Citizenship is not a buffet table… it’s more of a fixed menu.
Former governor general, Adrienne Clarkson
With the heavy boots and drunken weave of a government that has lost its moral compass, the government of Canada has, since 9/11, begun to undermine the fundamental balance that is cit- izenship in Canada.
An ironclad contract between its citizens and any gov- ernment is the pledge to defend the nation and its values and do everything within its power to protect each citizen from harm. Every state has equally wiggle-free contractual expectations of loyalty of its citizens.
Canadians’ faith in this mutual fealty has been badly assaulted recently. The consequences for an always fragile nation are troubling. In its efforts to steer a credible course in a new terrorism-driven world, Ottawa has careened between anti-American rhetoric and flirtation with Syrian military thugs, between blindness to the torture of Canadians abroad and blindness to terrorists-in-training at home.
For English-speaking Canadians, especially those born into a pre-Charter Canada, national identity is a forever nebulous and always awkward subject. We define it in terms of what it is not. We squirm about flag-waving assertions of ”œCanadian val- ues.” We say ours is an identity that is not exclusionary, or impe- rial. It is not militaristic or racist. We are united by public health care and hockey heroes, not pledges of allegiance. Sadly, the ironically jingoistic shorthand for many Canadians is simple " we’re not American.
One of the few traditional values most Canadians would stammer proudly aloud is a deep belief in fair- ness, an almost religious conviction about the importance of the defence of the powerless. A contemporary transla- tion of that value is a growing pride in a having built a society of tolerance, a society of generosity that punches above its weight internationally.
Our famous politesse is, as John Ibbitson has observed, not simply defer- ence but a necessary behavioural strate- gy of a society attempting to integrate dozens of new culture values and nation- al traditions in a single generation.
(Hence the old American joke: ”œHow do you get a Canadian to apolo- gize? Stomp on his foot!”)
For post-Trudeau-era new Canadian citizens, the distinctiveness of this surprisingly successful pluralist society " with its claims of greater tol- erance and solidarity, its Charter- defended freedoms for all religions and virtually all dissent, its generous social net and its increasing comfort with its increasingly rainbow hue " was obvi- ous. These values were an important part of the attraction of this place.
And, however awkwardly articu- lated, there was broad consensus and conviction that a Canadian govern- ment would defend those values and protect all its citizens.
With a comfort in their nationalist skin new to a generation of younger Canadians came the conviction that their government would defend those values internationally, and even strut a little on the global stage about our virtue. This false confidence was sorely punctured by the series of blows that Canadian government stupidity has inflicted since September 11, 2001.
First Ottawa’s confused and embar- rassing response to the attacks enraged those Canadians who felt it reflected an unseemly anti-American bias on the part of the country’s leadership elites. As one senior official admitted with deep chagrin, ”œOur gormless ministers debat- ed for days on whether to send blankets to New York!” With the notable exception of John Manley, Ottawa’s response to the biggest terrorist attack in history was to see it as a larger than usual natu- ral disaster and send relief supplies.
The double embarrassment of a timorous and dilatory response to American requests for aid in Afghanistan, followed by a flat rejec- tion of support for Washington’s Iraq agenda " but only after weeks of a vacillating policy strip tease " left even more Canadians blushing, including those who agreed with the content of the ultimate decision.
The majority of Canadians who live outside the ”œsuper-liberal” downtown cores of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver were profoundly shocked at this failure to respond quickly and appro- priately. (By the time of the South Asian earthquakes in October, the tsunami and Katrina embarrassments had numbed most Canadians to their government’s slowness to engage. Their anger seems to have been replaced by an increasingly generous private response to appeals for help and quiet embarrassment at Ottawa’s gaffes on a global stage.)
The Keystone cops bungling of the 1985 Air India disaster left many Canadians of Indian and Sikh back- ground to wonder publicly if the performance would have been better if the victims had been white. The aston- ishing collapse of the criminal trials this spring rubbed salt on top of insult into their wounds.
Successive governments’ determi- nation not to humiliate Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP’s improbably incompetent management of the most devastating terrorist attack prior to 9/11 may yet be overturned. Bob Rae may have issued his recommendation on a serious inquiry by the time you read this.
