Reality checks hurt.
On June 2 the RCMP arrested 17 Ontario men and charged them with, among a litany of other offences, participating in a terrorist organization. Details are still hazy but the allegations that have so far come to light are sickening – an attempted purchase of three tonnes of bomb making materials, plans to blow up public buildings in Toronto and Ottawa, talk of taking our entire Parliament hostage and beheading our Prime Minister, and other frightening scenarios.
The terrorists’ rationale is also hazy. The men were either naturalized Canadian citizens, or grew up or were born on Canadian soil – just like the homegrown terrorists that attacked London’s subway system less than a year ago.
The accused terrorists were picked up by police long before they were able to put any of their nefarious plans into action, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do any damage – this is one of those events that changes everything.
Before the arrests Canada and the U.S. were in negotiations to delay or somehow circumvent a new passport requirement that could stifle tourism on both sides of the border. Now, bolstered by a suspicion that more Made-In-Canada Muslim extremists are still out there planning attacks, some American politicians are calling for Homeland Security to stay the course with passport requirements.
Given that only 23 per cent of Americans currently carry passports, compared to roughly 40 per cent of Canadians, that’s going to seriously impact tourism from one end of this country to the other – assuming Americans are not too scared to travel here in the first place because of a perceived and possibly exaggerated terrorism risk. Canada is being called a ‘terrorist haven’ by pundits on both sides of the border, and rightwing columnists are ratcheting up the rhetoric to a fevered pitch.
Vancouver and Whistler are also on deck to host the Olympics and Paralympics in less than four years, and security is becoming a hot topic since the arrests. The current security budget is $175 million (CDN) for the Games, about half what was spent for Salt Lake City, and a fraction of the $1.4 billion (U.S.) spent on the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.
Whether our security costs are going to increase or not is still a matter for police and government to decide, but it’s a safe bet that the budget is going to be a lot bigger come 2010 now that Canada is an official front on the global war on terror (GWOT).
That means even more in the way soldiers, guns, checkpoints, metal detectors and wands, cameras, documentation, and roadside checks, as well as a huge amount of inconvenience for everybody, from spectators to volunteers to media to the athletes themselves. And while there was always going to be security it was never meant to feel as if B.C. is a police state.
Canadian Muslims are also under greater scrutiny than ever since the arrests. While it’s completely unfair to label every Muslim in the country as a potential terrorist or terrorist sympathizer, it is fair to say that there are radical elements within that community that need to be rooted out and dealt with, and the sooner, the better.
For the most part Muslim leaders have been helpful and have had some good ideas how to address extremism in their communities, but that means little to the average Canadian who is worried about his or her family. For a long time the Muslim community is going to have to deal with anger, suspicion and rejection.
One American politician has called for a moratorium on immigration and refugees accepted in Canada, and I’m sure there are a few Canadian pundits that aren’t far behind.
In the Seattle Times on Monday, columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece called "Canada finally discovers there’s a price for ‘nice’", complete with an illustration of a terrorist hiding behind a Canada flag, fuses burning on either side.
Goldberg calls Canada the "most deluded industrialized nation in the world", based on our current response to terror, our inadequate peacekeeping force, our decision to stay out of Iraq, and our tossed salad approach to multiculturism. He also mocked the reluctance on the part of the police to point out that the terrorists are all Muslims and belong to the same mosque as being overly politically correct.
These 17 accused terrorists have given bloviators like Goldberg more ammunition to push their own opinions of the world, while ensuring that ideas like moratoriums on immigration and a beefed up military presence around the world gain more traction by preying on our fear of being attacked.
Nobody can say what long term effect of this terrorism scare will have on tourism or Canada’s reputation as a safe, beautiful place to visit. But with the value of the dollar increasing, gas prices going up, and uncertain economies both sides of the border it was probably the last thing we needed.
Not a drop of blood has been shed, but the damage may have already been done.