dabs tears and says we are with all Muslims. It is a real opportunity to honour the memory of those who were killed in the terrorist attack — Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Boubaker Thabti – as well as all of those injured and traumatized for life, by challenging ourselves to get to the root of, and then confront, the Muslim-hatred that continues to spread its ugly, worldwide tentacles.
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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