But the damage to the belief that government will do everything in its power to protect its citizens and to punish those who threaten them " no matter whether those victims are rich or poor, wear turbans or top hats " an essential conviction for any credibly tol- erant democratic society, has been heavy. For Canadians of colour, our so-called visible minorities, rebuilding faith that the government’s security mantle is colour-blind will take time and signifi- cantly changed bureaucratic behaviour.
The biggest blow to Canadians con- fidence in their government’s defence of these shared citizenship val- ues has been the response to political Islam. On the one hand, Ottawa has used the heaviest powers of the state to destroy the lives of innocent Canadians. With an almost casual incompetence, our security agencies have failed to find the terror cells many of our allies claim still operate safely here, while victimizing innocent Muslim Canadians.
The Martin government’s famous paralysis at the prospect of any tough choice means that a tough crackdown on ranting imams, vendors of religious hate, and terrorist recruitment " the type of tough-minded policy direction that has given new confidence to the citizens of Spain, Germany, and most recently the UK " has been starkly absent here.
The bizarre message of this Janus- faced strategy seems to be: ”œIf you are an innocent Islamic Canadian, look out, you may end up in a Syrian prison. If you are a real professional terrorism recruiter, don’t make noise please, it upsets the Americans.”
Just the ”œhighlights” from the list of Canadians abandoned by their gov- ernment in this period drives home this message that the scales of citizenship today are not balanced for everyone:
There was the obscene obloquy of a Canadian ambassador defending his greater interest in developing his relations with Syrian military intelligence thugs, over his con- sular responsibility to keeping an imprisoned Canadian from torturers’ hands, in the case of Mahar Arar.
William Sampson suffered the double horror in a Saudi prison of first being tortured, then having to convince the Canadian ambassador that he was not ”œfak- ing” his symptoms.
Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian tor- tured for nearly two years in a Syr- ian prison, asked pointedly whether Ottawa was indulging in ”œtorture by proxy,” in light of his captors’ repeated claim that he was arrested at Ottawa’s request on the basis of Canadian intelligence.
Then there was the feeble diplomat- ic response to the death, after the most sadistic weeks-long torture, of Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, at the hands of Iranian security thugs and prison guards.
Even the famously impervious mandarins of Canada’s foreign affairs department must have blushed at the sight of the Amnesty International assertion, in a report to the United Nations this fall, that in this behaviour Ottawa was breaking its international treaty obligations!
This failure of Ottawa officials and our diplomats abroad to adequately defend Canadians’ interests is not news to expatriate Canadian journalists or executives. In the 1980s, Ottawa merely squirmed while a Canadian journalist, wounded in a bloody cross- fire and trapped in Syrian- controlled Lebanese village, bled to death over several days in Lebanon. His employ- ers desperately, and in vain, phoned around the world for help.
In the 1990s, it was Al Gore who finally spoke out in defence of another Canadian journalist trapped in a hell- ish Malaysian prison. No serious Canadian protest was ever made pub- licly. (Disclosure: I played a small peripheral role in both cases, and moved from incredulity to horror at the attitude of Fort Pearson, as the for- eign affairs building is known, to the pleas in each case.)
As a Canadian, in dangerous places abroad, one quickly learns from veterans that if you are trapped in the hands of official thugs you are far bet- ter to call on British or American diplo- matic assistance. I have had many embarrassed conversations with US and UK diplomats expressing horror at how casually or incompetently our diplomats carry out their defence of Canadian citizens in the hands of nasty governments.
This indifference now seems to have been raised to level of policy, where some groups of non-white Canadians are concerned. But as a result of the brave work by a small group of Canadian lawyers, led by Paul Cavaluzzo and Lorne Waldman, it has now become an open disgrace. One may hope that this will force an embarrassed government to acknowl- edge and redress.
Spokespeople for various Canadian Islamic organizations have pleaded with increasing frustration for the government and especially CSIS to ”œopen a dialogue” with moderate Canadian Muslims. The response from ministers and bureaucrats has been thunderously silent.
