September 11: Consequences for Canada

by Kent Roach
ISBN: 0773525858

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A Review of: September 11: Consequences for Canada
by Rondi Adamson

On the back of Kent Roach's September 11: Consequences for Canada, the fact that two of Roach's previous tomes have been short-listed for the Donner Prize for best public policy book is presented as a selling point. But the Donner Prize is sort of like the Academy Awards for technical stuff-an event held in a non-glamorous hotel, hosted by a second rate celebrity. The very term "public policy book" is enough to put the most restless sleepers down for the night.
For policy books, while often important, are usually written by academics. In other words, the prose may not soar, but the content might make you think.
This is the case with September 11: Consequences for Canada, which undertakes to outline the challenges facing Canada as a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago. Roach is a law professor at the University of Toronto and in the book's first chapter he, like a teacher explaining a course outline to students, states his goals. The first "is to provide a critical assessment of the consequences of September 11 for Canada" (p18). Roach succeeds here, providing an encompassing, if not spellbinding, look at the anti-terrorist measures taken in Canada-among them, Bill C-36 or the Anti-Terrorism Act, changes to Canadian immigration policy and the Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan.
Much of the book is spent parsing Bill C-36, a law created in the aftermath of terror. "This increased tendency to amend the criminal law to respond to well-publicized tragedies and to govern through crime' follows American patterns of making crime a top political issue" (p 24). It is actually a human pattern. In times of peace, people forget the nastiness lurking out of sight, but when the nastiness flies an airplane into a building one prioritizes ways to prevent and punish such wrongdoing.
Understandably, Roach expresses concerns about the possibility of the Anti-Terrorism Act being manipulated to justify unseemly ends. New laws created to deal with terrorism could be applied when dealing with other crimes and as a result Canadians may be subjected to surveillance and racial profiling. Free speech may be threatened, as someone simply voicing a political opinion might find themselves accused of inciting hatred. Or people might find themselves unjustly dealt with simply for having a certain name. Muslim-Canadian "Mohamed Attiah was summarily fired on September 20 from his job at a nuclear plant on the basis that he was a security risk.'" Why? He had the same name-or almost-as one of the 9/11 hijackers.
What happened to Attiah was deplorable, and hence concerns about racial profiling are legitimate. But there is nonetheless some degree of naivete in Roach's analysis. His position seems to be that "we are over-reacting to September 11, and once the memory of that day subsides, we will be sorry." But could it not also be that from the end of the Cold War up until September 11 we were living in a dreamworld, unaware of very real threats? North Americans, after all, have been spoiled. Any traveller on an El-Al flight has witnessed racial profiling first hand and also witnessed its efficacity. Any Canadian working in Japan has probably been fingerprinted. It is not necessarily a gross infringement of one's dignity. In our own country we have seen that, after the heavy hand of the War Measures Act in 1970, nary a peep was heard again out of the FLQ. Sometimes being nice doesn't work, being thorough does.
And some examples of "injustice" Roach includes in his discussion of racial profiling don't seem particularly unjust. "A Yugoslavian-born crane operator was fired from his job building a new terminal at Toronto'sPearson airport, when...he told a co-worker on September 11 that the Americans got what they deserved'". That the crane operator had a right to his opinion goes without saying. That someone who expressed no sympathy for the victims of 9-11 and an implicit sympathy for the perpetrators should be kept away from airports also goes without saying.
A good deal of September 11: Consequences for Canada focuses on our relationship with the United States. Interesting, for as I watched the nightmare of 9-11 unfold, one of my first thoughts was "I wonder how long till we start blaming the United States?" I assumed we would wait till the bodies were cold, but I overestimated my countrymen. The America bashing began that very night (on the CBC!).
Roach quite rightly points out that we do well to not blindly follow any nation, regardless of their strength. But he seems loathe to contemplate that the United States may be justified in much of its reaction to 9-11, and even more loathe to admit that we aren't superior to our neighbour. He even makes the following assertion, which makes one wonder on what planet he lives: "One of the distinguishing features between Canada and the United States may be a greater Canadian willingness to confront injustices of the past". Really? The United States is in a practically constant state of self-flagellation over Vietnam; reparations and grovelling over the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War have been offered aplenty; George Bush, on a recent trip to Africa, offered repentance anew over slavery (as other presidents have before him), and since 9-11 there has been endless bending over backwards to embrace Muslims. If I only had a nickel for everytime an American politician has said "Islam is religion of peace..."
Part of the problem with the book as a whole is the great extent to which Roach draws on George Grant's Lament for a Nation, a book written in response to Canada's decision to accept nuclear arms in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Grant's book is an awfully narrow, dated point of reference. The gist of Grant's argument was that we had done our nation in by accepting nuclear arms on our soil, caving in to the great beast to the south. The irony here is that where both the Cuban Missile crisis and 9-11 were concerned, one thing should have been clear to all Canadians-if the United States is threatened, we are threatened. And not because we aren't autonomous, but because fundamentalist organizations view Canada in the same light as the US-Canadian values are anathema to their beliefs in the same way as the US and all other liberal democratic countries.
This brings us to Roach's second stated goal: "to provide a sense of how Canada's anti-terrorism policies should evolve in the future". Tackling areas from airplane security to intelligence, Roach makes practical suggestions and provides philosophical prisms through which to view the solutions he proposes. He admits something few of us would like to contemplate: that sometimes you must proceed "on the pessimistic assumption that some attacks (or accidents) cannot be prevented." Pessimistic? You bet. But pessimists, studies show, live longer, because they are prepared for the worst.

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