December marked a small but significant victory in the war on terror, as Jean Chretien stepped down from his post as Canadian prime minister after ten years of casual indifference regarding the terrorist threat permeating within Canada’s borders. Chretien’s ignorance on matters relating to the security of not only Canadians, but also all North Americans, was mind-boggling for a head of state in the post-9/11 world. It was Chretien who announced shortly after 9/11 that no terrorist cells existed in Canada, only to have Canadian-intelligence sources inform the media that, in fact, the country was host to 50 such cells. True to form, Chretien responded to this public humiliation by promptly slashing the budget of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Chretien’s insistence on differentiating between the “military” and “political” wings of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups was a particularly maddening staple of his tenure as prime minister. According to Chretien, besides murdering innocent Israeli civilians en masse and inciting violence against the West, these organizations also consist of charitable wings that run hospitals and schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Therefore, Chretien argued, only their so-called “military wings” should be designated by Canada as foreign terrorist organizations. It was only in late 2002 that Chretien’s government, bowing to pressure from opposition parties, designated both wings of Hamas and Hezbollah, years after the U.S had already done so.
Nevertheless, for someone who had professed to have an understanding of Hezbollah, Chretien pleaded ignorance when asked about the group at the October 2002 Francophone summit in Beirut. Responding to a reporter’s question about Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, who had been seated nearby, Chretein replied, “Who is he? I don’t know him.” Asked moments later whether Hezbollah was a terrorist organization, Chretien stammered, “Well, I don’t know.” Canadian officials later explained that Chretien had not been briefed prior to the event. Interestingly enough, a recently declassified CSIS report states that, prior to 2002, a “procurement network established by Hezbollah” obtained “diverse materiel” in Canada for use in terrorist activities in the Middle East. One wonders whether Chretien’s handlers informed him of this development.
Although Chretien’s retirement is certainly a positive occurrence, for the moment, a sea change in Canadian policies appears unlikely. Chretien’s replacement, former Finance Minister Paul Martin, has already ruled out establishing a joint immigration pact between the U.S. and Canada, saying, “Immigration…will remain fully within a Canadian decision-making capacity.” And that, in essence, is the root of the problem. Nearly 300,000 immigrants are admitted each year to Canada, some from countries identified by the U.S. as state sponsors of global terrorism. In addition, between 100,000 and 200,000 people presently reside in Canada illegally, most either failed refugee claimants or visitors who have overstayed their visas. Canada, like Great Britain, is a favorite target for refugees and asylum seekers due to its extremely liberal policies. Refugee claimants, even those with sketchy backgrounds, are not detained, and many inevitably slip through the cracks of the Canadian system and into the country’s 1,000,000-strong Muslim population.
The Liberal party–unwilling to take a firm stance that would contradict its multicultural agenda and fearful of losing Muslim votes–would rather have other countries look after Canada’s terrorist and immigration problems. Indeed, Martin barely settled into the prime minister’s chair before being confronted with the case of Jamal Akkal, a 23-year-old Canadian citizen of Palestinian origin arrested last month by Israeli authorities in the Gaza Strip for plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on Canadian and U.S. targets. Akkal is an admitted member of Hamas (so much for the media canard that Hamas “only” carries out attacks in Israel) who received weapons and explosives training from the group in Gaza. He reportedly confessed to Israeli authorities that his plan for North American mayhem included killing Orthodox Jews and assassinating visiting Israeli diplomats. The initial reaction of the Canadian government to Akkal’s arrest was telling. Instead of thanking Israeli authorities for preventing a possible terrorist attack on Canadian soil, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham cautioned the Israeli ambassador to Canada, Haim Divon, that public remarks about Akkal’s case were unacceptable. “Let the gentleman in question have an opportunity to defend himself,” said Graham, effectively disregarding Akkal’s reported confession. “That’s what courts are for.” Canadian officials also expressed concern over the methods used by the Israelis to interrogate Akkal.
The reaction of the Liberal party to Akkal’s arrest echoed the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen arrested by U.S. authorities in September 2002 and deported to Syria due to his alleged ties to al Qaeda. The Canadian government expressed outrage that the U.S. would actually deport a suspected terrorist from American soil without first consulting his home country. They were even more miffed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who continue to solider on in the fight against terrorism in the face of zero governmental support, may have provided information that assisted in Arar’s arrest. Not surprisingly, Arar, who has since been released from Syrian custody and returned to Canada, became a cause celebre amongst Liberal-party officials while imprisoned. Jean Chretien even wrote a letter to Arar’s wife vowing to “press the Syrian government for his release and return to Canada as soon as possible,” adding, “We will not relent.” Paul Martin, for his part, has called Arar’s deportation by the U.S. “simply unacceptable” and declared that “the Canadian passport will be respected” by the U.S. as it pursues suspected terrorists. The recent arrest in Minneapolis of Mohammed A. Warsame, a 30-year-old Canadian citizen of Somali descent accused of associating with would-be 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, may create a similar uproar.
To his credit, Martin has expressed a strong desire to improve Canadian-U.S. relations, even proposing the creation of a wide-ranging government branch similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He has also advocated Canadian participation in a missile defense system along with the U.S. After the stormy tenure of Chretien, who told the Canadian Broadcasting Network in 2002 that U.S. “arrogance and greed” was partially to blame for 9/11 (and who passionately opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq), the Bush administration is likely relieved to be dealing with the more low-key Martin. However, the new prime minister’s approach to battling terrorism remains to be seen. While serving as finance minister in 2002, Martin created a major stir by attending a dinner hosted by the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT), which has been described by the State Department as a front group for the Tamil Tigers, a notorious Sri Lankan terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. Martin was warned beforehand by Canadian officials in Sri Lanka of FACT’s links to the Tamil Tigers, but still insisted on appearing at the dinner. He later said that he was “pleased” to have attended.
Somewhere, Jean Chretien was blushing with envy.
–Erick Stakelbeck is head writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.