Then there is the fiasco of the flir- tation with the attempted ”œout- sourcing” of Canadian family law. This curious outgrowth of a twisted under- standing of multiculturalism had its roots in several governments’ slide over many years into permitting the effective ”œprivatization” of family dis- pute tribunals. It was ”œprogressive” provincial governments in Ontario and British Columbia who were deluded into granting first Catholics and then Jews the freedom to remove themselves from the Canadian justice system, where the arbitration of family disputes was concerned.
The McGuinty government in Ontario was about to grant the same incredible licence to radical Islam until a grassroots campaign led by an tough Iranian-Canadian woman, Homa Arjomand, rallied enough support among Liberal women MPPs to threat- en political Armageddon. After two years of vacillation, McGuinty got rave reviews doing what should have been obvious, saying no.
If it were not for Arjomand, and her chaotic band of Internet allies around the world, it is safe to assume that the always accommodating McGuinty government would have permitted conservative Islamic elders to impose Sharia-law-based ”œfamily settlements” that would have raised the eyebrows of most Canadians.
It was, after all, the Magna Carta that first attempted to establish the rule that democratic societies had one law for all.
The formidable Dutch politician Aayan Irsi, responding to suggestions that she was a racist for opposing the use of Sharia law in her adopted coun- try, said that it was this type of ”œmulti- cultural tolerance gone mad” that drove her away from social democracy and North American liberalism. It was Irsi’s role in a Dutch film denouncing political Islam that lead to the murder of her producer. The ”œracist” Irsi is fiercely articulate, beautiful, very black and of Somali birth.
For some years, like most ”œprogres- sive” Canadians I sneered at those, mostly on the far right, who attacked the ”œdamaging impact of multicultur- alism” on national values. Today, hon- esty demands we acknowledge the large black feathers dangling from our collective mouths.
It is one thing to be respectful of another culture’s history, art, and social values. It is quite another to allow fund-raising groups who prose- lytize ”œdeath to apostates.” One may sympathize with Tamil national aspi- rations, and even support the chari- ties that their hunger has spawned, without being willing to endorse the use of children as instruments of ter- ror in Sri Lanka.
We established agencies and regula- tory oversight post-9/11 to be able to separate genuine charitable fund-raising from funds for gun-runners and terror- ist paymasters.
The rock we have turned over has revealed a staggering quantity of mag- gots. The federal government’s Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC) received almost no coverage in the Canadian media for its stunning November report that it had traced an incredible $180 million in suspected terrorist fund-raising and money laundering to Canadian-based organizations in the past year! This was a 250 percent increase on the year before, and repre- sented the ”œtake” from 32 separate cases of ”œsuspected terrorist financing and other threats to the security of Canada.” Clearly, even keeping the problem from mushrooming is more challenging for Ottawa than docu- menting it.
The London bombings in July sent shock waves through the Muslim communities throughout the developed world. The sight of affluent, cosmopolitan young Saudis in the leadership of Al Qaeda jolted that country’s leadership out of their previous denial and complacency. The sight of well-educated, cricket- mad young Brits as subway bombers was, if anything, even more horrify- ing for moderate Muslim parents around the world.
The response of the British government to the explosion of evil in their capital was surprising to many: rapid, confident, resolute, and harsh. Social democrats in many countries shook their heads in sadness again, at this lat- est Blairite apostasy. Indeed, he arguably overreached in pushing for detention without charge of up to nine- ty days in his counter-terrorism pack- age. His government suffered its first ever defeat over the measure, although the package as a whole survived.
Viewed from the perspective of the balance of rights and obligations of citizenship, however, how excessive was the British reaction?
Among the ingredients of the poli- cy response were: deportation, asylum denial, citizenship revocation, time lim- ited extradition processes, new judges, courts and court procedures, more cer- tain imprisonment, banned organiza- tions, and watch lists for countries, individuals and organizations involved in the promotion of political violence.
None of the measures can be judged in the abstract for fairness or balance. The claim that they will be imposed only in the case of proven advocacy of violence, actual violent crime, or solicitation or conspiracy for the purpose of promoting violence, will be judged by its application.
Yet for those who are refugees of the totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe, or Americans old enough to recall the darkness of the McCarthyite 1950s, these assurances understandably ring hollow. Party commissars and American senators offered similar claims about the use of their heavy weapons in the 1950s and until the death of Soviet commu- nism nearly two generations later.
