Stephen Harper wants YOU to be terrified

Another deep dive into a Stephen Harper speech designed to provoke fear in your hearts
harper protecting canadians

Good ol’ Steve, keeping us safe! (Image credit:

As the Conservatives continue to slip in the polls going into the summer, Harper and his strategists seem to have seized upon the George-W-Bush-circa-2004 strategy for trying to get a not-so-popular government reelected – wrap yourselves in the flag and hype the so-called “terror threat” for all it’s worth. (We’ll have to wait and see whether the HarperCons employ the same kinds of dirty tricks and low-blow character assassinations that the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign ran, although given the deep institutional links between the Conservative and Republican Parties, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.)

Harper’s terror fixation has been on full display for the past few weeks. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen him posing in front of the same podium, which vaguely claims he is “Protecting Canadians” from unspecified threats.

First there was his super-secret-undercover-agent trip to Iraq for photo opportunities and fear-mongering, with a bleary-eyed press in tow. (I wrote up his trip here  and his speech to the troops here.)

Then there was the overhyped RCMP raid on a Montreal airport, in which they detained (but didn’t arrest or charge) ten young people allegedly attempting to travel abroad to join ISIS. (Link is to the Toronto Sun purely for the totally unrelated but provocative photo.) These highly-publicized but mostly insubstantial detainments were closely followed by a major Prime Ministerial announcement at that same airport that the Government of Canada was going to give the Mounties and the Canadian Border Services Agency even more money to keep doin’ what they’re doin’.

And most recently, right here in Toronto, Steve announced that we haven’t surrendered enough dollars or enough liberty quite yet to keep the terrorists at bay – we need to also give more money to CSIS so they can collect biometric information on pretty much everybody who enters Canada.

As I did with his fear-mongering hate speech in Iraq, I’d like to take a close look at Harper’s statement in Toronto, examining it both for its truth-value (low) and its propaganda value (high). I think it’s a useful indicator of what we can expect from the HarperCons in the election campaign this fall, and I hope that the more his rhetoric gets exposed and picked apart, the less effective it’ll be.

You can find the Prime Minister’s complete remarks here. (I’ve dispensed with some introductory boilerplate remarks and plunged right into the substance of the speech.)

It is no secret that we find ourselves in troubled times.

For several years now the global economy, of which we’re a part, has been buffeted by wave after wave of uncertainty emanating from outside our borders.[1]

But other threats endanger our security even more profoundly.

All civilizations, all civilized nations are today faced with an enemy who hates everything about our existence: freedom, democracy, tolerance, openness.[2]

Our Government does not hesitate in calling this enemy by its name, violent jihadism, and as we do not hesitate to condemn it, we do not hesitate to confront it either at home or abroad. [3]

[1] It’s interesting that Harper starts with what’s sure to become his standard line on the economy, despite the fact that this speech focusses on foreign policy and security. It’s a sign of how insecure his government is on Canada’s stagnant economic performance, traditionally a harbinger of doom for governments, that he feels the need to blame any economic instability on outside factors even in an address on a completely unrelated topic – and note too how he subtly associates the poor economy with ISIS.

[2] That’s funny – do those “civilized” nations include Saudi Arabia? The Saudis are Canada’s ally in the fight against ISIS and the recipient of $15 billion in arms from Canadian manufacturers, but their human rights record is absolutely atrocious. In fact, they could equally be described as being opposed to freedom, democracy, tolerance and openness. (Not coincidentally, they’ve been known to support violent jihadist groups.)

The use of the word “civilized” is a dog-whistle for the base – it’s code for “white & Western”, and allows Harper to paint ISIS as a pack of irrational barbarians bent on nothing more than destruction. This remarkably un-nuanced view erases the decades of atrocities committed against the people of the Middle East by the “civilized” nations Harper celebrates, including a decade of murderous sanctions (which Canada supported) which killed up to half a million Iraqi children, and an illegal invasion based on manufactured evidence which resulted in the deaths of millions. In other words, perhaps they don’t hate us for our freedom – perhaps they hate us for the policies we’ve supported which have killed their parents, siblings, and friends.

