Tag Archives: War on Terror

B.C. terror trial suspended indefinitely after CSIS refuses to discuss their involvement in plot

Image description: A beaming John Nuttall, with shoulder-length hair and unkempt beard, sits in the passenger seat of a car. Directly behind him is Amanda Korody, wearing a black headscarf; Korody is grinning and has a cigarette in her mouth. (Image credit: RCMP surveillance photo)

The trial of Canada Day bombers John Nuttall and Amanda Korody has been indefinitely suspended after CSIS once again refused to turn over documents relating to their involvement in the plot.

Specific details on the reasons for the delay seem to be subject to a publication ban, as much of the past several weeks of the trial have been. But what is clear is that Canada’s spy agency is committed to doing everything in its power to keep its role in the affair under wraps. After weeks of efforts by the defence and the judge to compel CSIS to disclose any documentation they may have relating to an alleged human source of theirs, whom Nuttall says radicalized him and repeatedly urged him to commit violence in the name of Islam, the spy agency continues to stonewall. Continue Reading

CSIS urges judge in B.C. terror case to let them present their evidence secretly

Image description: John Nuttall, a bearded white man with stringy brown neck-length hair, is in the passenger seat of a car, looking towards the driver (not pictured). Nuttall alleges that he was radicalized and pushed into violent jihad by a CSIS operative. (Image credit: RCMP/Project Souvenir)

Image description: John Nuttall, a bearded white man with stringy brown neck-length hair, is in the passenger seat of a car, looking towards the driver (who is not pictured). Nuttall alleges that he was radicalized and pushed into violent jihad by a CSIS operative. (Image credit: RCMP/Project Souvenir)

CSIS was back in court again last week fighting to keep the details of its involvement in a B.C. terror case under wraps, saying that a public examination of its behaviour would threaten national security and put lives at risk.

This is the second time this month that CSIS has requested an extraordinary closed-door session of the trial, with the media and public shut out. And this time, they went one step further:

[A] lawyer representing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service argued some of the information is sensitive enough to national security that part of the closed-door proceedings must also exclude both defence and Crown lawyers, with only intelligence agency lawyers and the judge present.

“Submissions would have to be provided on that basis or not at all,” Donaree Nygard told the judge in Vancouver.

“The circle of privilege must be maintained. … My client is willing to open up the privilege to your ladyship, but no further.”

This extremely unusual demand comes at a critical juncture of the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, who were found guilty last June of terrorist offences in relation to their plot to plant pressure cooker bombs on the grounds of the B.C. legislative building on July 1, 2013. Continue Reading

Liberals elaborate on their plans for C-51, and they’re not encouraging at all

Image: A hand holds a cardboard sign reading “C-51 IS TERRORISM – REJECT FEAR”

The shape of Liberal reform of C-51 is becoming increasingly clear, and as I predicted, it doesn’t meaningfully address the most important issues with the law. There are, however, the slightest glimmers of hope for anti-C-51 advocates – which I’ll get to after the doom and gloom, so as to leave you with at least a bit of optimism.

But first, the bad news.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, in his interview last week with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton (who, by the way, is to be congratulated for her appointment as permanent host of CBC’s Power and Politics after doing a fantastic job during last year’s election), gave some indication of what the Liberal approach to C-51 will be:

Goodale is travelling to London next week for meetings on counter-terrorism, violent extremism and cybersecurity. He will also be gathering information about United Kingdom’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament as he prepares to adopt a similar model for Canadian parliamentarians…

The Security Intelligence Review Committee, a civilian oversight body, will remain with an enhanced mandate.

Goodale said the government is committed to repealing key elements of the anti-terrorism legislation known as Bill C-51, including protecting civil protests and better defining “propaganda” and the expanded no-fly list. [my bold]

So, to recap: a parliamentary committee to oversee surveillance agencies, a beefing-up of SIRC, the protection of “civil” protests, and better definitions and parameters for “propaganda” and the no-fly list. Goodale also made clear that the Liberals would make good on a specific pledge to ensure that the law-breaking “disruption” that security agencies are allowed to engage in under C-51 would not include actions which violate people’s Charter rights.

That’s broadly in line with what I was predicting months ago, especially the tightly limited action on police/surveillance agency “disruption”, better known as legalized law-breaking.

But as more details emerge about the new oversight committee which is the centrepiece of the Liberals’s “reformist” agenda on C-51, I’m getting increasingly dour about the whole thing.  Continue Reading

What was CSIS’s role in radicalizing two B.C. bombers? We’ll soon find out

Image: an undated low-resolution surveillance photo of John Nuttall in the passenger seat of a car, with his common-law wife Amanda Korody in the back seat behind him. (Image credit: RCMP)

B.C. Superior Court Justice Catherine Bruce’s release of a heavily redacted transcript of last week’s secret in camera session in the ongoing trial of convicted terrorists John Nuttall and Amanda Korody didn’t shed a lot of light on what went on behind those closed doors. But it did clarify a few points which have up until now been obscure.

