Israel Report

December 2002         

Canada's Confusion

By Ed Morgan - December 17, 2002
Testifying at the deportation hearing of an immigrant found to be a member of the Egyptian al-Jihad movement, an officer in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service disclosed last year that "there are more international terrorist groups here [in Canada] than in any other country in the world."

For the Jewish community, this wound was salted by the government's long-standing refusal to list Hizbullah as a prohibited terrorist organization. The recent reversal of that policy, which has been claimed by Jewish organizations as a success of its public advocacy campaign, only partly soothes the sore spot.

The government's instinctive tendency to follow France rather than the United States on issues of security and terrorism highlights the distance between it and the country's 300,000 Jews on this issue.

By contrast, genuine solidarity with the Jewish community was on display at last July's funeral of David Rosenzweig, an Orthodox Jew murdered outside a kosher restaurant by an assailant described as a "skinhead" sporting neo-Nazi tattoos. The premier of Ontario, the attorney-general, the mayor, the chief of police, opposition party leaders, and the former minister of defense all put on kippot for the occasion, while the prime minister himself issued a strong statement against anti-Semitism that would be the envy of European Jewish communities suffering the silence of their governments in the face of anti-Semitic attacks.

All of which has prompted Canadian Jews to ask aloud how a society so vigilant against one type of hate-motivated violence can be so blind to another.

The country's solicitor-general has defended the weak anti-terrorism policy in a way that romanticizes multiculturalism and political pluralism. Some violent groups, he has explained, offer an independent political and social-welfare network for their people, and are therefore different than strictly religious zealots like al-Qaida. It is as if the government perceived Hizbullah, the Tamil Tigers, the Basque ETA and other similar organizations as alternative voices that need to be heard in the multicultural symphony that Canadians have composed.

During the past 20 years, Canadian governments have fostered a policy of official multiculturalism as an effort to counter the insularity of prior eras. The policy has largely succeeded in transforming Anglo parochialism and French xenophobia into an outward-looking society that embraces refugee absorption, free trade, globalization, and the preservation of immigrant cultures as an inherent right.

Jewish communities have reaped benefits from the multicultural experiment. From prosecuting aging Nazi war criminals, to eliminating Christian prayer in public schools, to ending Sunday store closings, to subsidizing Jewish day schools, to funding Hebrew-heritage language programs, the Canada of 2002 is substantially more welcoming than that of 1982 when the constitutional-reform process began. Stringent hate-speech laws have also been brought in, reflecting a general revulsion to anything smacking of ultra-nationalism or social intolerance. For a country that has always been dispassionate about patriotism and cultural identity, the ethic of multiculturalism has caught on and grown into a surprising national passion.

The cultural core, in other words, has been hollowed out in favor of the ethnic periphery. And while this has been beneficial for Jews and other minority groups, nowhere is the down side of this phenomenon more apparent than in security matters.

CANADA underspends all of its NATO allies in defense, and most voters would have it no other way. This thriftiness is, of course, partly driven by economic considerations, but it is also partly a result of a weak to nonexistent consensus on where national allegiances should lie any given time.

Anti-terrorism policy is where the problem has become the most obvious. Canadian immigration law bars entry to any person who is a "terrorist" or a member of a "terrorist organization," but the government has been loath to define those crucial terms in a coherent way. While most would agree that terrorism entails some form of politicized violence generally aimed at civilians, the prevailing ethic of multiculturalism has prevented some obvious candidates from being included in the list.

Terrorist violence has come to be seen as essentially a matter of political and cultural relativity, with alternative perspectives given room for expression. In the words of the Canadian Supreme Court, the idea is to define terrorism in a way that is not been "open to politicized manipulation, conjecture, and polemical interpretation." The result, however, has been that Canadian authorities have stumbled and bumbled their way through the question of whether some violent people can be let in while others must be kept out.

Hizbullah is the best example, since for the longest time it was not a terrorist organization because, although it did have a problematic military wing, it was seen as a political vehicle for Lebanon's Shi'ites. At the same time, the Iranian Ministry of Information has been deemed to be a terrorist organization because, although it is certainly a part of the political apparatus of the Iranian state, it was found to run quasi-military operations against Iranian dissidents abroad.

In another series of cases, the one-time head of the Abu Dhabi office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine successfully argued that he did not belong to a terrorist organization, convincing a Canadian court that he and his organization had no desire to "endanger the safety of persons in Canada." At the same time, an al-Jihad member applying for immigration status was rejected on the grounds that he had in the past engaged in murky activities in Egypt and Sudan, even though he too testified that he has nothing but peaceful intentions toward Canadians.

Only a politicized reading of these decisions could possibly view them as non-political. The problem is that terrorism is seen not so much as a question of defense and security, but of weighing the concerns of multicultural politics. Thus, the government and judiciary allow themselves to imagine that international political violence can under some circumstances be an expression of tolerance rather than its opposite.

This attitude explains how it is that the same benevolent impulse that condemns the killing of a man in Toronto also leads to a failure to condemn those who would kill his relatives abroad. Providing a haven for international terrorists can be seen romantically as giving support to the "other," while prosecuting the neo-Nazi thug can be imagined as suppressing the worst instincts in "ourselves."

Canadian society is slowly learning that an excess of tolerance on one front can lead to intolerance on another. It is a lesson that the Jewish community in Canada is now starting to take to heart.

The writer is a law professor at the University of Toronto and is chairman of Canadian Jewish Congress (Ontario).

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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