New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 09:30

When the Fear of Terrorism Trumps Reason

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

There is no question that fear sells. The latest Stephen King film about an evil clown – It –  grossed over $120 million in its first three days after all.

We are odd in that we both fear fear and we are entertained by it – go figure.

But fear is not always helpful, unless you are running away from a grizzly or swimming away from a shark.  It is particularly counter-productive when it leads you to stop doing things you normally do. Things like going to a restaurant or to a movie (perhaps to see It) or on a vacation.  And the one thing that seems to be causing many people to alter their normal lives is the fear of terrorism.

In some ways this is, of course, understandable since there is not a day that goes by where we do not see or read about some act of violent extremism somewhere in the world.  These acts seem to resonate even more when they take place in ‘our world’ – i.e. Western Europe, North America or Australia – than when they occur in Africa, the Middle East or Asia (fact: the vast majority of attacks and casualties occur in the latter three rather than the former). 

The images of bloody corpses and mangled limbs sends shivers to those who witness them, in person or via social media.  We become afraid of terrorists and terrorism and we begin to believe that we will become the next victims unless we stay away from where the terrorists are.

This is problematic as terrorism can occur ANYWHERE.  A very short list of recent attacks underscores the ubiquity of terrorism: an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a pedestrian mall in Barcelona, a London Tube train on a busy morning commute, in front of Notre Dame in Paris, a market stall in Kabul.  And I could go on. 

Yet, paradoxically, the chance of an act of terrorism in any one place at any given time is infinitely small (it is obviously higher in Baghdad and Mogadishu than in New York or Melbourne, but even then it is rare-ish).

What is unhelpful is to panic and cancel EVERYTHING because you are convinced you will die in a suicide bombing if you stay the course.  A few examples are illustrative of an irrational succumbing to the fear of terrorism:

  • diners in a Toronto restaurant last weekend that was the scene of a targeted killing of a real estate magnate told the media they thought they were going to die in what they believed to be a terrorist incident
  • the Israeli government issued a travel advisory for ‘Western and Northern Europe’ during the Jewish High Holy Days
  • US President Trump has been very irresponsible in raising the fear level with his characterisation of Muslims as terrorists

How is any of this a good thing?  Why in the world would a school board in Edmonton cancel a trip to Paris after the November 2015 attacks when Paris the day after was probably the safest city on the planet in large part due to the increased presence of armed soldiers?  Fear and ignorance, that’s why (and probably parents’ demands, which were born out of fear).

Giving in so easily to fear does many things.  It rewards terrorist groups that aim to make us afraid and over-inflates their pathetic importance.  It has serious implications for many parts of the economy both at home and abroad.  And it undoubtedly makes us more jittery the next time a terrorist attack occurs which makes us react with fear more quickly.

I am not advocating rushing off to Kandahar on vacation tomorrow, but if we value our societies and our freedoms we need to live.  Living means going out, seeing friends, visiting exotic lands and learning from each others’ cultures and histories.  And we cannot do that by barricading ourselves in our duct-taped basements.

I think the right reaction is that of the Brits. They are famous for their ‘stiff upper lip’, a way of sneering at danger and uncertainty and forging ahead. That is exactly what a lot of people did in the wake of last Friday’s Tube attack (quote of the day: “I won’t stop taking the Tube because of some idiot”).  They also didn’t waver during the decades of IRA bombings.  I believe there is a lesson in that for all of us.


Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting.  His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available for purchase.

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 23 April 2017 12:15

We Can Choose Not to be Afraid

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

We live in a world where fear is easy to spread.  There is no shortage of evidence that bad things happen and that there are some bad actors in a lot of places. 

The rise of the 24/7 news cycle and the ubiquity of social media have a lot to do with this. Sometimes, this fear is disproportionate to reality. The fear of violent crime is a good example: statistics in this country and others show pretty convincingly that violence of this nature is at historic lows and yet people still rank fear of violent crime high on their list of anxieties.

Terrorism fits here as well, as I have often said. 

While there is no doubt that terrorism exists and we are reminded of it daily (less so in the West and more so in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia), we still have to maintain an objective perspective.  Even if terrorism occurs more frequently today than it did, say, 40 years ago (although historical analysis might even differ on that point) it is still a rare event. 

It is impossible to claim that terrorism is more rampant than non-terrorist crime for instance (shootings, domestic violence, etc.) let alone other kinds of death (disease, car accidents, etc.).

"Manufactured" fear

Terrorism is different from other forms of violent deaths because of its inherent ability to cause fear. That is why we call it terrorism – it instills terror and fear.  That in essence is what the terrorists are trying to achieve, making us afraid of what they can do so that we will make decisions about things (foreign policy is a primary goal) under duress, decisions we would not normally make.

