Who does anti-terror law threaten?
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/06/2015 (2847 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A young Winnipeg man is in jail, apparently because of his sympathy for the terrorist group Islamic State. Aaron Driver, who uses the alias Harun Abdurahman, has not been charged with a criminal offence, but he could be locked up for 12 months if he refuses to agree to certain conditions. The RCMP says they fear he may contribute “directly or indirectly, to the activity of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity.”
It’s unclear what kind of threat, if any, he poses to Canadian society, and it would be premature to make any judgment until the facts are known, if they ever are. So far, however, it appears he has done nothing that would have been recognized as a crime in the past.
Instead, he’s run afoul of the federal government’s new anti-terrorism legislation (Bill C-51), which makes it an offence to advocate or promote terrorist offences.
As the Canadian Bar Association has said, it’s not obvious what that means, which itself is troubling, since laws against certain activities are inherently unfair if they aren’t clear.
Many Canadians supported the terrorist actions of anti-apartheid forces in South Africa, the Irish Republican Army, the Jewish insurgents who killed British soldiers in Palestine in the 1940s and so on.
The difference between then and now is the homeland was not believed to be at risk from these terrorist supporters. The events of 9/11 changed everything.
Mr. Driver, a Christian who converted to Islam, told the Toronto Star in an interview last February he cheered when Parliament Hill was attacked and a soldier killed by an armed gunman last year. According to the Star, he believed the attacks on the military and the government were an honourable retaliation for the killing of innocent civilians by allied warplanes in the Mideast.
Terrorism used to be defined as indiscriminate attacks on civilians to inflict fear for political purposes, but the meaning of the term has expanded with the times.
Mr. Driver used social media to express his support for Islamic State, a genocidal terrorist organization that wants to establish an Islamic theocracy across the Middle East.
Let’s agree Mr. Driver is sadly misguided, a mixed-up radicalized Canadian who needs re-programming. Possibly he’s a dangerous man, too, but, again, we don’t have all the facts. The RCMP believe he is a threat, but is that because he was planning something violent, or merely because he was expressing his views in a public forum in violation of federal law?
In the Star story, Mr. Driver said he was aware the government was on to him, and he knew he could end up in prison for expressing his opinions in an unlawful way through the Internet. For him, it was a matter of principle, even if it was uninformed, crazy or whatever you want to call it. Again, was he a threat?
His arrest might also be seen as an opportunity for intervention by trained experts to change his behaviour and beliefs. The federal government funds a program called Extreme Dialogue for this purpose. So far, Mr. Driver has reportedly rebuffed his family’s attempts to set him straight.
Meanwhile, although it is troubling world events are turning out people like Mr. Driver, it is equally concerning that people who merely support certain groups can be scooped up, locked up and forced to live under restrictive conditions.
The federal government has listed some 55 terrorist groups in the world, including many that generate sympathy from some Canadians. Hamas, for example, garnered some western support for itself and the people of Gaza during the last war with Israel.
Mr. Driver’s case should be studied further to determine if Bill C-51 is protecting Canadians, or threatening their fundamental rights and freedoms.