Critical Analysis: Canada’s Involvement in the War on Terror

When people think of Canada, they generally do not think of its intensive involvement with counter terrorism measures. In fact, most Canadians also do not consider Canada to be highly involved in the international “war on terror.” However, recent events have brought increased attention to Canada’s extensive involvement in anti-terrorism measures and have called Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recently proposed anti-terrorism legislation into question.

First, on October 20th, 2014, Martin Couture-Rouleau struck and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with his car. He was pursued and later gunned down. Prior to the hit and run, Couture-Rouleau was placed on a terrorist threat list and his passport had been confiscated earlier due to fears that he would travel abroad to participate in extremist militant activities. Friends close to Couture-Rouleau stated that he had recently converted to Islam. Apparently, he was also going through an intensive bought of depression. As his depression deepened, Couture-Rouleau turned increasingly inwards and towards online networking sites. Although he was a recent convert to Islam, he did not appear to receive any direction from any extremist groups beyond a recent call for individuals to pose attacks on countries that have become more involved in the war on terror such as the UK, Canada, France, the US, Germany, and Australia.

Canadian flag.
Canadian flag. Image courtesy of

Only two days later, Canadians were shocked and horrified when Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Quebecois native, next opened fire slightly north of the National War Memorial in the Centre Bloc of Canada’s Parliament Building. Some reports say that he fired as many as 50 shots before Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers took down the gunman. Michael Zahaf-Bibeau presents similar issues as Martin Couture-Rouleau. Although he was also operating alone and without any direct orders from Islamic terrorist organizations, Zahaf-Bibeau was also a recent convert to Islam, but as with Couture-Rouleau, there were other mental health factors at play. Zehaf Bibeau had a criminal record and had been staying at a homeless shelter prior to the shooting. He had apparently also been psychologically unstable, experiencing delusions relating to government surveillance and engaging in heavy drug use. These issues cause questions to arise relating to how an unstable individual was able to gain access to a firearm.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has referred to these two unrelated attacks in a consolidated context. He is promoting a new piece of legislation, Bill C-13, which is similar to the U.S. PATRIOT Act. The House of Commons voted to pass the bill on the same day of Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s attack. The bill is still subject to a vote from the Senate, but it is likely that the Senate will not impede its implementation. Bill C-13 is similar to the PATRIOT Act in that it calls for police to have increased pre-emptive detainment powers and the power to revoke passports of individuals to restrict their ability to travel internationally. These measures go directly against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Canadians the right to “enter, remain in and leave Canada.” Bill C-13 also confers increased investigation powers upon police such that they may seize data related to all telecommunications. Many are angered at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to implement and fight for the bill given Canada’s extensive counter-terrorism safeguards and accuse PM Harper of using the recent attacks as a means to push his security agenda. Proponents of the bill argue that these measures are simply required in the face of modern terrorist tactics.

As with most controversies, the truth of the matter can likely be found somewhere in the middle. On one hand, the terrorist group known as ISIS likely partially motivated both of the attacks when they issued their call to action. On the other hand, these attacks were largely unrelated and executed by mentally unstable individuals. Likewise, the passing of the anti-terrorism bill may not be as bad as it has been made out to be, but it does appear to be somewhat inconsistent with the rights granted in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It remains to be seen how these controversies play out, and how Bill C-13 will operate upon its implementation.

Katie McAuley is a 3L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.