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  • D. Hunter (law student)

Preventing Terror - a 1L Meditation

If you were born in the 1990’s, much of your growth period or learning period, would have been just post 9/11. Since that horrible tragedy, the concept of protecting the “homeland,” form foreign and domestic terror has become a major focus in North America, not strictly limited to the United States. Canada has seen its fair share of terror attacks, some as recent as 2018, such as the van rampage in Toronto on April 23, the Quebec City mosque shooting on January 29, 2017, and the stabbing and vehicle attack in Edmonton on September 30, 2017. What is ever changing is the nature of what inspires the attackers.

Going back to the attacks of September 11th 2001, Al-Qaeda, a sophisticated terror organization with multi-million dollar funding, arguably from various states, and wealthy individuals coordinated attack on a foreign state by destroying civilian targets. It was planned, and training took years, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Arguably, what we see now globally, are not planned or sophisticated attacks, rather they are “lone wolf terrorist attacks,” individuals radicalized via the internet or hate of some sort who commit atrocities in the name of the cause they represent. We saw this in Christchurch, when a white-nationalist slaughtered innocent worshipers at a mosque, we saw this with the van rampage in Toronto, with a self-proclaimed “incel” who hated women, and we saw this in Ottawa when an ISIS inspired individual murdered a Canadian soldier, and attempted to kill parliamentarians.

Criminal Laws regarding terrorism in Canada are quite reasonable, they are even so up to date that they include prosecuting individuals who leave Canada to join terrorist entities. The question is, how does one prevent the poisonous ideologies from seeping into the minds of those who are vulnerable? Can Canada implement punishments for distribution of material? Can they sensor it? Has that already been done? How does the state patrol these ideologies without breaching freedom of conscience?

Many questions, some of which have been answered by the Canadian Criminal Code. The recent addition of Bill-59, makes it a criminal offence to “advocate or promote the commission of terrorism offences in general” and “terrorist propaganda.” It can amount to five to ten years in jail. Interestingly, even if you share material or compliment the dealings of a terrorist style ideology, (Incel, white nationalist, radical religious fanatics, etc,) without the intent of causing harm or a terrorist style attack, you can still be charged.

I would suggest while it is good to penalize individuals for support of terror, it still does not prevent the root cause of people being inspired by these hate groups. While giving hugs to radical extremists will not cause them to give up the cause they are so passionate about, isolation and marginalization or the feeling or belief that one is isolated or marginalized gives rise to radicalist behaviours. Often the craving to belong in a group, and to blame others for the feeling of being marginalized inspired individuals to become extreme and join those who feel the same way, or advocate an ideology that justifies their hateful feelings. Often times these individuals are in a space where they feel the best way to be remembered is infamously, by going down as a hero to their respective community by doing an unspeakable act of murdering innocent people to bring clout to their cause.

How does the government or Criminal Code prevent that via policy? The truth is that this is a societal issue regarding inclusion. There will always be people who hate, promote darkness, and death, but if we work with social policy, to make sure that those who feel marginalized and isolated are integrated into “mainstream” society for lack of better word, you would not need to police the thoughts, minds, and ideologies of citizens. Again, there will always be people who hate, and that is inexcusable, those who kill should face the full force of the law, and those who encourage attacks, and death should face the same penalties. However, regarding the teenagers who are inspired to go overseas and fight for a foreign terrorist entity, or the man who decided to get in a van and run over people in Toronto, these individuals feel that the world hates them for one reason or another. If we work with those who are identifiably from vulnerable demographics, marginalized, and isolated individuals, if we not only encourage governmental policy, but progressive social policy that stresses inclusion and compassion we can prevent the marginalization that inspires hate and terror.

The ideologies of hate cannot only be combated with strict law. You cannot deter people who glorify death with punishments of the legal system. Deterring only works for individuals who feel remorse, or who ultimately feel guilt. Combating certain aspects of terror must be done via the Criminal Code, but preventing the lone wolf style attacks requires more than just strict criminal policy, it requires social and political policy that prevents the further marginalization of isolated individuals.

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