[3] Implicit here is that unnamed others do hesitate to called violent jihadism by name, and others do hesitate to condemn it. Harper will leave it to you to figure out who these spineless wussies are. Contrast this with the stupid controversy over whether or not Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people merits the use of the term “cultural genocide” – it seems the Harper government is practically the only group who hesitates to call a spade a spade in that context.

That’s why we’ve joined our allies in a broad international coalition to battle the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, and its allies.

We’ve done this, we’ve done so because this threat respects no borders.

Jihadi terrorists have threatened Canada and Canadians by name and with a clarity that leaves no room for doubt. [4]

Indeed, the director of our Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS, made the point bluntly in a report tabled in Parliament just last month.

The report said, and I quote, “There are violent people and violent groups that want to kill Canadians.”[5]

To our sorrow two such attacks have already succeeded, one soldier ambushed and run down with a car, another assassinated in the heart of our national capital.[6]

[4] OK – that may be true. Both ISIS and al-Shabaab have explicitly called for terror attacks against Canadian targets. (The reason for this seems to be our military intervention in Iraq and (illegally) in Syria.) But there is no reason to believe either of these groups have the operational capacity to carry out attacks on Canada – indeed, in both cases, they called on people within Canada to independently plan and carry out these attacks. To characterize that as “jihadi terrorists threatening Canada” seems a bit of a stretch.

[5] Uh-huh. And? Is that a surprise? What country in the world which has militarily intervened in the affairs of other nations (as we’ve done in recent years in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and Syria) is immune from resentment and hostility? This is a natural and totally expectable consequence of our foreign policy.

[6] To characterize these two murders as terrorist attacks is a political decision, pure and simple. Information about the mental instability of both assailants is widely available; as well, the Ottawa gunman was a drug addict and homeless. Neither man had operational ties with any foreign terrorist organizations.

Also, consider this threat in relative terms: almost 1200 indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing since 1984. By contrast, only 336 Canadians have died in “terrorist attacks” since 1968 – and that includes Canadians killed internationally (for instance, in the 9/11 attacks). The number of Canadians killed here in Canada by “terrorists” is minuscule compared to the number of Canadian indigenous women killed by Canadians here in Canada. Yet Harper doesn’t consider the #MMIW issue to be a systemic issue worth the government’s attention.

Other attacks have not succeeded.

Plots here in southern Ontario, like the Toronto 18 and the planned assault on a VIA Rail train. [7]

It is thankfully because of the vigilance of our security agencies that plots like these did not succeed.[8]

The men and women of CSIS, of the RCMP and of local law enforcement agencies across this country stand between the peace and order we treasure and the fear and anarchy our enemies would unleash. [9]

Some of them are here with us today and let’s show all of these people our thanks for the great work they do.

[7] A major defence in the Toronto 18 trial was that CSIS entrapped the defendants, which paid an informant $4 million to infiltrate the alleged terror cell. As for the VIA Rail plot, a major figure in the plot alleges that he was also entrapped. In both cases, CSIS was involved from the early stages of planning. Not exactly slam dunks, in other words.

(Notably, Harper didn’t cite the case of Nuttall and Korody, the two former heroin addicts recently convicted of attempting to blow up the Victoria Legislature with the assistance of 240 Mounties – perhaps because the pair are currently arguing before the court that they, too, were entrapped.)

[8] A recent report on the RCMP’s attack to the Ottawa shooting last fall reads like an episode of the Keystone Kops, with multiple missed opportunities to apprehend the gunman. For Harper to come out just two days later and say this takes some kinda cajones.

[9] Not the freedom we treasure – the order we treasure. Also, cop-glorifying at its best – only a thin blue line separates us from total chaos, so don’t second-guess our Glorious Security Agencies!

