Terrorism, Another Perspective

Written by Harold McNeill on May 8th, 2013. Posted in Editorials

The tragic bombing in Boston demonstrates again how quickly and completely media, government and law enforcement can spin the terrorist card. Along with the deployment of well over a thousand City, State and Federal police, mass transit was shut down, businesses were closed and nearly a million residents of the area told to lock themselves in their homes until the suspects could be captured.  During the depth of the manhunt, the situation was best described by a Boston police officer who stated, “we are operating in the fog of war”.1

Boston: “The Fog of War” (Photo: MetroDCPhotography)

The hunt was on for two inept, ideologically driven brothers, both US citizens suspected of having set off crude bombs that killed three and seriously injured dozens more, created a media frenzy that quickly spead around the world. The difference in these killings from the tens of thousands of killings which occur each year in the United States is that the Boston suspects were Muslim, their weapons of choice were crudely made bombs, and, the event, being defined as an act of terror.

1. The Fog of War

It only took hours before the ‘fog of war’ drifted into Canada when the RCMP, in consultation with the Minister of Public Safety, decided to arrest two men (named as ‘terrorists’) implicated in a plan to derail a VIA rail passenger train. The RCMP reported that during the intense, year-long investigation, they had turned up links between the two men and an Iranian based al Qaeda cell. We are left to assume the terrorists, one a PhD Engineering student studying in Canada, did not have the requisite skills to figure out how to derail a train. More will be written on that subject. The al Qaeda link was given as proof that the organization now has tentacles reaching into Canada.

As these events unfolded, a half dozen Ricin-laced letters (first reported as anthrax-laden) were intercepted after being mailed to President Obama and others. Acting with lightning speed, the FBI identified, arrested and named the perpetrator. When it turned out they had the wrong man, they corrected their error by immediately arresting another. It was an impressive result for the FBI whose pursuit of the Unabomber, a hermit who mailed bombs to universities and airlines around the United States for sixteen years before being caught.  It was among the longest and costliest FBI investigations on record.

Back in Boston, the manhunt took a deadly turn when one police officer was killed and another seriously wounded. With dozens of media and government reports emerging, the actual circumstances surrounding these tragic events has yet to be clarified.

Hours later, the two suspects in the bombing were cornered and in a hail of bullets, the older brother was killed. The younger, still in his teens, although seriously wounded, managed to elude police as he sped away in a stolen car. After the lockdown of Boston ended, the boy was found hiding in a boat parked in the nearby community of Watertown.

Suffering from a serious throat injury, the man was rushed to a hospital and placed in intensive care. Within hours authorities reported having reliable information the two men, had they escaped Boston, intended to plant to bombs in Times Square. The Mayor of New York was immediately notified and he, in turn, hastily called a press conference to reassure citizens of his city, that they were safe from attack.

2. The Fog Drifts into Canada

Back in Canada the Conservatives, responding to the VIA rail arrests, pushed Bill S-7, the long lapsed Anti-Terrorism bill, to the front of the queue and had it passed within hours. Only a few politicians were courageous enough to critize the government for bringing forth the bill in such circumstances. The Minister of Public Safety, although he confirmed he receives regular briefings from the RCMP, denied any collusion between himself and the RCMP on the timing of the arrests and contingent debate of Bill S-7.

In the United States, Homeland Security, never a group to let an opportunity slide by, jumped on the bandwagon by suggesting a new border fee be applied to southbound Canadians. The fee, they stated, would help to offset the tremendously high costs of keeping terrorists out of the United States. Presumably, that would be terrorists heading south to the United States from Canada.  All this has occurred at a time when there has been increasing pressure to remove some of the security restrictions at airports and other locations.

In total, the events left one breathless with anticipation as to what might happen next, and with wonder at how many ways the events could be spun. Even President Obama, at his annual Press Dinner, commended CNN on how effectively they covered “every side of the story with the hope that one might turn out to be correct.”

It seems reasonable to expect that over the coming days and week’s law enforcement agencies, including Homeland Security and CSIS, will uncover dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins, perhaps even a few play school friends who have had regular contact with the suspects and may themselves be terrorists.

3. Terrorism, another Perspective

In the world today it is a given that whenever one or more of the words, Muslim’, terror, jihadist, Islamist or al Qaeda, is linked in a criminal event or series of events, those events will become a terror plot which will be spun out control for weeks on end. On the other hand give a man an automatic weapon with which he is able to kill a school full of children (a not infrequent happening in the United States) and the most powerful lobby group in the world, the National Rifle Association, goes into full attack in “protecting” the right of their members to possess and carry more “weapons of mass destruction” than any terrorist group could ever dream of possessing.

Make no mistake, my commitment to seeing bad guys and girls jailed whenever they commit or threaten to commit a horrendous crime such as that in Boston (or Newtown), is total. Over thirty years of policing, I had the opportunity of directing or participating in investigations in which persons who murdered, raped, abused children, robbed or maimed were sent to jail, some for the rest of their lives.

