In the wake of Toronto’s deadly van attack, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is towing the “company line.”
It seems the RCMP doesn’t want to call this event a terrorist attack.
Global News obtained an RCMP internal e-mail which appears to show obstacles for police in labelling an event terrorism.
“For charges to be laid, it is necessary to gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear ideological basis and motivation for the act. Therefore, obtaining the burden of evidence to warrant a terrorism charge can be challenging,” the e-mail read.
“The Criminal Code defines terrorist activity as an act committed for “a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act,” the Global News report from Stewart Bell says.
“Central to this definition is the requirement of the ideological motivation, and the intention of intimidation with regard to security,” continued the RCMP email, sent last September to Public Safety Canada as part of the government’s efforts to draft the 2017 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.
So why is the RCMP so reluctant to label this van attack terrorism?
Ten people died, 15 more were injured and an entire country was terrified. Is that not terrorism?
“The socio-political nature of many far-right ideologies would make it appear that some activity could potentially meet the definition of terrorism,” the RCMP e-mail said.
“However, the far right is not an ideologically coherent movement — groups have a range of motivations, and many actors have no clear ideological basis.
“Furthermore, acts of violence lack the clear intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public or clear intend for their actions.”
Wow, did you get all that? What the heck are they talking about?
It seems the RCMP are so reluctant to use the word terrorism, it is using words such as “socio-political, ideological, and coherent instead.
The Oxford dictionary defines terrorism this way: “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
So does this van attack fit either of those? Well, it really doesn’t matter. In order for a terrorism charge to be laid, it has to fit Canada’s Criminal Code definition. And that’s a whole new struggle for police.
“It invoked terror – but we can’t call the Toronto van attack terrorism,” a headline on a Stephanie Carvin opinion piece in the Global and Mail reads.
So we’ll ask again: Was this terrorism?
“In Canada, the answer to this question is somewhat unsatisfying, but worth discussing. Section 83.01 of the Criminal Code states that any act carried out for political, ideological or religious reasons is terrorism. But not all political, ideological or religious reasons are alike,” Carvin writes. “When an act is carried out in the name of a listed terrorist entity – such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) – prosecutors can easily point to a coherent set of ideas upon which a terrorism charge can be laid. However, when it comes to fringe movements and broad anti-government ideologies, prosecution becomes trickier.”
This follows the “company” line started by Prime Minister Trudeau when he wouldn’t call returning ISIS members terrorists. He called them “foreign travellers” at a town hall meeting in Hamilton, Ont. in January.
“On the issues of foreign travellers, I take advice from our intelligence agencies and our security agencies who are very, very alert to the challenges of returning … from the Middle East,” Trudeau said. “We are very alert and responsible for keeping Canadians safe, keeping our communities safe.”
Well, everyone might be safe from a “terrorist” attack given the Trudeau definition. But are we safe?
Last August, many months before the attack on Yonge Street, a National Post story by Jack Hauen said Canadians believed Toronto was much more dangerous than it really was.
Hauen was reporting on a Mainstreet Research/Postmedia poll, which sampled 2,050 people across Canada and ranked Toronto as “unsafe” — 52 per cent said unsafe, 40 per cent said safe and eight per cent were unsure — putting it second-to-last in front of Winnipeg in terms of perceived security. Hauen disagreed with that report.
“In reality, Toronto is one of the safest cities in the country,” he wrote. “Canada’s largest city has a 2016 Crime Severity Index rating of 47.5, putting it in third place nationally behind Quebec City (45.2) and Barrie, Ont. (45.4). Canada’s average index rating for cities is 71.”
So now, we’re playing with numbers to make Toronto look good. And we’re not using that dirty word “terrorism” either.
But The Toronto Sun investigated the van attack and came up with this:
“There’s been much debate about whether the van attack that has left Toronto in tears was terrorism — or not,” a story from Brad Hunter reads.
“So far it doesn’t appear that suspect Alek Minassian, 25, was driven by the typical reasons for terrorism. Nor did he apparently belong to any terror-affiliated groups. But if terror is designed to terrify, Minassian — charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts (now 16 counts) of attempted murder — succeeded.”
Toronto Sun Editor-in-Chief Adrienne Batra asks National Comment Editor Anthony Furey if the attack was terrorism.
“You bet it was,” Furey said. “It may not fit the typical definitions of terrorism defined by the Criminal Code. But this is a guy who took this straight from the terror extremists’ playbook.”
So call it what you will. But don’t use the word “terror” when describing the Toronto van attack. It may have been a terrorist attack, but you really don’t want to spend time arguing with all the English definition experts, do you?
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.