But friends, thanks are just words.

No matter how heartfelt or sincere, to have any real meaning they must be backed by decisive action. [10]

I’m very proud of the measures our Government has already taken and I’ll talk more about those in a moment.

But first, let me just say this: We recognize that the job of protecting Canadians and preserving the values we hold dear is a task that never ends. [11]

So, I’m pleased to announce today that our Government is taking further action in three significant areas.

First, I’m pleased to announce that we are committing substantial new resources to the work of CSIS.

These new resources will be applied directly to counter-terrorism measures.[12]

They will increase by a significant factor the agency’s frontline capacity to combat the growing threat of jihadi terrorism.

CSIS will expand its ability to intercept terrorists planning acts of murder and terror on Canadian soil and to stop would-be jihadists attempting to travel abroad.[13]

[10] Thanks are just words – and so, apparently, is an apology. As many commentators have observed, Harper seems entirely unwilling to live up to the promise of his official apology for the residential school system by committing to substantive action (or even any of the 94 recommendations recently issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) to address the injustices perpetrated by the Government of Canada.

[11] Which makes it a self-licking ice cream cone – and gives agencies all kinds of incentives to keep hyping the threat, no matter how threatening it actually is!

[12] Which are what, exactly? Other than being the opposite of terrorism, and so therefore the opposite of evil, and so therefore good.

[13] This presumably goes hand in hand with the government’s new powers, outlined in their omnibus budget bill, to revoke the passports of suspected terrorists via secret trials. And the government’s newly-legislated ability to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens who are found guilty of treason or terror-related offences. Both of which, coincidentally, have been condemned by legal experts as likely unconstitutional.

Second, our Government also recognizes that the terrorist arsenal includes more than guns, knives and bombs.

To radicalize and equip collaborators here at home or to finance malevolent actors in other parts of the world, terrorists need cash. [14]

Sadly, our enemies have learned how to profit from Canadians’ kindness and generosity.

They abuse the trust we place in organizations we expect to do good.

For example, in 2011, after an extensive investigation, the Canada Revenue Agency revoked charitable status from a group called IRFAN Canada and last year our Government listed it as a terrorist entity.

The group was found to have been transferring resources, almost 15 million dollars’ worth, to organizations associated with Hamas. [15]

And this is not the first time we’ve had to take such action. [16]

Obviously our Government will not stand by while the money of honest, hardworking Canadians is used to pay for terrorist activities.

So therefore, I’m pleased to announce that the Canada Revenue Agency will also increase resources, the resources used to identify and to shut down charities that finance terrorist activities.[17]

[14] Just wanna throw this out there – have you noticed how many times Harper’s mentioned ISIS by name in this speech? Once so far. Exactly once. The organization we’re at war involved in non-combat operations with, the supposed major threat to our safety, is mentioned once, early on; he’ll mention them again once more much later. “Terrorists”, or “terror”, on the other hand, come up thirteen times.

In other words, the threat is vague – but terrifying.

[15] IRFAN-Canada deserves its own post, and I wish I’d been blogging at the time, because I would’ve written one. But in short, this allegation is just that – an allegation. It’s being challenged in court. IRFAN provides humanitarian relief in Gaza, which is desperately in need of it due to the illegal Israeli blockade of the territory. Hamas, love ’em or hate ’em, are the legally elected government of Gaza. And IRFAN’s money wasn’t going directly to Hamas, but rather to “organizations associated with Hamas.” And you can bet yer bottom dollar that if any of those “organizations” were on Canada’s official list of terrorist groups, Harper would’ve said so.

Here’s a six-minute clip of IRFAN-Canada’s lawyer Yavar Hameed and CBC’s slimily-slick Evan Solomon – Hameed’s attempts at nuanced discussion get shouted down a few times, but he presents a pretty good summary of the situation. As he notes, the government has been strikingly short on details about direct links between the charity and Hamas.