However, just because I was a policeman did not mean I was less committed to upholding long established rules of law and expecting ‘due process’ as democratic rights, rights which serve to protect citizens from government, police, prosecutorial or judicial malfeasance.

It is my opinion those rights have been seriously eroded over the past decade, much of it being undertaken and perpetuated in the name of defeating terrorism. Again, in my opinion, terrorist crimes are no more and no less serious, than any other crime in which innocent people are murdered or maimed.

Treating terrorists as a special class of criminal provides them with massive media and government attention that would otherwise be absent and, as we well know, for terrorists it is not the event, but the aftermath of the event, that best serves their ideologically driven purpose.

Getting the world media to become fully engaged in the event is essential to promoting their purpose; if they become martyrs in the process – great; if they can cause our society set aside the democratic rights – even better; and, if they can cause officials to close down our transit systems and businesses, then send everyone home in a state of fear – that is an exceptional bonus. In this regard, the bombers in Boston and the conspirators in Toronto succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

4. Assault on Freedom

This all out assault on freedom was born on September 11, 2001, when nineteen determined fanatics from Saudi Arabia, slaughtered nearly 3000 innocents in the World Trade Centre and in related attacks. It was an attack that changed the world. It left the citizens of the United States in a state of shock and their pain was shared by friends around the world as we watched in fascinated disbelief as the twin towers came crashing to the ground.

Within weeks the US embarked on a world-wide “war of terror” that continues to this day, a war that has often spun out of control both at home and abroad. It has been convincingly argued that the ‘war’ has done far more harm than good. Many believe that not many years after our armies leave Iraq and Afghanistan, those countries will slowly slide into sectarian violence that will spawn a new dictatorship, totalitarian or theocratic regime that will oppress the population.  Perhaps democracy will emerge at some point, perhaps not.

All this has transpired even though terrorist acts in the United States and Canada, as in most democratic countries around the world, is extremely rare. Most attacks occur when a person or group is attacking and terrorizing his or her own people as in Ireland, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, India, Chile, Argentina, Central American, Mexico and dozens of other countries. “Terrorists” rarely need to cross boarders to practice their craft.

The history of the United States is filled with such terrorism. In the last century Gangsters (20s and 30s), now known as ‘organized criminals’ or ‘gangs’ such as the Mafia, Hell’s Angels, Crips, etc.; then the KKK and similar groups during long decades of racial strife; in the 70s and following it was the Weathermen, Black Panthers, Militiamen, Christian Extremists, etc., who plied their trade to great effect. These are but a few examples of domestic groups that became deeply involved in the business of terror for political, business and religious reasons.

Their members have raped, robbed, wounded, killed and terrorized hundreds of thousands more citizens in United States than there are Muslims in North America. But now that the definition of terrorism is indelibly linked to that particular group of people and one particular religion and it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To bolster the definition, Democrats and Republicans came together to unanimously pass the Patriot Act, an Act for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. That name says it all. The passing of this Act was accomplished in just under six weeks after the 911. Passage of the act effectively stripped away due process as developed in US criminal and case Law over the past two centuries.

Across the nation, those who spoke against the measures were shamed and shunned into silence. As our own Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, might have stated, had he been in charge of promoting the bill: “If you are not with us, you are with the terrorists.”

By initiating a world wide ‘war on terror’, not only have the words Muslim, terrorist, jihadist, Islamist, al Qaeda and Taliban inextricably and permanently linked as groups working to destroy our freedom, the war has consumed valuable human resources and trillions of dollars, that could have been spent to help make the world a better place.

In the decade following 911, authorities began doing what dictators, totalitarian and theocratic régimes and random terrorist groups have been doing for centuries:

• extraordinary interrogations and forced statements from persons never charged with an offence;
• no right to legal representation;
• trials, if held, are conducted under special rules;
• renditions without concern for extradition;
• indeterminate detention without charge;
• conviction and jail for failing to answer a question;
• torture as an investigative prerogative;
• wiretaps without warrant;
• targeted assassinations and drone killings;
• off-shore prisons that have held hundreds for over a decade without charge.

All this and more became the new reality when a citizen of a democratic country or foreign national came into the cross-hairs of a terrorist investigation. It was upon this foundation the largest security network ever built, Homeland Security, came into being, a network whose budget now consumes trillions of dollars worldwide.  As we now well know, Canada has been implicated by either participating in or turning a blind eye to these unsavory actions.

Although our government outright refused to participate in the 2003 Iraqi War, we were among the ‘coalition of the willing’ in Afghanistan and, in fact, carried much of the load over the past decade. Two years prior, in December 2001, we gave in to US pressure and passed an Anti-Terrorism Bill of our own, one very similar to the Patriot Act. As opposition was stronger in Canada, the bill was given a ‘sunset clause’ which caused it to lapse in December 2007.

