Politics & Policy

How Will Canada Respond?

It will remain the “True North, strong and free.”

It has been a difficult week for Canada. Two shocking incidents within 48 hours have rattled my country’s reputation for being a safe and peaceful place to live. For the first time ever, we are all now on high alert when it comes to security issues and homegrown terrorism.

To think, this all started on Monday morning when Martin Couture-Rouleau drove his car into two Canadian soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. The 25-year-old killed one soldier, Patrice Vincent, while the other remains in the hospital. The local police caught up with Mr. Couture-Rouleau after a high-speed chase and shot the assailant down.

The incident was puzzling. Why did this young man run over two soldiers who fight for our freedom, liberty, democracy, and way of life? Was he drunk, high on drugs, or “other”? Well, it turned out to be “other” — but in a way few Canadians would have ever imagined.

In July, Mr. Couture-Rouleau was reportedly going to visit Turkey. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested him at the airport and seized his passport. Why? They had suspicions that this young man, who had converted to Islam last year, was linked to international terrorism. He was immediately placed on a high-security list of roughly 93 individuals who had similar links to radical Islam.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Tories were immediately concerned. Canadian public-safety minister Steve Blaney said he was “horrified and saddened” by this “unacceptable act of violence against our country, our Quebec values, our Canadian values.” More to the point, he stated, “What took place . . . is clearly linked to terrorist ideology.” This last line caught many Canadians off guard. 

Here’s a personal example. On Tuesday, when I was guest hosting the popular Newstalk 1010 radio show Live Drive with regular host Ryan Doyle in Toronto, we experienced a huge amount of pushback from listeners. They objected to Mr. Doyle’s term “sleepy,” and my phrase “heads in the sand,” when we discussed Canadian attitudes about homegrown terrorism. They claimed that security and terrorism issues were always important to Canadians.

Let’s stop right there. While some Canadians were concerned, the bulk of them weren’t. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) released a report in 1999 listing 50 vicious terrorist groups that had “sleeper cells” on our home soil. This included al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Kurdistan Workers Party, and the Tamil Tigers. Federal Liberal governments run by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin didn’t do very much on this front, alas. A 2004 U.S. Library of Congress report bluntly stated, “Canada has played a significant role as a base for both transnational criminal activity and terrorist activity.” 

Paying lip service to something doesn’t actually improve the situation, folks. Go figure.

Mr. Harper took this information to heart, however. He banned Hamas within weeks of taking office in 2006, and has banned many others. Naturally, there are groups like the Islamic State still lurking in the midst, and the war on terrorism is still being fought.

Which made the second incident on Wednesday morning all the more shocking. Michael Joseph Zehaf-Bibeau went to the War Memorial in Ottawa with a loaded gun and violent intentions. The 32-year-old shot and killed a young reservist, Corporal Nathan Cirillo. He went across the street to the Canadian Parliament buildings and got inside by shooting a security guard’s foot. He fired off a reported 20 to 30 gunshots at security personnel in the hallowed Hall of Honour in Centre Block.

The sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers, ended this confusion in dramatic fashion. The 29-year RCMP veteran also happens to be a highly skilled sharpshooter. He took a handgun from a lockbox, fell to the ground, fired off three quick shots, and killed Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau.

Mr. Vickers was given an extended standing ovation by grateful parliamentarians in the House of Commons on Thursday. He was very emotional during the tribute, fighting back tears and simply nodding his head. “I am very touched by the attention directed at me following yesterday’s events,” he wrote in his press release. “However, I have the support of a remarkable security team that is committed to ensuring the safety of Members, employees and visitors to the Hill.”

Canada couldn’t have asked for a more perfect hero.

Initial reports that Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was on the same list as Mr. Couture-Rouleau, signaling a possible terrorist connection, were rejected by the RCMP on Thursday. At the same time, the former was on the national-security radar, had traveled to Syria (now home of the Islamic State), and reportedly had some connections with radical elements. 

These two Canadians had either direct or indirect links with terrorism and radical Islam. Ergo, the threat of homegrown terrorism is very real.

Canada will move forward, of course. The Tory government, as well as the left-wing New Democratic Party and Liberals, are committed to improving security measures and enhancing the safety of all Canadians. This may include more funding for the military, CSIS, and the RCMP. I would even suggest the possibility of putting a gate around Parliament Hill, much the same way your country protects the White House. (It doesn’t always work perfectly, as Americans have seen in recent months, but it’s still the right option.)

There will naturally be debates, discussions, and disagreements on the best path to take. The political arena is an enjoyable, albeit predictable, blood sport. For now, the three main political parties are standing together — as are all Canadians. We will remain vigilant, we will preserve our safety and security, and we won’t let the terrorists win. 

— Michael Taube is a Toronto-based columnist for the Washington Times and a former speechwriter for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

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