[16] Nor is it the first time in this speech that Harper has cherry-picked details from a case of dubious certainty to overhype the terror threat.

[17] It’s getting harder to pretend that the CRA is being neutral in its auditing investigations – the list of environmental charities facing audits or revocation of their charitable status is extensive, and anti-poverty organizations have come under attack as well. The government’s assault on IRFAN-Canada is of a piece with its uniformly pro-Israel policy, and organizations which support the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions campaign against Israel have to be concerned about this new funding for the CRA, coming as it does in the aftermath of veiled threats from the Department of Public Safety to pursue BDS advocates under hate speech laws.

Third, our Government will not accept abuse of our borders and immigration system.

Abuse that would subvert our national interests, undermine our values or attack our communities, our families and our friends.[18]

It’s true that for a prosperous, pluralistic country like Canada, one of the great trading nations of the world, borders cannot be barriers.[19]

Still, they must be filters, effective filters.

They must allow the free movement of honest people and the vital goods and services that improve our lives, drive our economy and create jobs and opportunity.

But prosperity without security is a fantasy and no country can sustain its prosperity without the relentless defence of its borders.[20]

[18] I have friends who are in this country without documentation – in Harper’s terms, people who have “abused our borders and immigration system”. People who are here peacefully, with the best of intentions. And here Harper is associating them with terrorists.

[19] “Borders can’t be barriers to trade” is what he means. Borders can be barriers to, for instance, our Mexican partners in NAFTA, as when Harper introduced onerous visa requirements a few years back which made the Mexican ambassador, quote, “really mad”.

[20] I have so many problems with this sentence I don’t even know where to begin.


Security is a fantasy. We will never be totally, completely secure. The pursuit of total security is a self-defeating process.

Also. What about the prosperity Canada enjoyed for decades with the longest undefended border in the world – our increasingly militarized and surveilled American frontier? For the longest time you didn’t even need a passport to get across – and nothing bad ever came of that. Only closer relations with our neighbours.

This is, in other words, pure fear-mongering bullshit.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce today significant funding to enhance the security of Canada’s borders by expanding our use of biometric screening.

This funding will increase our ability to verify the identity of all foreign travellers entering Canada on a visa.

We’ll make sure people are who they say they are, make sure the person who arrives in Canada is the same person who applied for the visa overseas, because you can fake your name, you can fake your documents, but you cannot fake your fingerprints.[21]

[21] This has got privacy experts alarmed – especially since they weren’t consulted on this proposal at all. The Canadian Bar Association has likewise registered its disapproval, and was likewise not consulted. The sharing of this biometric information among agencies is a major concern.

So ladies and gentlemen, today we are increasing our capacity to detect terrorists and terrorist plots, to choke-off the financing that supports them, and to secure our borders against known and suspected terrorists who wish to enter.

That is three more elements in our Government’s broad strategy to combat terrorism both here at home and around the world.

Now ladies and gentlemen, in closing let me just review some of the things we have already done and to remind you, when I talk about the mission against ISIS, the things I’m announcing today and all of these actions, we remain the only party in Parliament committed to these things.[22]

[22] And welcome, ladies and gentlemen (what a carnie thing to say), to the major theme of the Conservative’s 2015 campaign – how incompetent every other party is when it comes to the terrorist menace! (But seriously, though – get ready to hear this over and over for the next several months.)

First, our Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 ensures that our law enforcement and security agencies will have the modern tools…legal tools they need to fight these ever-evolving threats.[23]

And frankly ladies and gentlemen, I’m very pleased to say that very soon Bill C-51 is going to be the law of this land.[24]

We’ve introduced legislation to speed up the removal of foreign criminals from our streets, and taken steps to make it more difficult for them to get here in the first place.[25]

We’ve expanded the capacity of the RCMP’s counter-terrorism efforts and the ability of CBSA, our border agents, to target high-risk travellers.[26]

We’ve introduced legislation that makes it easier to refuse or even revoke passports and citizenship.[27]

We’ve made it a crime to leave or attempt to leave Canada for terrorist purposes.[28]

Bam bam bam bam bam! A whole lot to cover in this section, so just briefly:

[23] C-51 is a train wreck that pretty much every expert has condemned. See here and here and here and here.

