Turning A Blind Eye

March 8, 2006:Turning a blind eye

Turning a blind eye

Martin Collacott
National Post

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

(On Feb. 28, the Fraser Institute published Canada's Inadequate Response to Terrorism: The Need for Policy Reform, a report authored by former Canadian diplomat Martin Collacott. This week, the National Post is publishing three edited excerpts from that report. In today's second instalment, Mr. Collacott documents Canada's lax response to the threat from foreign terrorist groups.)

In 2003, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned that “terrorism represented an acute threat to domestic public safety.” It went on to state that our “open and tolerant multicultural society, which includes large, identifiable ethno-religious communities from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, inter alia, makes this country distinctly vulnerable to infiltration by international terrorist networks. Virtually all of the most notorious international terrorist organizations are known to maintain a network presence in Canada.”

Despite such warnings, there is widespread evidence that the federal government has been less than serious about taking effective measures in a number of areas. One of the most obvious has been its reluctance to ban certain terrorist groups. This was clearly seen in its hesitation with regard to adding Hezbollah to its list of designated terrorist organizations. It did not get around to doing so until December 2002, and only after considerable pressure from the Opposition in Parliament.

Moreover, the government that left office in January resisted all efforts to ban the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) despite the fact that it is one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world, that it has been banned in the U.K. and United States, and that CSIS has recommended three times that it be outlawed in Canada.

A paper released by CSIS in 1999 noted that “because the Tigers have been able to run effective propaganda campaigns which have successfully mobilized significant sectors of the overseas Tamil diaspora in their favour, politicians have become increasingly reluctant to support tougher actions against the LTTE for fear that this would impinge on their local electoral support base.”

The prescience of this assessment became clear a few months later when then-minister of finance Paul Martin, accompanied by the minister of international development, Maria Minna, spoke at a dinner given by a group identified by the U.S. State Department as a front for the LTTE.

It is clear from the outcome of the Air India bombing trial in March, 2005, that the Canadian justice system is not up to the task of dealing with terrorists. After an investigation and trial that cost an estimated $130-million and together took almost 20 years to complete, the government still was unable to get a conviction against the two accused. In the course of the proceedings, witnesses for the prosecution were threatened and one key witness, who was prepared to testify that one of the accused had told him he had been involved in the bombings, was murdered.

The outcome of the trial suggested to many Canadians that their justice system was more concerned about protecting the rights of those who might be guilty than in bringing them to justice.

Another disturbing aspect of the trial was that it was obvious that terrorists and their supporters were able to move about freely in Canadian society, and to intimidate and even kill critics with little fear of retribution. It was, in the event, probably no accident that the worst terrorist act against India in pursuit of the establishment an independent Sikh homeland — the Air India bombings in 1985 — was mounted from Canadian soil. Sikh extremists have arguably enjoyed more freedom of movement in Canada than any other country in the world.

Yet another area in which the government has been either unable or unwilling to deal in an effective manner with terrorists and their supporters on our soil is terrorist fundraising. After 9/11, the government at least tried to give the impression that it was serious about clamping down on the problem, and pushed through new legislation. Despite this, the government's Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre estimates of terrorist fundraising in Canada have been increasing, and in 2004 reached $180-million. The government has yet to file a charge.

In one notorious 1995 case, former prime minister Jean Chretien personally intervened with Pakistan's prime minister to have Ahmed Said Khadr released from custody because he was a Canadian citizen. Khadr had been arrested by the Pakistani authorities on suspicion of having financed the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, in which 17 people were killed and 60 injured.

Following his release, he continued his activities in support of terrorists groups, becoming a suspected senior member of al-Qaeda. (He was eventually killed in October 2003.) He also produced a family that had no shortage of terrorist supporters and sympathizers. For prime minister Chretien, however, the fact that someone had taken out Canadian citizenship took priority over the possibility they might be a terrorist.

A paramount concern for Canada should be the effect that another major terrorist attack on the United States or, for that matter, one on Canada, is likely to have on our bilateral trade. Any extended border closure would devastate the Canadian economy.

Our relations with the United States are already sufficiently complicated and there is no reason to make things more difficult by failing to take action in areas where we should be doing so in any event for our own security.