Friday, October 31, 2014

Terrorism or Just Terror?


I was back on Sun News yesterday to talk about whether Justin Trudeau would recognize the Ottawa shootings as "terrorism". Apparently it is a big deal on the right to say the actual word. Mulcair has so far refused to brand the Ottawa shooter a terrorist, and frankly that's fine with me. Between my being asked to comment and showing up at the studio Justin Trudeau took the wind out of their sails and said that the Ottawa attack was indeed terrorism. Sad faces all round at a gotcha moment denied.

I tried to start my conversation with Pat Bolland with my view that the terrorist/not terrorist talk is really a "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" question. It's pure semantics. From a Criminal Code definition perspective, the Ottawa shootings met that definition of terrorism - it is serious violence against the government for a political agenda. A finer point that may only appeal to the lawyers in the crowd is whether the shooter's mental state was capable of forming the requisite intent - i.e. - was he so nuts that the terrorist intent can't be rationally formed by him. It's an academic question that is of no comfort to their victims, but we'll never know. Clearly he - as in the other recent killers of soldiers and RCMP officers - had mental issues.

One point I tried to make is that there is no evidence we've seen that these were "directed attacks" by some terrorist organization. There's no structure or coordination to them, no funding or planning by a terrorist group. Just "lone wolf" attacks by mentally fragile people who have embraced their own skewed version of a violent fundamentalist religious movement with a grudge against authority for their crappy lives. They were "radicalized" by online videos and materials that seemed to speak to them and give their failing lives meaning and purpose. If you haven't read the old classic by Eric Hoffer "The True Believer", you should. It deals with the psychology of certain people susceptible to radical ideologies of the left, right and religion and how fanaticism fills a void in their lives. These are lost souls who find something simple and extreme to cling onto and an enemy to blame, often with tragic results.

The commentator on Sun TV before me talked about how "90% of the Muslim youth he had met were already radicalized." That's just nonsense. There are moderate Muslims by the truckload, but they can be afraid to speak up and make targets of themselves from both sides. Demonizing them as a group drives them further away. The fear mongers are desperate to spin these tragedies into something bigger because it feeds two agendas - the "law and order" security agenda, and the xenophobic anti-Islam agenda. That's why they want to label it "terrorism", because that's a big and emotional bedsheet to hide behind.

Terrorism of course exists. It has existed as long as there have been institutions to rebel against. ISIS is a particularly terrible group and is more than happy to "inspire" terrorist wannabes anywhere in the world with a few cheap YouTube videos and a call for jihadists to come join them in their miserable local war. That, however, seems to be the limit of their international ambitions, with the caveat that anyone who stands in the way of that goal is also considered a fair target. It is not a coincidence that the Ottawa shooter was set off allegedly by being blocked from leaving Canada to join them. It was when he was separated from his heart's desire that his amorphous rage turned towards Parliament Hill.

You can justify all kinds of things in the name of fighting terror that you can't in a rational crusade for better mental health funding. You can extend the reach into people's lives if it is terrorism, but not if it is the frustratingly unpredictable lives of people suffering for severe mental illnesses. Labelling actions as occurred in Ottawa and Quebec terrorism gives us the illusion that we can confront and control it, when the reality is we can't. Both killers were well known to the RCMP and still the tragedies came as a surprise. We already have ample legislation on the books - too ample in my opinion - to deal with terrorists, criminals and their enthusiasts.

As I started to mention on Sun TV, for anyone who has lived with mental illness in friends and family, you know how unpredictable it can be. With the best care and supervision, people can still behave erratically and even violently. Add a radical belief to it (and extreme religiosity is often a symptom of mental illness) and you have people who are unpredictably dangerous. How often have you heard the expression "he was quiet, polite, and kept to himself" used to describe someone who had just tragically gone off the rails? Legislation and even enforcement are largely incapable of dealing with it because of its very nature.

But these things are nuance, and the difference between "terrorism" and "Terrorism" with a capital "T" is not one many people want to make in the wake of a tragedy, especially if it feeds a law and order and security agenda already in place and looking for traction.

http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/3866955780001

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Albainn gu brath



Wearing a poppy and my Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regimental tie in honour of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo tragically murdered while he himself was honouring our dead at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

While I never had the honor of serving, I have had the pleasure and honour of being a supporting member of the Argyll's Officer's Mess for almost a decade, kindly asked to join by their Colonel after speaking there and discovering I was born in Hamilton. The past week has been a difficult one for the Argyll regimental family, which is close-knit and an important part of the Hamilton community.

Albainn gu brath!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dier's Remorse

A curious thing happened yesterday at the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court was hearing the appeal from the BC Court of Appeal in a case about euthanasia - specifically the right for those who are unable to take their own lives to have access to "physician assisted death" ("PAD"). You can read the arguments of the appellants in their factum (statement of law and fact) here as a PDF.

Formally known as Lee Carter, et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, et al. the case began in the BC trial division, where Justice Smith ruled that (I'm grossly simplifying here) since able-bodied and mentally competent people can legally and practically end their own lives, there is an inequality because people who are physically unable to end their lives have no access to ending their lives without assistance, particularly humane, competent, physician assisted death. The trial division agreed, but the BC Court of Appeal overturned that decision. The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal.

I'm raising this case not to deal with the ethical issues or merits of voluntary euthanasia, although for the record, I agree with the appellants, although I hope never to be faced with that decision. The obvious reality is that end of life decisions are made every single day. People agree to non-resuscitation orders and the removal of feeding tubes in hospitals and nursing homes across Canada. As a former client's Power of Attorney I was once asked for permission to remove him from a ventilator. These are hard decisions (and they should be), but we make them.

The Attorney General of Canada (through the Department of Justice) has opposed this appeal. You can read all their reasons in their own factum filed with the Supreme Court. It relies on a case called Rodriguez from 1993, the "slippery slope" argument (ie: if you allow it, where will it all end? Plus, everyone will want one...), protecting abuse (ie: bumping off Granny to get at her gold teeth), and the ever-popular "Supremacy of Parliament" argument (ie: it's up to Parliament to decide such weighty issues, not the court). Of the last one, it takes some cheek to tell the Supreme Court of Canada it shouldn't have the power to decide human rights issues under the Charter of Rights, since that's its job.

One other argument made in the factum and also in yesterday's oral presentation to the Supreme Court caught my eye as novel. Essentially, the federal government argued that it would be wrong to permit assisted suicide because the people who die that way might live to regret it.

Yes, you heard that right.

Department of Justice lawyers argued that if you allow people to commit suicide, they might regret it...

"[T]hey will be unable to voice their regret once they're dead...."

The Conservatives are well known for defending the "pre-born", but this is the first I have heard of them advocating for the post-dead.

The original trial judge rejected such a notion, pondering the obvious in her judgment wondering "if regret is possible after death."

Apparently no dead people were called as witnesses to testify via Ouija board or through the Long Island Medium about their afterlife second thoughts.