BY Jim Harding
As a society we are beginning to fathom the depths of harm from war. On Nov. 23, 2014 the CBC reported that “128 regular forces and 32 reservists have committed suicide in the past decade”. This is more than all deaths from all Canada’s combat missions in Afghanistan, which should be a national wakeup call. But will it sink in?
The killing of two soldiers just prior to Remembrance Day, in the wake of the Harper government fearing reprisals after sending warplanes to Iraq, clearly put many people on edge. It also enabled the government to focus on military symbols and its anti-terrorist ideology. Could a “war on terror” at home as well as abroad become a political football in the 2015 election?
ASSAULT ON PARLIAMENT
It was a perfect storm. The killing of Nathan Cirillo, standing guard at Ottawa’s war cenotaph and the assailant, Michael Zehef-Bibeau, rushing into Parliament with his still loaded hunting rifle, touched all sorts of emotional and ideological nerves. MPs probably suffered some trauma not knowing what was happening outside their caucus doors, as they heard the flurry of bullets that brought Bibeau down, and then enduring ten-hours of lock-down on Parliament Hill. The Prime Minister apparently hid in a closet. There was much emotional relief and fanfare in the aftermath of this unprecedented assault on Parliament.
Two days before there had been the Quebec killing of Patrice Vincent from a targeted hit and run perpetrated by Martin Couture-Rouleau, who was then gunned down after a police chase. Alarm bells rang due to some similarity with a vicious killing of a soldier in London, England. As bits of information emerged, headlines about “home-grown terrorism” grew.
Coutere-Rouleau was a recent convert to Islam who had self-radicalized using the internet. He was one of 93 on Canada’s security watch list and had had his passport seized to prevent him from travelling through Turkey to Syria. He had been in police custody on Oct. 9th but had been let go. Later investigation found he had just lost thousands in a business deal gone bad, was in a bitter custody dispute and that his father was unable to get him mental health services with the long backlog in Quebec.
Harper and his associates were quick to label both incidents as terrorism. However, had the second killing at the war memorial never occurred the first incident might have been seen as a stand-alone event and buried by fast-moving news. It was a hit and run by a man with only a knife, and there were no military-type weapons or bombs involved; this didn’t fit the image of a militant Jihadist.
For the most part, Canada’s media reported on the two killings with moderation. Some commentators, however, couldn’t resist jumping to conclusions. Rex Murphy is never one to hold back on big opinion; he’s paid to create it. His introduction to Cross-Country Check-Up began by defining Couture-Rouleau as being in “the grip of ISIS”. He labeled Bibeau’s actions “murderous” and went on to assert that a “pattern” was self-evident.
Since then we know that Bibeau was also a convert to Islam and had displayed anti-western views about what’s happening in the Middle East. But after his mother issued an apology we found that he wasn’t planning to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS, as some had initially speculated, but wanted to go to Saudi Arabia to study the Koran. Saudi Arabia is an ally of Canada in the war on ISIS.
We also found out that he had serious mental health and employment problems and was in and out of the criminal justice system. He had once pleaded for a long sentence so he could address his drug addiction. It later came out that he wasn’t on the security watch list. Then, the great debate began about the nature of the threat posed by an unstable “lone wolf”, with grievances but no real connections with political or terrorist groups.
But none of this seemed to matter, for his attack on an innocent ceremonial soldier and his desecration of Parliament had already made him into a terrorist and that was how he is going to be politically defined. The overriding context of Canada sending troops to Iraq to fight ISIS, and ISIS recruits warning about reprisals, had pretty much sealed the narrative. Even the generally sober journalist Ian Brown, on the front page story of the Oct. 25, 2014 Globe and Mail, prematurely wrote of Zehaf-Bibeau’s “blinding aim at avenging Canada’s involvement in the coalition against the Islamic State.”
Just why was there so much pressure to create and connect dots that might not exist? Ideology always selects on events to make a point. What is so revealing is that the earlier killing of three Moncton RCMP officers by Justin Bourque had already been largely purged from the narrative of home-grown terrorism. Bourque has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 75 years in jail. It became clear that both mental health and easy access to military weaponry were involved in this tragedy. Bourque’s defense lawyer has even stressed that Bourque’s rifle, similar to ones used in Vietnam, had a range of 250 meters, which made the police vulnerable targets. The death toll might have been five, as two other policemen were injured.
This mass killing in Moncton was a lot like many in the U.S. where mental health, male anger and easy access to powerful guns has led to one murderous attack after another.
Why didn’t these three killings of policemen get the same level of attention as the killing of two soldiers? Why is nobody calling what Bourque did “home-grown terrorism”? In his Globe and Mail feature Doug Saunders tried to link Bourque with the other killings in terms of an “extreme, angry, anti-authority ideology”. But this gets very elusive indeed. What do we do with Anders Brevik, who with his anti-Muslim hatred, killed 77 Norwegians? Or Timothy McVeigh who in his right-wing anti-government bombing frenzy killed 168 Americans! Neither were radical converts to Islam. Does that somehow mean that they can’t be labeled “home-grown terrorists”?
You have to wonder whether it’s the loss of life that is the uppermost concern. Surely the killing of three policemen by a heavily armed, imbalanced man is as important as the killing of two soldiers, one by a hit and run and the other by a man with a hunting rifle? Or is it rather the attack on the symbols, such as the military uniforms, the war memorial or parliament itself, that matters most?
Bourque’s mass murders clearly raise serious questions about gun control and male anger which the Harper government would best leave alone. Remember that pressure for better gun control came after the Montreal Massacre of several women by a “woman hater”. But the killing of a uniformed soldier at a national memorial and the one-man suicidal “invasion” of parliament can more easily be framed into a counter-terrorist narrative. Is this what the Harperites prefer?
There is clearly a double standard operating about the value of life and threat to our civility and public safety. During the 1989 Montreal Massacre, fourteen females were gunned down and many others seriously injured. Marc Lepine was violently hostile to women’s rights. The male students were told to leave the classroom, and without exception they did, leaving their female colleagues to face a military-like execution from an angry, armed man.
Lepine had his own mental health issues. He faced abuse from his father, an immigrant from Algeria, before his parents separated. He became obsessed with war movies but was rejected from the military because he was too anti-social. But he could still easily purchase a Min-14, semi-automatic rifle using a military-developed cartridge. This weapon is a favourite of SWAT teams because it is light weight and easy to handle. Before starting his executions he declared “I hate feminists” whom he blamed for his not getting into an engineering program. Yet, though this remains Canada’s largest ever mass murder, Lepine was never labeled a home-grown terrorist.
Then think of the 1,200 murdered and missing aboriginal women, who have been abducted or killed by men holding misogynous and racist views of women. Even with the scope of this horrendous, ongoing violence , it does not garner the outrage that Harper expresses for the violence against two soldiers by two men labeled “home-grown terrorists”.
We need to ask what is happening in Canada that such outrageous violence can occur. However, when it comes to the value of human life, a double standard is not acceptable. Calling acts against aboriginal women a “crime” skirts the responsibility to find out why this is continuing to happen on such a scale. Being willing to “commit sociology” and profile people at risk of joining terrorist groups, as security and police are already doing, while not being willing to investigate why so many aboriginal women are victims of violence, is not acceptable. Selectively calling violence against two soldiers home-grown terrorism, while ignoring other acts of violence on an even greater scale, is a derogation of duty.
It is time we stopped playing politics with this and got to the roots of all this social violence in our midst.