By Pauline Kerr
Our view of terrorism has been changing over the past few years.
There was a time not so long ago when we all knew what a terrorist looked and sounded like – a wild-eyed guy with a lot of facial hair, spewing violent threats against us in some foreign language.
We may have known in our minds that a terrorist is any person who uses violence and fear to intimidate the public to achieve political, religious or ideological goals (as per the Criminal Code of Canada). But we still saw in our mind’s eye a foreign perpetrator.
Over the years we have become less sure. We look at certain crimes in Canada and wonder why they were not considered acts of terrorism. One example is the horrific killings at the mosque in Quebec City. This was a classic “us against them” act of hate. Except the innocent victims – by all accounts, admirable people – were the ones speaking a foreign language, while the killer was more like us as far as language was concerned. It was the victims who demonstrated the values of true Canadians.
The young man who used a van to mow down pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 and injuring 16, was committing another act of terror, this time targeting women. It is safe to say the vast majority of Canadian men identified with the victims and not the killer in terms of shared values. Again, this was an “us against them” situation with a twist.
And what about street gangs who terrorize certain neighbourhoods and towns? Their goal is to intimidate and control everyone in their territory, to maintain their monopoly on the proceeds of crime by keeping out rival gangs and frightening residents into not reporting criminal activity to police.
In another era, gang leaders might have been called warlords. In the future, we may very well call them terrorists because of their non-state-sanctioned violence to further their own, illegal goals.
We have gradually shifted our view of what a terrorist is, looking away from the killer’s race and religion, and focusing on actions. What constitutes a terrorist act has everything to do with violence and hate. The language spoken by the terrorist and the flag he carries are irrelevant.
Earlier this month, Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister, announced the federal government was designating 13 groups as terrorist entities. Among the 13 was the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist organization founded by a Canadian with chapters in this country, although it is most active south of the 49th.
Most of us had never heard of the Proud Boys prior to the Jan. 6 armed insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. The Proud Boys were among the groups who joined forces and stormed the building in an attempt to subvert a democratic change of government.
Five people died while the insurrectionists rampaged through the halls, destroying property and mocking everything the building represented. There is little doubt that had they spotted Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s estranged vice president, or Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the criminal activities would have gone a lot further than they did. The lives of these leaders, and others, were in danger.
Canadians were horrified by what they saw, especially when they learned about the Proud Boys’ Canadian connection.
Watching the mostly white, male and by their definition, proudly patriotic gang of marauders commit acts of violence that day served to confirm what most of us already knew – terrorism is about the tools – violence and intimidation – not the colour or beliefs of the people using them. One can wave an American flag – and many of the Proud Boys did – and still be guilty of attacking America.
What the 13 organizations have in common is hate. They are racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, white supremacist and worse.
In declaring them terrorist organizations, our government was clearly stating Canada will tolerate none of that.
A line has been drawn between our inclusive, open-minded society and what these groups stand for. Bravo!