And with Bruce’s subsequent decision that CSIS be compelled to turn over any records they have relating to an alleged source of theirs means that we may soon know quite a bit more.

The transcript’s release came after a legal challenge was mounted by a coalition of media organizations, which I wrote about last week. (You can view the transcript online; here is the opening portion of the hearing, and here is the (much lengthier and much more heavily redacted) in-camera portion.)

We now know that the extraordinary in camera hearing, extremely unusual in the Canadian judicial system, focussed on requests from the defence for the disclosure of any records CSIS may have related to a certain [Redacted] X. Continue Reading

CSIS’s desperate plea for secrecy in B.C. terror case reveals more than it conceals

Image description: a courtroom sketch of Amanda Korody wearing a green shawl and a short-haired and clean-shaven John Nuttall wearing a blue suit, sitting in what appears to be a bulletproof-glass enclosure in a vaguely rendered courtroom.

The months-long mainstream media silence on the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody ended explosively yesterday with revelations of a secret CSIS-requested closed-door in camera hearing this past Monday.

As a team of media organizations fights in court for the release of a transcript from the hearing, questions are being raised yet again about just what exactly CSIS’s involvement in this convoluted plot was, and about what the surveillance agency wants to conceal from the public. Continue Reading

Looking on the bright side – Liberals move to abolish two-tier citizenship

It pains me to admit this, but today I was pleased with Justin Trudeau.

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’m not a big fan of our Boy Wonder Prime Minister, with his signature Sunny Ways™ “change of tone” and his short-on-specifics promises of Real Change™.

I’ve castigated this new government over its lukewarm attitude towards privacy rights in its efforts to “fix” Bill C-51, the Prime Minister’s incoherent and misguided approach to the fight with ISIS, the Liberal Party’s wishy-washy, unexplained, and unjustified support for the corporate-sellout sovereignty-killing TPP, the half-assed reforms of the National Energy Board which leave major Indigenous concerns unaddressed and make the approval of environmentally destructive pipelines extremely likely, and Trudeau’s unwillingness to back down from a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming concerns about the human rights implications of helping to arm such a notoriously repressive regime, among other issues.

A few days following his election, I said that “in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper”, and much to my disappointment, I haven’t really changed my opinion on that score. Though their motivations and their personalities are worlds apart, the two Prime Ministers are ideologically united on far more important issues than most people realize

But it’s tough being all gloomy and doomy all the time. It’s nice to look on the bright side every now and then. And every once in a while, Trudeau gives me a reason to smile.

Now, usually it’s just a matter of him not being as big of a raging flaming asshole as Stephen Harper was, and so really he’s only looking good by comparison. But after a long decade under that terrifying psychopath, it’s actually pretty satisfying when the government doesn’t take the path of maximum assholery.

Cause for celebration? No, not really. But I’m doing my best to look on the bright side today, so bear with me. Continue Reading

Remember #StopC51? Anybody?

Image: a protester holds a sign with a thumbs-down symbol over the words C-51 at a large rally. (Image credit: openmedia.org)

It was the major rallying cry of activist groups across Canada this spring. Tens of thousands took to the streets in big cities and small towns in opposition to its passage. Editorial boards slammed its heavy-handed creeping totalitarianism, even at more conservative publications like the Globe and Mail:

On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may” – not “will” – occur.

It became one of the most fiercely debated and protested government bills in recent years, and its passage was fought tooth and nail.

It’s easy to forget now, but when C-51 was first proposed, it was wildly popular. Something like 80% of Canadians were in favour of its passage, with many saying that the bill didn’t go far enough in tackling terrorism.

It was only after a fantastically organized grassroots campaign of public education against the bill and high-profile criticisms of its contents, including condemnations from the Canadian Bar Association and four former Prime Ministers, that public opinion started to turn around. And, it’s worth noting, it was only when a majority of Canadians opposed the bill that Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair finally clarified that he favoured its repeal. As late as mid-May, the NDP’s opposition mainly focussed on the lack of Parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, and while Mulcair had indicated he would vote against the bill, some comments he had made on the issue seemed to imply that he favoured reforming it if his party won the election in October.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s inherently mockable wishy-washy position, that he was against portions of the bill but would be voting for it nonetheless, seemed to fail to capture the urgency of the issue. For many, it was nuance for the sake of nuance, when what was called for was a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the dangers of the law. Andrew Mitrovica at iPolitics was unreserving in his scorn: Continue Reading

Prime Minister Trudeau’s absolutely incoherent statement on Canada’s fight with ISIS

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a town-hall-style interview organized by Maclean’s Magazine. It was the first extensive, wide-ranging interview Trudeau has given since the election campaign ended, and as such was an opportunity for the media and the public to press him on the specifics of his government’s many ongoing projects and proposals.

Details haven’t been Trudeau’s strong suit, either on the campaign trail or since he took power. This is obviously more true of some subjects than others, but on a wide range of issues, from the “fixing” of C-51 to the timing and specifics of marijuana legalization to the government’s thoughts on and plans for electoral reform, what the public has been told so far essentially adds up to “Just wait and see”.

