Spartacist Canada No. 189
State Repression for Thought Crimes
Justin Trudeau's "War on Terror"
In the run-up to the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party voted to support the Conservative government’s infamous Bill C-51, essentially a CSIS/RCMP wish list of draconian revisions to the criminal code. Trudeau promised that, once in power, his government would amend “problematic” sections of the law. Half a year later, the Liberal government hasn’t touched a hair on the head of the Tories’ hallmark “anti-terror” legislation. In fact, “sunny ways” Trudeau and his cohorts, with their ostentatious pursuit of no-fly lists, deportation orders and frame-up prosecutions targeting Muslims, just picked up Harper’s repressive agenda where the Tories left off.
C-51 (the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015) gives the RCMP, CSIS and other repressive agencies of the capitalist state a vastly freer hand to go after what can only be called “thought crimes.” Comments that were once merely the exercise of free speech can now be deemed by the police to be “promotion or advocacy” of terrorism, and hence criminal offenses. But even this low bar doesn’t have to be crossed for the cops to ruin your life. In fact, state agents no longer even have to claim an actual crime has been or will be committed in order to make an arrest—they need only assert that a suspect “may” commit an offense.
Before C-51 became law, civil-rights attorneys Clayton Ruby and Nader Hasan sounded the alarm about its sinister intent:
“Six Muslim young adults stand in front of a mosque late at night in heated discussion in some foreign language. They may be talking about video games, or sports, or girls, or advocating the overthrow of the Harper government. Who knows? There is no evidence one way or another. Just stereotypes…. Yesterday, the Muslim men were freely exercising constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Today, they are arrestable.”
—“Bill C-51: A Legal Primer,” policyalternatives.ca, 17 February 2015
Even more ominously, once the cops arrest you on the basis of “fear of terrorism,” not only are you stripped of the right to a trial, they don’t even need to charge you. Instead, on applying to a judge, they can force you to submit to a take-it-or-leave-it choice between going to jail or signing a so-called “peace bond.” The latter involves a vast array of arbitrary restrictions on personal liberty that can last up to five years. These can include wearing a GPS bracelet, reporting regularly to an RCMP agent, surrendering one’s passport, observing a ban from social media or other internet activity and “keeping the peace and being of good behaviour.” Failure to comply with any one of the imposed conditions is itself a criminal offence.
Punishment Without Crime
Under the Liberals, the police-state powers of C-51 are rapidly expanding the legal twilight zone for the hounding, arrest and prosecution of Muslim youth. And once in the cops’ crosshairs, no matter how innocent of wrongdoing, you can’t protect your name from being splashed across the media as a terrorist.
Police in Montreal made headlines in March by locking down the entire neighbourhood of Pierrefonds, evacuating 200 people from their homes and temporarily closing a train station. The reason? A video posted on Facebook showed, they claimed, “someone apparently handling explosive materials.” The massive evacuation and search turned up nothing. Nonetheless, 20-year-old student Omar Elabi was charged with “inciting fear of terrorism” because his home was allegedly traced as the source of the video.
The same month, the RCMP detained Kevin Mohamed of Toronto under the “fear of terrorism” provisions…for owning a hunting knife. The RCMP eventually dropped its demand for a peace bond and kept Mohamed locked up through a retroactive terrorism charge based on a family trip to Turkey he took with his mother two years earlier.
Another peace bond victim, Aaron Driver of Winnipeg, found himself on the wrong side of the law for using Twitter. A young convert to Islam, he was never charged and will not be tried. Nonetheless, due exclusively to expressing his opinions over the internet, Driver was compelled to sign a peace bond or face jail time. “If I fought it, they would have added even more conditions than I’m already under,” he told the CBC. Among other things, Driver is banned from using social media and cannot possess a phone or computer without written permission from the RCMP.
Another feature of the rulers’ “war on terror” is the use of sting operations. Cops and their agents are free to generate “terrorism” out of thin air by approaching, entrapping and inciting vulnerable individuals to agree to acts they otherwise would never have contemplated, let alone carried out. In one especially egregious case, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, an impoverished and methadone-dependent couple in B.C., were sensationally convicted of an attempt to blow up the provincial legislature in Victoria. The charges were only laid after months of manipulation, material support and incitement by a police agent posing as an Islamic spiritual guide.
Who Are the Real Terrorists?