After expiration, the highly contentious measure languished on a back shelf until the Conservatives, acting with a majority, dusted it off in June 2012, then, in the heat of the Boston bombing and ‘coincidental’ VIA rail incident, pushed it to the front of the line and had it again passed into law on April 25, 2013. The Minister of Public safety, with his usual dire consequences warnings, stressed that unless Canada acted decisively, we would become a ‘safe-haven’ for terrorists and jihadists.

5. How the War on Terror Affects Everyone 

In the new reality, law abiding citizens, who posed no security risk either before or after 911, were now subjected to security measures that stripped them of all Constitutional and Criminal Law safeguards.

Freedom from capricious ‘search and seizure’, at one time considered to be the bedrock of democracy, became an everyday fact for hundreds of millions of air travelers. This process has since been expanded into other forms of travel and at most major events. Security companies providing the service have been the recipients of billions of dollars in government contracts. This has been done knowing full well a determined, deranged criminal (terrorist if you will) could strike on a moment’s notice as happens on a regular basis across America.

What is even more deplorable, the word ‘terrorist’ is now so firmly attached to a visible minority within western society, it will take decades to expunge the harm. Who among could us say they have not felt a twinge of concern when a person dressed in a certain manner and carrying a backpack, joined the lineup to board an aircraft or other mass transit conveyance?

All this has happened notwithstanding the fact that attacks such as that which occurred in Boston, are extremely rare.

Consider the following:

Over the past 30 years in Canada, there have been ZERO deaths and injuries due to a terrorist attack. Is this because our security services have been particularly adept at thwarting such incidents? No, it’s just that these events are exceedingly rare. The chance of being killed or injured by a terrorist in Canada is about the same as being struck by lightning four or five times over your lifetime.
The most significant act of terror in Canada in the past half-century was the 1986 Air India bombing which 268 Canadians, 27 British and 24 Indians were killed. That vengeful act was committed by a Canadian as a result of perceived injustices halfway around the world. Compare this with the number of deaths due to gunshots between 1987 and present: In Canada, an estimated 24,000 citizens (750 per year) were killed and of that total, about three-quarters of the deaths were self-inflicted.
In the United States, during the same 30 year period, there have been about 1.25 incidents per year identified as an act of terror. Of course, the World Trade Centre and related attacks of 2001, as well as the Oklahoma bombing (carried out by a group known as the America Militia Movement) in 1995 were the most significant. The remainder were single incident events in the order of that carried out in Boston. In most of the smaller incidents identified as terror-related, there were no deaths or injuries.
Of the forty terror-related incidents in the United States, eleven were directly attached to persons of Muslim descent while the remainder were domestic in origin. The perpetrators included Christian anti-abortionists, white supremacists, environmentalists, neo-Nazis, and disgruntled citizens. Four cases remain undefined as to the perpetrator(s). Now, to the real danger.
In the United States, an estimated 800,000 (32,000 per year) were killed and a further 1,875,000 treated in hospital for gunshot wounds. One-third of the killings, 264,000, were targeted. As those committing suicide seldom missed their target, the majority treated for gunshot wounds were either associates of a targeted person or innocent bystanders (as in drive-by shootings). That translated to just over 2,000,000 killed and injured by gunshot over the past 25 years.
Like many people, you may have a hard time accepting so many men, woman and children have been deliberately killed or injured by firearms. The intentional killing and injuring of that many persons in a third world country might very well be considered genocide if the government was either responsible or complicit by having failed to take action to stop the flow of blood.
Over the past 25 years, the United States has done nothing to help reduce death and injury due to gun violence, yet it took only six weeks for that same government to unanimously pass a terrorist bill that effectively stripped basic civil rights from every US citizen.
While the Second Amendment of the US Constitution is used to protect the right of individuals to possess guns, other Constitutional rights were extinguished when anti-terrorist legislation was passed with barely a whimper of dissent.
Unfortunately, Canada followed the lead in the  Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier when a comprehensive terror bill was passed immediately following their arrest.

6. Moving Forward

I find it puzzling that when a family of five is tragically killed in a car accident as happened recently in Surrey, British Columbia, barely a comment is raised about what happened. Killing people in a car accident, as we know, is common. The same when one family member murders the rest of the family, as happened a few years back in Oak Bay (my home department). The case gains a bit of national attention, but not much. These are common events that happen with great regularity across North America.

Now take the extremely rare case of two or three people being killed or even a plan to kill two or three in which the killer or planner is identified as a Muslim. Once so identified the story goes viral at the local, national and international level. The case will be endlessly cited as an example as to why the war on terror must be not only continued but expanded.

