Canada’s dilemma

The recent hostage-taking situation in Algeria hit a little closer to home when it was revealed that two hostage takers were Canadian. Canadian? How could Canadians be involved in this? Mind you, as I write this, the Algerian government has been less than forthcoming with information and the Canadian government is trying to find out more. And frankly, I think the situation was handled terribly by the Algerian government. So, who knows what the truth may end up being.

Regardless, it would appear that Canada is far from immune to having dangerous people operating from within it, although that probably isn’t a big secret anyway. But to put it in perspective, in our multicultural society, some people with various connections to criminal activity will be able to slip into Canada. Mafia and gangs based in homelands around the world have managed to move into our country. So, the idea that militants such as those involved in the Algerian hostage taking could come from here shouldn’t be a surprise – but it also doesn’t mean that any one group within Canada that may have criminal elements within it are worse than another. This should not be seen as a tainted view of Canadian multiculturalism, but of an international problem that affects every country: people who aren’t loyal to a country, but are loyal only to their ideology and use anywhere they can as their base.

What this situation highlights is how difficult the struggle against international “terror” groups (for lack of a better description) is. The hostage takers were from a wide variety of countries who came together to take part in an operation. This is an “army” that knows no borders and has operatives everywhere. Furthermore, the fact that this taking of hostages in Algeria occurred as a response to French military involvement in Mali shows yet another problem. While the militants know no borders, conventional armies do. How exactly can we protect ourselves or take action as a result? If one side fights a conventional war but the other side doesn’t, it poses problems.

Now, Canada has been lucky. We have seen no attacks from these kinds of groups here since 9/11. Domestic terrorism has proven to be a larger threat statistically. One is more likely to get killed by a dog than by an al-Qaeda militant within Canada. But how long can this last? The French faced blowback for their involvement in Mali with this hostage crisis in Algeria, which ensnared many nationalities (partly because the west is seen as one evil lump by some). Canada has taken a small role in assisting Mali and is hinting at more, with the possibility of additional involvement that has yet to be revealed to us. Will that put us at greater risk of a large-scale, dramatic attack? The list of risk factors also includes Canada’s hard-line pro-Israel position under the current Canadian government. And there is still plenty of anger out there about the fact that Canada took part in the Afghanistan war. How much longer will we be able to dodge the bullet, both literally and figuratively? How at risk are Canadian assets abroad? How at risk is Canada itself?

This article is not meant to stoke fear, but it is a reminder that we are not immune to what is happening globally, and the risk for backlash may be growing. So, what can we do? I fear that the answer is nothing. If we look at how the U.S. has dealt with the terrorist situation post-9/11, we see that almost every move made is met with intense criticism over human rights violations: indefinite detentions, the way people are screened at airports, the wars the U.S. has entered, drone strikes, torture, and Guantanamo Bay. Many moves have been dogged by criticism, sometimes for good reason. In Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is still facing backlash from the Maher Arar case, and the determination to prevent his ordeal from happening again is pretty strong.

For the sake of justice, fairness, equality, and human rights, we must follow rules. Unfortunately, the “enemy,” as it were, does not follow rules, knows no boundaries, and doesn’t seem to mind being ruthless. We are left with conventional means to fight an unconventional war. What will that mean for our future? Where is this fight against an international force driven by an extreme ideology going to take us? How will we stay safe?