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Jason Kenney, the Canadian Arab Federation, and Foreign Terrorist Groups

March 22, 2009

My colleague GreenJenny has recently been using this blog to spank Immigration Minister Jason Kenney over his recent decisions to (1) deny the “infandous” British MP George Galloway entry to Canada, (2) cut funding (at least partially) to the Canadian Arab Federation because of its supposed “anti-Semitism” and support for terrorism, and (3) insist that new immigrants demonstrate competence in either French or English. In my opinion the last point is basically justifiable, but the first two are much more dubious. They also highlight one of the more interesting foreign policy issues that’s come to the fore in recent years, the question of how Canada should treat groups and individuals that support terrorist organisations in other countries.

As things stand, the recently created Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness maintains a list of some 40 organisations that are proscribed because of their involvement in terrorism. Just over half of the list comprises wild-eyed Islamist groups operating from Algeria to the Philippines, while the remainder are a very mixed bag including Colombian paramilitaries, secular Arab groups, the Tamil Tigers, a right-wing Israeli group called Kahane Chai that “intimidates and threatens Palestinians and mounts sustained political pressure on the Israeli government” (sounds a bit like the IDF, really), and others. The Basque terrorist group ETA is on the list, but the Real IRA is not.

According to the Ministry’s website, the assets of  any of these groups can be seized. Furthermore:

It is an offence to knowingly participate in or contribute to, directly or indirectly, any activity of a terrorist group. This participation is only an offence if its purpose is to enhance the ability of any terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity.

I think that the basic idea of a list of proscribed organisations is a good one, but surely there’s plenty of room for discussion of exactly which organisations should appear on the list. For one thing, the line between terrorism and plain old guerrilla warfare (leaving aside the distracting term “freedom fighter”) can get very fine. For another, one might argue that the classic moral distinction between terrorism and even conventional warfare – that terrorism deliberately targets civilians, whereas conventional warfare is directed only at military personnel – is little more than a fallacy. The idea that war can be a fastidious business with minimal effects on the civilian population is hardly borne out by the historical record. Ask anyone who resides in Baghdad or the Gaza Strip. Ask anyone who lived through the Blitz or the bombing of Dresden, to say nothing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

For what it’s worth, I would prefer to limit the list to groups that explicitly target Canada or at least its close allies, which is a matter of basic national security. Anything more, in my opinion, is a matter of drawing subjective moral lines in sands that are very treacherous indeed.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2009 5:12 am

    “I think that the basic idea of a list of proscribed organisations is a good one, but surely there’s plenty of room for discussion of exactly which organisations should appear on the list.”

    I think that point is precisely why, maybe, we should not have such a list. Or at least not one drawn in such starkly absolute terms (i.e. no one, ever, can associate with a listed group). The process is too ripe for selective enforcement and abuse. Not to mention the fact that few groups are defined solely by the violence which gets them onto the list in the first place – what happens, for example, when a British MP gives money to a Hamas-controlled authority for reconstruction in Gaza? Does that make him a terrorist (for the group he gave the money to), or a humanitarian (for the cause the money was directed toward)? Or should we even care about the distinction?

    Difficult questions, for which I have no easy answers. Your suggestion that we limit the list only to groups that explicitly target Canada seems like a valid one, if not wholly unproblematic (there’ll still be a contentious dividing line between groups that threaten Canada and groups that don’t).

    Maybe, in the interim, the best solution is to have judicial review of the list. Or some sort of similar oversight process, that would require the government to specify better criteria for inclusion on the list, apply those criteria consistently, and subject inclusion on the list to public scrutiny.

    Doing so would at least require someone to concoct an explanation for why, as you say, the list seems rather selective.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 26, 2009 10:58 am

      I’m always a bit reluctant to advocate handing too much power to judges, but I agree that some kind of oversight process would be a good idea.

      Your point about few groups being defined solely by violence is an excellent one, and a real complicating factor. Having rules that permit the distribution of food and other non-military supplies to “enemy groups”, however expansively we end up defining that term, would certainly be chivalrous. On the other hand, giving out supplies that effectively reduce a group’s grocery bills may allow its resources to be redirected towards more sinister purposes.

      The quote I posted from the Public Safety site actually seems to imply that distributing humanitarian supplies would not be an offence under the current rules, since it would not “enhance the ability of any terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity.” This obviously makes the logic behind banning Galloway even harder to understand.

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