Trudeau, Harper, and how a real statesman treats terrorism.

This is how you deal with terrorism.

Openly, reluctantly, and in the broad light of day. In defense of the spirit of freedom.

Watch it. In it’s entirety when you have time.. He treats Canadians as grown-ups. As people who can understand his reasoning, and follow it. He explains that he is only shouldering the sweeping powers of the War Measures Act with the greatest reluctance, and will rescind them as soon as it’s within his power to do so. And he did.

Now with that in mind, stop and look at what the Harper Government has announced will be the next order of Parliament’s business.

It’s Bill C 7. It allows the government to arrest you before you’ve committed a crime, and to hold you for up to three days without charge or trial.

It also allows the government to hold you for up to a year without trial if you refuse to answer questions put to you by a judge in a so- called ‘investigative hearing.’

It’s a bad bill. It shouldn’t pass.

And nothing that has happened this week will change my mind. Indeed, if anything, I will note with gratitude that the RCMP seem perfectly capable of doing their jobs and isolating and apprehending terrorists without this legislation. They’ve done good work this week.

Though the Globe and Mail¬†may, in the light of recent events, feel that somehow the situation has been changed politically by this attempted attack, and that Harper’s legislation is now praiseworthy and considered, I am less…malleable on this issue than they.

Proponents of the bill claim that it merely restores certain fundamental legal tools necessary if we are to combat terrorism. Tools that were originally passed into law under a Liberal government.

That’s true. I remember being aware of the debate at the time. I was 12, so much of it was over my head, but I remember where my sympathies lay then, too. And it wasn’t with the governing Liberals.

It was in the hysteria after 9 11. You remember those days. The fear, the hatred, the panic. Not one of us was thinking clearly. And even in our angered fervour, we still felt it necessary to sunset some of the more controversial parts of the legislation. Because we felt they were excessive powers that the state shouldn’t possess.

And I’m sorry, but two foreigners looking at a train doesn’t feel like a reason to give the state those powers.

Trudeau was faced with his friends and colleagues, in the case of Pierre Laporte, men he’d known all his life, being kidnapped. Unbelievable rumors were flying around Montreal. There was talk of more kidnappings, of a provisional government preparing to overthrow Premier Bourassa, of apprehended insurrection. If he had only believed half of them, he’d still have felt it was his responsibility to bring in the War Measures Act.

And, I repeat this, he rescinded the powers it gave him almost immediately after the situation had stabilized.

The Harper Government, and in fact most governments around the world at this moment in time, are bringing in sweeping powers to arm the government forever against a nebulous, abstract concept.

We always just seem to accept this. We seem to tolerate a definition of ‘terror ‘that could be, and indeed has been applied to a diverse group of peoples around the world, including the Irish, the Tibetans, the South Africans, and, indeed, the Canadians, who at one time or another, have resorted to violence to achieve an end.

Terrorism is unique, because it is uniquely a crime against the state. It is the state that feels most directly shaken by an act of random violence against the population. Because it undermines the essential claim the state makes; that it is there to protect its citizens. If it can’t do this, what’s the point in having it?

My essential point is this. In Trudeau’s Canada, rights were temporarily suspended to deal with an unprecedented and dangerous situation that threatened the very fabric of Canadian Confederation.

In Harper’s Canada, rights are joyfully stripped from the statutes under the pretense of defending us from the abstract concept of terror. From something that is always hypothetically possible, but which scares us so much we can’t be rational about it. And the government uses and exploits that fear to cow us into a scared silence as our rights under the Charter are taken from us.

There’s more than a cosmetic difference.