After last week's terror attacks, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was quick – maybe too quick, according to several security experts – to promise to strengthen the powers of Canada's police and security forces.
The bill tabled Monday by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney was actually drafted months before the attacks, and its provisions seem quite sensible: better protection for underground informers and increased collaboration with foreign intelligence organizations.
But, as both Mr. Harper and Mr. Blaney warned, there is more to come. And this is where the danger lies. There is no easy way to prevent would-be terrorists from acting out their deadly impulses, unless one wants to live in a police state.
Suppose that Martin Couture-Rouleau had been fitted out with an electronic bracelet. This wouldn't have prevented him from driving to the shopping centre in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., where he ran down and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Such monitoring devices work for people who are on parole and fear being sent back to jail. They work for people who want to keep living. They don't work for those who dream of dying as martyrs.
Another method of containing would-be terrorists is preventive detention. This is often used in France, for as long as several months, in order to prevent a suspect from communicating with possible accomplices and to allow more time for police investigation. But the "lone wolves" who seem to represent the major threat to Canada usually have no associates. Their networks are virtual and difficult to infiltrate. Gone are the days when terrorists gathered in training camps or when a group of people would congregate in someone's basement to plot an attack.
In any case, no democratic country can indefinitely jail someone who hasn't committed a crime. They have to be released if no evidence against them can be found. And then, what state of mind will these persons be in, after they're let out? Obviously, they would see themselves as victims and would be even angrier at society – time bombs waiting to explode.
Gun control? Yes, of course. But the weapon that killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo was an old-style hunting rifle, which could have been easily stolen.
Internet monitoring? Many terrorist wannabes don't use their own computers. It's much safer for them to use Internet cafés. Tracing them is like "looking for a needle in a needle stack," Aki Peritz, a former counterterrorism analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, told The Globe and Mail. Especially troubling is the rumour that the government is considering a law criminalizing online comments that support terrorism. Apart from the intractable difficulty of localizing their anonymous authors on the Internet, this would be an intolerable breach of civil liberties.
The criminal code already makes it an offence to call for violence against a specific, identifiable group. But what about apologies for terrorism, like those of Frantz Fanon, the famous French psychoanalyst who argued that violence is a necessary stage in the process of decolonization? What about those who believe, for instance, that terrorists are "heroes," or argue that terrorism is "justified by the crimes of the West" and so on?
These are repugnant opinions, but even the most abhorrent ideas must be tolerated for freedom of speech to exist. This is what makes Canada a liberal democracy. Denying it would be granting a moral victory to the terrorists who are fighting against this country's most fundamental values.