[24] It’s also very much not a done deal. Senate approval has been slippery, with a final vote being delayed twice so far. If you can (and you can), please take the time to contact your province’s Senators and register your ferocious disapproval.

[25] You can read about the bill here, along with seeing a photo of “Public Safety” Minister Steven Blaney borrowing Harper’s podium. With the bill being introduced so close to Parliament rising for the election, its chances of being passed are slim; more likely, it’s red meat for the base in the coming campaign.

[26] I touched on this above, but it’s noteworthy how Harper keeps going from celebrating these agencies’ “successes” to insisting that they need more funding to combat the “threat”. Each so-called success would seem to indicate that the status quo is achieving Harper’s goals already – why the overkill? (To keep the hype machine running!)

[27] Legislation that legal experts say will likely be found unconstitutional eventually – but not before it serves its political purposes.

[28] Just what exactly is a “terrorist purpose”? I’m reminded of the recent case in the UK where a man was charged with “possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist”. (The charges were dropped after it was found that British intelligence agencies were supporting the very same “jihadist” groups that the man was accused of attempting to join.)

We’re taking steps to electronically pre-screen most travellers who are exempt from visa requirements.

We’ve expanded our ability to identify travellers who have overstayed an authorized visit to Canada.

And we’ve streamlined our refugee determination system to provide faster service to real refugees and a faster exit for bogus ones.[29]

Ladies and gentlemen, Canada did not invent jihadist terrorism and Canadians did nothing to bring its malice upon our country.

But we cannot ignore it. [30]

[29] What’s with the equating of migrants and terrorists in this section? The bashing of refugees and undocumented immigrants will appeal to hardcore conservatives, no doubt, but this just seems like gratuitous racism at this point.

[30] Again, there’s a reason that militant organizations in the Middle East are angry with Canada. You can disagree with it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That reason is our involvement in and support for violent military interventions in multiple Muslim nations in the recent past, interventions which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. That’s why Mexico, for instance, isn’t being threatened by self-proclaimed jihadis, despite its democratic government.

Instead, our Government has chosen to tackle it with vigilance and real action like the measures I’m announcing today.

As I said earlier, gratitude without action is just a word.

I could say the same of the values I spoke of earlier, freedom, democracy, tolerance and openness.

Without action they’re just mere words. [31]

There’s a lot of talk about the terrorist threat. [32]

Our Conservative Government chooses to do something about it.

And to the men and women who are called upon to stand up for Canada in the struggle between civilization and savagery, both in the deserts of the Middle East and in our communities here at home,[33] I say you have our full support and I thank all of them again for their service.

Thank you very much.

[31] I couldn’t agree more.

[32] Most of it coming from the HarperCons

[33] HOLY MOLEY. He waited right for the end to bring out the totally racially loaded words. Savagery? Really? That’s a heavy word, Steve. The deserts of the Middle East are presumably the source of the savagery. Also, presumably, it is a place devoid of communities, contrasted as it is with “here at home”. Man there’s so many loaded buzzwords in that conclusion that my head is spinning. Which, presumably, was the intention.


The gist of the speech, in other words, is vague intimidation, coupled with reference after reference to overblown overhyped “threats”, many of which were created by the security agencies now tasked with solving them.

This speech is a terrifying preview of the election campaign to come. Insinuations of looming horrors and not-so-subtle race-baiting mixed with allegations of Opposition apathy, the trumpeting of dubious accomplishment and the promises of more and more restrictions on our freedoms so we can preserve our Way of Life – this is gonna be a miserable campaign, folks.

Get ready to get scared.

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