Safe and Secure in Our Beds?

Below is an article a little longer than I tend to post, but well worth the read. It puts together the pieces of the story of the Toronto Terrorist [sic] arrests in a way that the mainstream media has not.

Dr. John F. Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist and the author of Debts to Pay: The Future of Federalism in Quebec and The West: The History of a Region in Confederation. He is a regular contributor to the Prairie Dog. The article is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

Safe and Secure in Our Beds?

by J. F. Conway

On the weekend of June 3, a combined task force of 400 police officers and security agents raided a number of homes and a storage facility in Toronto, scooping up 15 alleged terrorists involved in a plot they had named Operation Badr. In case things deteriorated, a JTF-2 squad of commandos and a helicopter gun ship were on standby just minutes away. Police reported that the evidence collected included weapons and bomb-making materials.

In subsequent days further information about the plot, the alleged terrorists, and the evidence seized appeared in dribs and drabs in the press, accompanied by sensational headlines. The suspects – the 15 plus two already in jail for gun smuggling – were charged with a variety of offences: smuggling weapons, training terrorists, and conspiracy to commit a variety of terrorist acts including the assassination of politicians and truck-bombing targets in Toronto. The raids were triggered by the delivery of three tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the main ingredient used by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building in 1995.

The public reacted with shock, fear, and, finally, gratitude at the decisive actions of our protectors.

Then the credibility of the circus began to unravel. The suspects are all Canadians – “home-grown terrorists” – and all but two are very young. Five of them are teenagers young enough to come under young offenders provisions, two are 19, eight are in their early 20s, one is 30 and one is 43. The alleged ring leader is a 21 year old father of two. A 43 year old school bus driver is alleged to have been the ideological leader and mentor of the group. Apparently the conspiracy is two years old and began on the Mississauga Meadowvale Secondary School soccer field.

The suspects became radicalized and began to visit radical Islamic internet sites and to post blogs in “jihad rap” (a fad among alienated Islamic youth, the equivalent of “gangsta rap”). They began to fantasize about joining the holy war and dying for the cause. CSIS agents visited the home of the ringleader and allegedly got into a shoving match with his 19 year old wife. The earlier arrest of two of the 17 for trying to smuggle two hand guns and some ammunition (including one bullet secreted in a sock for some reason), across the border, as well as further interviews of family members by CSIS made it clear to the group that they were under close surveillance.

Despite this the suspects continued in their delusional behaviour. They went off to a campground to do some training with paintball guns and for target practice with a handgun. They continued discussion of an increasingly bizarre and elaborate plot. They would storm the House of Commons and behead the primer minister. One of them fantasized about sitting in the Speaker’s Chair and beheading one MP every 30 minutes until those held on security certificates were released and Canada’s troops in Afghanistan were withdrawn. They discussed bombing the Peace Tower, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the CSIS office in Toronto, the CN Tower, and the Toronto CBC Broadcast Centre. Another alternative discussed was to open fire in a public space, killing as many as possible until they were killed.

Then they abandoned the Ottawa plans since they didn’t know enough about the city’s layout (apparently none of them had a CAA membership entitling them to free maps, nor were they aware of all the detailed maps freely available to tourists and the general public). The group split over the issue of a willingness to die, and those willing proceeded to pose as student farmers to buy the fertilizer for $4000. The RCMP, in a “sting” operation, obliged them by selling and delivering what was purported to be ammonium nitrate (but was in fact a harmless substance). This “overt act” triggered the raids and charges.

It is difficult to see these individuals as hardened, dangerous terrorists. Delusional, yes. Suicidal, obviously (I mean, to continue after visits by CSIS!). Alienated and angry, clearly. They were obviously swept up into a terrorist fantasy with delusions of grandeur. They needed to be dealt with, deflected, and stopped. But it appears they were allowed to continue in their fantasies and allowed to cross the line into an “overt act,” obligingly facilitated by the RCMP. Quite frankly, the plots they fantasized appear to be informed by a mixture of grade B terrorist movies and some vague awareness of past terrorist attacks.

What about the physical evidence (besides the “ammonium nitrate”)? Were there automatic weapons, grenade launchers, machine guns, AK 47s? The following is the list gleaned from the press: a barbecue grill, tongs, duct tape, eight Duracell ‘D’ batteries, a dismantled cell phone described as “a crude cell phone detonator,” one 9 mm Luger, one air rife, one paintball gun (where are the others?), one “Rambo-style” hunting knife (for the beheadings?), camouflage clothing, flashlights, two-way radios. Let’s face it, the average serious hunter in Saskatchewan has a more substantial arsenal than all 17 “home-grown terrorists” combined. If the two handguns stopped at the border in the smuggling bust had been added, our conspirators would have had an arsenal of three handguns with which to storm the House of Commons.

Why the huge operation, costing millions – and with long, expensive show trials to follow? This can only be understood as a political event. An operation of this magnitude had to have had the approval of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. Their fingerprints are all over it and both have made comments clearly presuming the guilt of the 17 suspects. What possible political objectives are served by this circus?

First, CSIS and the government have egg on their faces over the failure of two busts of alleged domestic terrorist cells since September 11. Both busts were given sensational press coverage and both fell apart before charges were laid. They also involved claims of fantastic plots by al-Qaeda “sleeper cells” to blow up a Pickering nuclear power station, the CN Tower, the U.S. embassy and Parliament. Since the alleged terrorists were not citizens most were deported, while others have been held for years under security certificates without charge or trial. CSIS and the government needed a bust that leads to real charges and real trials – and perhaps convictions (hence the facilitation of the “overt act” by the RCMP). CSIS, the government, and all other security forces badly need a success.

Second, the Canadian public was turning against participation by Canadian troops in the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, with a growing majority favouring bringing the troops home. By bringing the “war on terror” home to our front door step, public opinion might be swayed back to support the Afghan adventure.

What has been the political fallout of the Toronto busts? According to the polls, fear of terrorism here at home has increased dramatically among Canadians. More significantly, support for Canadian participation in the Afghan war has turned around on a dime – now 48 per cent support Canadian participation while 44 per cent oppose it.

A third political objective has also been served. The Harper government is upset about continuing American charges that Canada is “soft on terrorism” and “a terrorist haven,” charges Harper supported against the Martin government. This bust proves Canada is tough on terror, right up there in the big leagues. Both Condoleezza Rice and George Bush have personally congratulated Harper on the Toronto raids. Canada under Harper has turned a corner, decisively proving we are loyal allies in the American-led “war on terror,” including against terrorists at home.

Tommy Douglas once accused Trudeau of using a sledgehammer to crush a peanut by imposing the War Measures Act on Quebec after the 1970 FLQ kidnapping of a British diplomat and the Quebec labour minister (Pierre Laporte was murdered when his kidnappers panicked after the invocation of the War Measures Act). Stephen Harper has used maximum military force to crush what one commentator referred to as “The Homer Simpson Gang.”

My question is: who will protect us from our protectors? It is a question that needs repeated asking in any democracy with a secret police that gets out of control. And, by the way, the media failed to critically investigate this event, choosing to serve as a loyal propaganda arm of the police and the government, whipping up public hysteria.

Dr. J. F. (John) Conway
Professor and Chair
Department of Sociology and Social Studies
University of Regina
Wascana Parkway
Regina, SK S4S 0A2

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3 thoughts on “Safe and Secure in Our Beds?

  1. Pingback: Politics’n'Poetry » So You Trust Our Secret Police? Think Again.

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