Some fears are natural – fear of snakes or spiders – and may go back a long way in the history of humanity. Others are manufactured. War and terrorism would fit here. If a fear is manufactured there must be a manufacturer and an audience (or recipient) of that fear.  The audience, I would argue, has a choice of whether to accept or embrace the fear. It is as simple as that. 

In other words, we play an enormous role in our own freedom from fear. We can simply choose not to be afraid.

Defeating terrorism

I am not trying to oversimplify the terrorist threat or the challenge in dealing with it.  This is indeed a hard problem that has always defied, and will most likely always defy, simple solutions. We will not 'defeat' terrorism anymore than we will 'defeat' crime in general. 

But we can 'defeat' the goal of the terrorists by refusing to be cowed by their actions and their propaganda.  We can decide not to allow them to make us afraid.

I'd like to end with a quote by the Swedish Prime Minister in the wake of this month's terrorist attack in Stockholm (an Uzbek terrorist drove a stolen beer truck into a pedestrian mall, killing four and wounding 15) as it really sends a strong message about fear: "I believe today’s [gathering] was a clear message from Stockholm and Sweden that we intend to keep our open, warm and inclusive society. That was the message. Terrorism will never defeat Sweden.”

Would that we all elected to not give in to fear and terror and tell the terrorists that they will never win.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Anita Bromberg in Toronto 

Sixty-seven years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 50 years after the adoption of the two Covenants, which along with the Declaration became known as the International Bill of Human Rights, the struggle for human rights at home and abroad continues. 

It is a struggle that Canadians have been at the forefront of since World War II. Canadian John Peters Humphrey, first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, was central to the drafting of the Declaration. 

The underlying principle of the Declaration – that human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights – is reflected in section 15(1) of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, will kick off an international yearlong campaign spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office: Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always. 

[E]ven in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms.

The campaign will focus on the four freedoms at the core of the Declaration – freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want. We do not have to dig deep into media reports to see that even in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms. 

Impacts of fear 

When then American President Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech after experiencing two world wars, the arms race was the focus of his remarks regarding freedom from fear. Today, freedom from fear means much more and the challenges are even greater. 

Fear has dominated our mindset these days. Violence and terrorism is now an ongoing reality that directly impacts Canadians. How can we not be concerned for, even feel fear for, our safety, with attacks such as the Californian and French events fresh on our minds?  

[N]o individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear.

But this fear impacts in two ways. The obvious is that we each have the right to go about our daily business without fearing a terrorist attack harming our loved ones. But, in addition, no individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear. 

The sign on the lawn that tells Canadian Muslims or Jews to go home, the hijab-wearing woman buying groceries who is accused of being a terrorist, the hateful graffiti on Hindu places of worship, the racism directed at Aboriginal peoples – these are all examples of breaches of every person’s right to be free from fear. 

Fear used to marshal hatred 

As we mark this milestone date, the Secretary General of the United Nations reminds us, “Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil this freedom [from fear]. Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their home.”

Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.
 

Our response as Canadians must be to open our doors without discrimination, while exercising all due diligence, as we commit ourselves to continue to build a society based on inclusion and founded on the principles of human dignity and mutual respect. 

Hatemongers know that the best way to marshal hatred is to channel it through fear, to manipulate fear to racist ends – often justified through an appeal to narrowly defined identities and collective fears of being overwhelmed.  

We are all deeply troubled by the threats to our security and by the impact the violence we are witnessing is having. We should be looking to protect our society and way of life based on our common humanity. 

However, that will come with guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of all, when we respect the balance these rights and freedoms demand from each of us. Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.  

These are the lessons embedded in this year’s International Human Rights Day. 

Canada and its residents must be ready for the challenges ahead. Respecting our rights and freedoms can and must be one of the key principles that guide us all as the year ahead unfolds.


Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Commentary

Activists from ethnic communities in Canada said they will fight a new law that changes the Citizenship Act which gives government the power to strip the citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorism, treason, or spying.

Former University professor and now Filipino community leader Aprodicio Laquian denounced the law as very "un-Canadian" and vowed that Filipino groups will fight this harsh policy.

"Those are all very negative policies and we have been writing and sending letters to the parliamentarians in Ottawa objecting to all of these because these are really discriminatory," Laquian said.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is taking a two-pronged approach to reverse the law.

"If this law can’t be repealed and won’t be repealed in the near future, then we’ll turn to litigation," said Carmen Chiu, senior counsel of the association.

The Canadian Bar Association has warned that the changes to the citizenship law will open the floodgates to more offences being added to the list to justify citizenship-stripping.

The law also makes it harder to become a Canadian citizen by increasing the length of time to four years and increasing the citizenship fees. This will not take into account time already spent working in Canada and will affect applications from former live-in caregivers, and temporary foreign workers.

"It’s going to be a setback as far as the fees are concerned, medyo mahal nga, you have to wait longer as well," said Effie Garcia of the Tri-Cities Filipino Canadian Network.

