Categorized | Society

Losing your immunity

Posted on 30 October 2014 by admin

Attacks on soldiers in a mainly tranquil land stir talk of global action against terror

IT WAS a sombre Stephen Harper who addressed Canadians on October 22nd. A lone gunman had fatally shot a young soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial in the capital, Ottawa, and then entered Canada’s parliament building where he was killed. The prime minister linked the shooting to the murder earlier in the week of another Canadian soldier. Both, he said, were a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the type of terrorist attacks seen around the world.
His government would redouble its efforts to work with its allies in fighting terrorist organisations abroad, the Conservative prime minister vowed. It would also “take all the necessary steps” to identify and counter threats at home.
In fact, this was not the first time Canada’s parliament had been a target, nor was it the biggest terrorist attack in the country’s history. An inept bomber intent on killing as many MPs as possible blew himself up in the same building in 1966, and an armed man hijacked a bus and fired shots outside parliament in 1989. The 1985 bombing of an Air India flight to London from Toronto, in which 329 people died, remains the largest terror attack originating in Canada.
But two things gave this week’s strike added impact. It badly frightened MPs, most of whom had gathered for weekly caucus meetings in rooms on either side of the corridor where the gunman exchanged fire with security officers. They used furniture to construct makeshift barricades and had to remain shut away for hours. Second, it took place amid a heated debate over the Conservative government’s decision to increase anti-terrorist powers at home and to join the military campaign led by the United States against Islamic State in Iraq.
Mr Harper chose to interpret the shooting as part of a broader bid by terrorist groups to bring “their savagery to our shores”. Missives from his office after the attack underlined this message. He had telephone conversations with President Barack Obama, and with Binyamin Netanyahu and Tony Abbott, the prime ministers of Israel and Australia. John Baird, the foreign minister, took up the theme of global solidarity against terror: he said in a tweet that he had told John Kerry, America’s secretary of state, “This is why we’re with you. This only makes our resolve stronger.”
It was unclear whether the gunman, a Canadian named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had links to any terrorist group, but he was described by a person who met him at a mosque in British Columbia as having a “disturbing” side, suggesting mental-health problems. Nor was there any sign of a link to Martin Couture-Rouleau, shot dead by police on October 20th after he struck two soldiers with his car, killing one, near a military academy in Quebec. Mr Couture-Rouleau was under sporadic surveillance and his passport had been seized because he was one of an estimated 130 Canadians whom the security services suspected of terrorist leanings. Mr Zehaf-Bibeau had also been barred from travelling.

The two main opposition leaders, Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats and Justin Trudeau of the Liberals, avoided making any political hay out of the incident, and neither posited any theory about a terrorist plot. “We woke up this morning in a country blessed by love, diversity and peace, and tomorrow we will do the same,” said Mr Mulcair, leader of the official opposition. Mr Trudeau referred to the gunman as a criminal and said that Canada was a nation of fairness, justice and the rule of law, and should not be intimidated into changing that.
Yet intimidation seemed contagious. Legislatures across the country boosted security, as did some large cities like Toronto. An ice-hockey game scheduled for October 22nd in Ottawa between two National Hockey League teams was cancelled. In the province of Quebec, soldiers were warned they could be targets and should avoid wearing their uniforms when off duty.
Such an atmosphere will make it easier for the government to pass counterterrorism legislation which would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service a freer hand to pursue investigations and work with foreign counterparts. Yet that will not deal with one immediate problem revealed by the gunman—security in the parliamentary precinct. In the days ahead, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national force responsible for guarding Parliament Hill, will have to explain how it was possible for an armed man to walk across the lawn in broad daylight and gain access unhindered into Canada’s seat of government. It should surely be possible to prevent that without a draconian regime.

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