What can be done to stem this exorable march that is slowly extinguishing civil rights around the world?  I suppose awareness and healthy skepticism of what is being done in the name of this “war on terror” is a first step. The internet is filled with material that, for the discriminating reader, can help to sort the wheat from the chafe. Mainstream media provides the occasional dissenting article, but for the most part, continues to play only the party line.

When awareness is high, people are less likely to accept simplistic explanations of an event and can work to take governing officials and others to task. The VIA rail arrests is a case in point. Skepticism about the timing and motives for tackling that as a terrorist case (with all kinds of spin statements) is a good place to start. I shall take a bit of time to explore that case in another post.

While I am not a conspiracy theorist, I think government, government agencies, media and big business are prone to view rare events as opportunities to further ideological and financial interests and, as well, expand control and build empires. They know there is a much greater fear accruig to a rare event (e.g. terrorist attack) than there is in a common event (say a drive-by shooting, car accident or family killing).

That the amount of money allocated to these rare events is almost beyond belief was recently established by our Auditor General when, on April 30, 2013, he reported that over the past ten years, the Canadian government has allocated $12,900,000,000 (12.9 Billion) to anti-terrorism programs. That amount does not include the cost of sending our military to Afghanistan for over ten years. In the United States, those numbers would be in the many trillions of dollars.

Much more could be said, but this article hopefully provides another perspective on terrorism, on how the ‘fog of a war’ envelopes everyone!

I would appreciate hearing your views on this subject.

Harold McNeill

1. While I understand the concern expressed by the Boston police officer, Boston was not enveloped by the ‘fog of war’. Use of the words, particularly by the media, belittles the sacrifices made by those who actually fought in real war. The same can be said of the words “war on terror” “war on crime” or “war on drugs”.

2. Times Colonist, April 30, 2013, Hysteria is not a good response to terrorism:  This article by Janice Kennedy was one of the very few that spoke to the other face of “terrorism’.  I comment Janice for taking time to write the comment and to the Times Colonist for publishing.  In her concluding comments Janice states:

“Certainly terrorism exists, and certainly it must be confronted.  But we won’t defeat it by reducing ourselves, by making our nation less than what it has always tried to be, by giving in to our baser instincts.  Emotion can be a powerful thing, but it has a dark side.  When it gets snarled in irrational fear, anger and desire for revenge, it can destroy the things we value most.  Hate-filled hysteria is never a good response.”

You might wish to take a few moments to read the full article (LINK HERE).

7. Index and Links to Related Artricles

Terrorists or Warriors: What is the Difference. Some of the little discussed background to “Canada’s Terror Trial” and why the public was mislead. When you compare the Toronto 18 case with the Caladonia stand-off, you may likewise become concerned.  (February, 2012)

Caledonia: Dark Days for Canadian Law Enforcement:  Summary of events in Caledonia, Ontario, where the rule of law was suppended. (February, 2012)

Winnigpeg vs Edmonton:  How murder capitals seem to rotate around the country on a regular basis. (November 2011)

Politics of Fear:  How political parties use fear to manipulate the population (November 2011)

Crime and Punishment: Ideology trumps reason.  Comments about the Federal Governments War on Crime. (September 2011)

Remembrance Day:   Why the Viet Nam War (the forgotten war) should be remembered. (September 2011).

Border Security Gone Crazy: Why have we continued along the path of continually increasing boarder security between Canada and the United. Perhaps we cannot trust those Americans. (August, 2011)

Preserving our Civil Liberties:  Why it is important that we should all care. (July 2011)

NRA: position on the Second Amendment  Can this position be justified?

NRA Attack Ads  Attack Ads, they really do work? Discussion of their use in political campaigns.

Freedom of Speech in Denmark:  Another perspective on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Twenty-First Chromosome Leads to Enlightenment: A discussion of intolerance.

His Holiness, the Dali Lama: An Open Letter.   On why the Dali Lama should return to Tibet. (May, 2012)

Amalgamation in Greater Victoria:  Discussion of the issues from a different perspective (October 2011)


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  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]

  • Harold McNeill

    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

    I’ve copied just one sentence from Mulligan’s longer discussion, “And I think people don’t like the idea that somebody who’s, for example, was drunk and ran into you and you become a quadriplegic is going to be treated exactly the same way you would in terms of getting benefits (go to minute 00:15:26 to see his full comment)

    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    January 5, 2020 |

    […] 28. The past as a guide to the future (Part III): Over the past 60 years, many activities the police once performed as a natural part of their daily duty, eventually became incompatible with achieving their basic goals. What happened? (August 2019) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories Why I stand with science? - McNeill Life Stories

    November 11, 2019 |

    […] During the Ice Age, the Earth’s average temperature was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today. That was enough to keep snow from melting during the summers in northern regions. As snow fell on the snow, glaciers formed. (NASA Earth Observatory) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories How to Game an Election - McNeill Life Stories

    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]