The odds of being a victim of an actual terrorist attack in this country are lower than those of being killed by a lightning strike, a fact you’d never guess from the hysteria whipped up every time the media reports the arrest of anyone associated with the “T” word. And that’s exactly the point. We have emphasized repeatedly that the “war on terror” is in fact no war at all, but a political construct aimed at instilling fear, regimenting the population and justifying government repression.
As we wrote in “Canada’s Creeping Police State” (SC No. 184, Spring 2015), C-51 “is a sweeping attack on free speech and other civil liberties. The bill targets publications, web postings and even private conversations sympathetic to causes that the capitalist rulers deem to be ‘terrorism.’ It authorizes the CSIS secret police to go after any activity that ‘undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada’ or interferes with the country’s ‘economic or financial stability’.”
In other words, behind the camouflage of artificially generated hysteria over terrorism, the capitalists are preparing a vastly broader assault on the rights of workers and the oppressed. Under the provisions of this law, workers’ strikes and picket lines and other acts of self-defense against the bosses can be defined as “terrorist” acts. The same goes for blockades of roads, railways or pipelines by Native people struggling for land rights. The bourgeoisie is literally slapping a “terror” label on whatever might threaten their class rule or the sanctity of private profit.
The phony “war on terror” makes vivid the Marxist understanding of the capitalist state, the core of which consists of repressive institutions—the police, prisons, courts and army—dedicated to upholding bourgeois rule. From the squalid living conditions experienced by Native people on remote reserves to unfettered cop terror against black youth in Toronto, from busted unions and slashed pensions to the growing ranks of minimum-waged and under-/unemployed workers, the dreams of providing a decent life for yourself or your kids under this rotten system become ever more distant. Hence the rulers’ need for an ever larger “stick” of police coercion.
All workers and oppressed people thus have a clear and urgent interest in combatting C-51 and the whole panoply of the bosses’ repressive laws. As communists, we have nothing in common with political Islam or the other forms of religious reaction that some young people have embraced. Such doctrines are an expression of despair amid dismally low levels of class and other social struggle. But we emphatically denounce the witchhunting of Muslim youth, whatever their political views, by the bourgeois state. And it’s worth pointing out that the bearers of Canadian passports volunteering to join the Israeli Defense Forces in their war on the Palestinian people, or the fascistic Azov Batallion affiliated with the far-right NATO-backed regime in Ukraine, will never be targets of C-51.
The main terrorist force in the world today is U.S. imperialism, for which Canada acts as a loyal junior partner. Since September 11, 2001, the “war on terror” has morphed from the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan into an array of proxy conflicts, civil wars and “targeted killings” that now stretches from Afghanistan to Yemen to Mauritania—at a cost in death, desolation and human suffering that can scarcely be imagined, let alone counted. In all these conflicts, we stand in opposition to the imperialists’ depredations and demand the withdrawal of all U.S., Canadian and other imperialist forces.
The cancerous growth of a police state in the guise of “anti-terror” laws is but the domestic face of this crusade. Arbitrary mass surveillance and rampant racist profiling are now a fact of daily life from bus stations to airports to shopping malls. Through massive data collection via telephones and the internet, the real and virtual tentacles of this apparatus—concentrated in the hands of the “Five Eyes” countries (the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand)—now reach to almost every corner of the planet.
Trudeau’s Liberals and Harper’s Tories are but two faces of Canadian capitalism. State repression is intrinsic to this barbaric social system which is rooted in the exploitation of the working people and buttressed by the oppression of minorities. Endless pleas to rein in the cops through inquiries, greater oversight and “accountability” have solved, and can solve, nothing. The road forward lies through social struggle led by the working class, which due to its central position in industry, transport and communications has vast potential social power that can be unleashed on behalf of all the oppressed.
Class struggle today is at a low ebb, thanks in large part to the betrayals of the pro-capitalist labour leaders and their political allies in the NDP. But as the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 demonstrated, at some point outrage at the grinding hardships and crimes of capitalism will boil over into workers struggle on a massive scale. At such points, the capitalists will seek to unleash even greater forces of repression to turn back the tsunami of mass struggle. The vital question will be: which class rules?
To sweep aside the capitalist system, the only effective weapon known to history is a workers party standing at the head of all the oppressed. Armed with the program of Marxism, the working class can lead a socialist revolution to overturn the capitalist state, inaugurate its own class rule and establish a rationally planned economy organized in the interests of the vast majority. Extended internationally, this will open the road to an egalitarian communist society in which the state itself, and all other forms of organized coercion are relegated to the museum of antiquities. Preparing for this outcome is the program of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste, Canadian section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).