Former caregiver Nina Tolentino added, "When you came here as a live-in caregiver, you wait for two to three years and then to become a permanent resident and another four years. 

The Canadian Bar Association has warned that the changes to the citizenship law will open the floodgates to more offences being added to the list to justify citizenship-stripping.

To date, more than 100,000 people have already signed the petition to repeal the law.

'Second-class' status for some

The new immigration law enacted by the Canadian government dictates that ‘second class’ citizens – immigrants who obtained Canadian citizenship - may have their citizenship status stripped at any point, critics said.

Under this law, the only Canadians who can never lose their citizenship are those born in Canada who do not have another nationality (and are not eligible to apply for another nationality). No matter what crimes they may be accused of, these ‘first-class’ citizens can never have their citizenship taken away. On the other hand, Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status, even if they were born in Canada: under Bill C-24, their citizenship can be stripped.

Many have also pointed out that some Canadians may not even be aware that they hold dual citizenships based on their origins, marriage and other family ties.

There was stiff opposition to the rule in Canada because many claimed that since this cannot happen to those born in Canada, the new law would be discriminatory. The government of Canada has justified the new law saying that was meant to protect Canadians.

“Our Government knows that there is no higher purpose for any government than to ensure the safety and security of its citizens . . . that is why we are taking steps to confront the ever evolving threat of jihadi terrorism by revoking citizenship of dual nationals who have been convicted of heinous crimes such as terrorism, espionage for foreign governments or taking up arms against Canada and our brave men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister was quoted as saying.

Legal experts warn that the list of offences that could lead to the removal of citizenship might be expanded in the future. Additionally, Bill C-24 punishes criminal activity with exile – a practice abandoned hundreds of years ago that has no place in today’s democracy.

As a result of the new provisions that came into effect last month, warnings to dual citizens have been circulating online, especially on Facebook. Some posts warn that dual citizens, including those who were born in Canada, now have “second-class status” and that their Canadian citizenship can be “stripped arbitrarily.”

Many have also pointed out that some Canadians may not even be aware that they hold dual citizenships based on their origins, marriage and other family ties.

“Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status,” the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association said earlier this month.

Rocco Galati, a Toronto-based constitutional lawyer, told CTVNews.ca that a court challenge of Bill C-24 is in the works. He expects it to proceed in the late fall or early winter.

He said that although controversy over Bill C-24 has been brewing since its introduction, there is renewed interest since it became law.

What else is in Bill C-24?

Also known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, the bill received Royal Assent and became law in June 2014. The new legislation includes major changes to the citizenship application and approval process. That includes requiring permanent residents to be physically present in Canada longer than before in order to gain citizenship, higher fees for citizenship applications and expanding the age bracket for citizenship tests.

The new law is also prompting fears among some ethnic communities that they'll be unfairly stigmatized.

Those from countries that don't allow dual citizenship told government focus groups last year they had no issue with the law stripping of Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or spying offences.

But other participants said while they agreed people convicted of such offences should be punished, they were alarmed by the potential longer-term implications of the measures.

The government has given no indication that the Strengthening Citizenship Act would be expanded to apply to other crimes; the revocation measures were explained as a direct response to ongoing global terrorist threats.

"For participants from places where dual citizenship is permitted, such as India or the Philippines, there were clear concerns that dual citizens as a whole were being stigmatized and singled out," says a newly-published report on the Citizenship and Immigration department sessions.

". . . It also left many wondering whether they should still consider retaining dual citizenship with their original home country out of fear that their Canadian citizenship could be revoked more easily by virtue of the fact that they are dual citizens or out of fear that with time, the criteria for revoking citizenship for a dual citizen is expanded."

The ability to revoke a dual national's Canadian citizenship was contained in a law passed last year that overhauled many elements of the Canadian citizenship program. The revocation provisions only came into effect last month.

The government has given no indication that the Strengthening Citizenship Act would be expanded to apply to other crimes; the revocation measures were explained as a direct response to ongoing global terrorist threats.

Human rights groups have argued the new provisions effectively create two tiers of Canadian citizenship, one for those born in Canada and one for those born elsewhere.

Several have included the issue as part of their briefs to the United Nations Human Rights Committee's scheduled review this week of how well Canada is meeting its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In the focus groups, however, what seemed to be more on participants' minds were the other changes to the citizenship process, including the longer residency requirement and new fees.

"The main criticism participants had about the television concept was the reference to protecting all Canadians from dual citizens who commit terrorist acts. This was seen as out of place in an otherwise 'feel good ad,'" the report said.

"On a related note, participants questioned why the advertisement provided detail regarding the revocation policy, which applies to the few, while being vague on other changes that would impact on more individuals who are applying for citizenship."

The series of 14 focus groups were held in December in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec to solicit the views of those who have been in Canada less than 10 years on a range of issues.


Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

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