Here is the razor’s edge that terror- ists have forced liberal democrats to walk at its most cruel. What limits on defen- sive tactics are required, what tools are acceptable, in the defence of democracy? Where are the boundaries between loyal citizenship and democratic dissent, on one side, and the treacherous advocacy of political violence on the other? What are the limits of the state’s legitimate use of force to defend itself and its citizens?
This is the shadowy terrain on which Michael Ignatieff, in the minds of many former friends, stumbled, in his reflections on the use of torture in a civi- lized society. But as one agonized observ- er, experienced in the cruel politics of the Middle East put it, ”œHow is it defensible to shoot an apprehended terrorist on sight, when that will not prevent a bomb from going off, or save lives? And yet we reject even mild physical pressure tactics in interrogation that might save lives.”
The Israeli Supreme Court has " with a horrific precision at which Canadian justices would surely flinch " categorized what levels of sleep, food and sensory deprivation are per- missible in interrogating citizens and prisoners of war, as it attempts to navigate this Stygian gloom.
It was not hard for Canadian gov- ernments to adopt pious statements of its rules of conduct for diplomats and consular officials in less ethically querulous times. Ottawa could thun- der against the sins of apartheid or anti-Semitism safe in the knowledge there would be little domestic political interest or consequence.
We were famous for denouncing the mistreatment of an Andrei Sakharov or a Nelson Mandela on the requisite occasions. It is a little more complicated when Amnesty Interna- tional is attacking your treatment of your own citizens. It is more challeng- ing to navigate between Tamil relief benefit dinners and the ”œhawala” greased transfer of funds from those events to international gun-runners.
And yes, it is obvious that where Arab terrorism is concerned, surveil- lance in the Canadian Ukrainian com- munity would not be the best use of resources. Finding the balance between a Soviet style ”œracial and religious profil- ing” of whole communities and focused, effective domestic counter- intelligence is a political security night- mare. Let us acknowledge the challenge openly, admit missteps and have the courage to continue to probe the limits.
Knowing when to refuse an ally co-operation " even one as powerful and difficult to manage as an enraged American government " if it risks the protection of a Canadian citizen’s rights even, or perhaps especially, when that Canadian is from a ”œdanger- ous country,” is horrendously difficult.
Understanding how to deal with a Canadian family of such murky loyalties as the Khadrs " where fathers, sisters and brothers are all implicated in promoting Al Qaeda and its evils " is as painful and perilous a fairness chal- lenge as any judicial or intelligence official is likely to face, in any democracy. But denial and angry defensive sputtering by ministers and officials only frustrates learning and blocks new understanding. Secret trials, vigorous censorship of official paper trails, ”œoff- book” contracts and relationships are the path only to totalitarian stupidity, not a new sensitivity about how we manage these strange challenges to tra- ditional views of citizenship.
As her final contribution to an incredible legacy, as the closing chapter to an uniquely Canadian life, Adrienne Clarkson has announced her intention to create an institution to study new visions of citizenship and nationality. John Ralston Saul and Clarkson did so much to ignite new appreciations of what an amazing new creation this modern Canadian understanding of citizenship is through their years at Rideau Hall, and in hundreds of small communities.
By example and modeling they taught a whole generation of Canadians to see with new respect, with new clarity, what an achievement this magnificent mélange of modern citizenship we have created, almost in spite of ourselves.
Now with the help of academics and constitutional experts, artists and ordinary citizens they will attempt to define it, extend it, promote its devel- opment. A Canadian sage, Hans Mohr, the pioneering chair of the Law Reform Commission, says few things are more difficult than successfully moving delicate new private agree- ments into the light of broad public consensus. So describing and delineat- ing our new understanding of citizen- ship will be a perilous task.
It is well past time for Ottawa and Canada’s political elites to stop trying to force these new challenges into the dis- torting frame of old formulas. It will test all our ingenuity and maturity to find the appropriate balance between tolerance and toughness in a time of terrorism.
Others long ago began to take the first hesitant steps to find the right path. As a society with more at stake in getting it right than almost any other, we’re long overdue in joining them on that journey.