And on no topic has this vagueness been more pervasive than the issue of Canada’s fight with ISIS.

Trudeau and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, insist that the Liberals’ campaign promise to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the conflict still stands, but two months after election day, those same fighter jets are still dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria, and no date has been provided for their mission’s conclusion. Meanwhile, aside from vague statements from the Prime Minister that Canada would bolster its contingent of military trainers, we haven’t heard any concrete details about what the shape of Canada’s military mission will be, what its objective are, how long it will last, where it will operate, or how it hopes to accomplish its goals.

Nor have we heard from Trudeau, during the election or afterwards, a coherent statement as to why he feels that Canada ought to end its bombing mission while strengthening its training mission. No doubt there is a case to be made for this particular course of action, but it’s not a case that Justin Trudeau or his ministers have ever made publicly.

So it was only a matter of time before the subject came up during Trudeau’s town hall. Up to that point, I thought that Trudeau had done a fine job of answering questions in detail – which isn’t to say that I agreed with his positions, merely that he was getting into the nitty-gritty of policy in a way I hadn’t seen him do during the campaign or since he took power. But as soon as the subject pivoted away from domestic policy into foreign affairs, he suddenly seemed like a first-year poli-sci student who skipped the readings and is trying to bullshit his way through a question from the prof that he doesn’t have a damn clue how to answer properly.

I’ve quoted the entire exchange in full here, although Maclean’s edited the plethora of “uh”s and “um”s out of Trudeau’s statements; if you’d like to watch the exchange, it begins at roughly 19:00 here. Continue Reading

Don’t act so smug about Trump, Canada – Islamophobia is a serious problem here too

Image: Zunera Ishaq wearing a colorful patterned niqab. Ishaq’s battle to wear her niqab while she took her oath of citizenship became a central focus in the recent election, just one example of widespread anti-Muslim racism in Canadian politics. (Image credit: CP/Patrick Doyle)

Yesterday, as the first few hundred Syrian refugees since the election began to arrive in Canada, the Toronto Star printed a front-page editorial saying, in English and Arabic, “Welcome to Canada,” telling refugees that they’re “with family now.”

The short piece, which leaned heavily on well-worn and outdated Canadian stereotypes (and a totally gratuitous plug for Tim Hortons), played up the notion that Canadians are, as a group, a welcoming and tolerant people.

There was an almost self-congratulatory tone to the whole thing – an entirely implicit one, of course. But in a week which featured a call from a leading candidate for the American presidency to ban all Muslims from entry into the “land of the free”, the very act of publicly welcoming Syrian refugees takes on a secondary dimension of subtly proclaiming that we are a much more open and accepting nation.

As for Trump himself, his anti-Muslim remarks this week set off a flurry of condemnation from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called for banning Trump and others who “spout hatred” from entering Canada, and Toronto and Vancouver city councillors are working on proposals to remove Trump’s name from high-profile skyscrapers in the two cities. Toronto councillor Josh Matlow went so far as to call Trump a “fascist” on Twitter.

And for many, the contrast between Canada and the United States was crystal clear: Continue Reading

Canada’s stance on the Islamic State literally doesn’t make any sense

When he announced his intention to follow through on his campaign pledge and withdraw Canada’s combat planes from the bombing mission in Iraq and Syria, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was determined to make clear that the Canadian government was still very serious about the fight against ISIS.

Trudeau pledged that Canada would do “more than its part”, that it would continue to have a “meaningful” role in the mission, and that the number of Canadian military trainers working with the peshmerga in Iraq would be substantially increased. The drawdown of Canada’s CF-18s wasn’t a marker of Canada’s disenchantment with the mission, Trudeau insisted; on the contrary, it would allow us to be more effective partners in the coalition fighting the Islamic State.

The Canadian government’s position on ISIS, then, remains essentially the same as it was under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper pledged to use the Canadian Forces to “degrade the capabilities of ISIL, that is, to degrade its ability to engage in military movements of scale, to operate bases in the open, to expand its presence in the region, and to propagate attacks outside the region.” His use the word “degrade” was no doubt a deliberate echo of Barack Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

Trudeau doesn’t use such blunt and violent language, to be sure, but his firm commitment to continue the mission Harper embarked upon as effectively as he thinks is possible speaks volumes; he thinks this is a fight worth fighting, and if we take him at his word, he only differs with Harper and the Conservatives on how best to go about conducting that fight. And on that topic a feverish debate is raging, with some, including retired general Rick Hillier, wanting to see Canada to much more to combat ISIS, including sending Special Forces troops into Iraq and Syria.

This debate makes mountains out of minor differences. The continued presence of Canadian fighter jets – which participated in a mere 3% of the coalition’s strikes against ISIS – wouldn’t amount to much one way or the other, notwithstanding the Conservative Party’s feverish objections. The simple truth is that Canada has been and will remain a bit player in this coalition, and any adjustment of our approach will have a negligible impact on the ground.

And yet this petty dispute dominates the political conversation about Canada’s mission in Iraq and Syria, entirely drowning out more fundamental absurdities with our government’s position. Continue Reading

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