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Canada is not a “scrappy underdog”

In last week’s Brunswickan, Mark Mancini wrote a response to the senseless attacks on Canadian Forces soldiers on Parliament Hill. He spoke of a vision of Canada that has resonated with many in the wake of this crisis, a nation where politicians have put their divisions aside for the greater good to confronting a threat unprecedented in our nation. Stirring though this sentiment is, it is misguided and dangerously naive.

I do not mean to deny Mr. Mancini the right to his opinion, nor to disrespect those who have been killed. But we should all take a collective step back, both to grieve and to consider our future with minds unclouded by reactionary emotion.

This sensitive period has been exploited in the past by unscrupulous politicians looking to make ideological gains. Consider the US Patriot Act, signed little over a month after the events of 9/11: it has never been repealed, despite the fact that al-Qaeda or any similar group has not successfully attacked the US since 2001.

Coincidentally, a litany of fear-based legislation is currently passing through our parliament, seeking among other things to extend CSIS’s powers overseas (Bill C-44, artfully titled the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act), a stunning change for an agency whose prerogative has been solely domestic since its inception in 1984.

Not to mention Prime Minister Harper’s doggedly determined push for engagement against ISIS in the Middle East. While this legislation was in the works before these attacks, wouldn’t the honourable thing be to put divisive politics aside in this time of national grief? Yes, it would.

However it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Harper’s modus operandi that he has wasted no time in continuing his partisan push, capitalizing on the climate of fear that he himself has perpetuated. Make no mistake, Harper’s awkward embraces with Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair was pure political theatre, and all leaders involved understood that.

Any politician will tell you that legislation pushed through in an emotional period is not going to be sound. Decisions regarding Canadians’ privacy and security need the most careful consideration, without the weight of tragedy hanging overhead. Both our decision-makers in Ottawa and the general public would be well-served to remember that correlation does not imply causation, and using the actions of radicalized, lone-wolf terrorists to justify greater action in the Middle East is the very definition of this.

It is tempting to fall into a narrative of “everything has changed”; certainly, politicians prefer this, as it allows them to dismiss any criticism of aggressive new legislation. “We’re living in a post-Ottawa Shooting world,” they’ll say. We have heard this message before, when President George W. Bush intoned, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

What Canadians should be rejecting is not terrorism, but the political move to frame this into an “us vs. them” divide. While these events have affected the way Canadians see their nation, I do not believe that it should redefine us as the scrappy underdog, fighting against an indeterminate terrorist threat. Rather, we should look at the American-style climate of fear our political leaders wish to perpetuate and soundly reject it.

– Marc Gagnon

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