Five years is a relatively brief time in the history of a country. But more changes have taken place in Canada since September 11, 2001 than in any other half-decade since the end of the Second World War. Our country was not even the primary target of the hijacked airliners that took thousands of innocent people to their deaths, yet Canadians in general –” and Canadian Muslims in particular — are still living under the persistent shadow of 9/11.
In fact, 9/11 has become the most politicized crime in modern history.
That crime has been used to justify a long list of policies and politics that are robbing both this generation and the next of certain rights and freedoms that the Western liberal movement only achieved after a long struggle with oppressive traditions.
The crime of 9/11 was used, and is still being used, to justify the erosion of Canadian civil liberties. This has happened, both openly and insidiously, through our government’s participation in the vaguely defined American-inspired global "war on terror" (which includes the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan); through the increasing militarization of Canadian foreign policy; through increases in Canada’s defense spending at the expense of social justice programs; and through the increasing Americanization of Canadian economic and governmental policies.
Few Canadians have been more affected individually by the erosion of their constitutional liberties than this country’s 750,000 Muslims as a community. No-fly and no-passport listings, widespread racial profiling, and "preventive" arrests are now all codified into legal or semi-legal procedures — despite their being clearly contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Basic human rights that were won after decades, even centuries, of struggle and which helped in part to establish and define Canada as a developed country have been summarily curtailed by hasty post-9/11 decisions that our leaders may well live to regret.
Today, Canadians can be placed on a no-fly list without being told why, or how they can be removed from the list. They can also be denied a passport without knowing the reason, or how to regain their right to apply for one.
Canadians can be arrested and jailed for up to 72 hours without charge, and the detention can be renewed virtually at the stroke of a pen. Security certificates can be (and often are) issued by our government for the arrest and imprisonment of refugee claimants, without making the evidence against them known to defense lawyers.
Racial profiling of Canadian Muslims is now routinely used by police, security and intelligence agencies, while hidden racial profiling has greatly increased in the private sector as well, resulting in workplace discrimination and the automatic rejection of qualified job-seekers in many fields.
Equally destructive to the soul of this country is that 9/11 has been used by right wing politicians to justify our increasingly militant Canadian foreign policy. This has manifested itself in the deployment of combat (rather than peacekeeping) troops to Afghanistan, the uncritical support of Israel in its war on Lebanon, and the largely silent endorsement of Israel’s continuing aggression against native Palestinians and their elected government.
Recent statements from the right wing government of Prime Minister Steven Harper comparing Hezbollah to the Nazis, praising Israel’s war on Lebanon as a "measured response," and delaying the call for an early cease-fire are all disturbingly un-Canadian. Our tradition and grassroots reality has been to choose the more moderate way, to remain proud of standing to the left of America’s reactive foreign policy, and to instinctively choose diplomacy rather than violence to advance both the national and global cause of peace.
But now, Canada has troops conducting a fighting assignment in a foreign country. How did this happen? The Harper government did not even allow our elected parliamentarians to debate whether Canada’s mission in Afghanistan should be extended and, if so, for how long. Instead, a narrowly approved decision was pushed through earlier this year to extend our military presence in Afghanistan to 2009 without assessing either the "success" or eventual termination conditions of the mission.
And while Stephen Harper sidestepped any meaningful debate on Afghanistan, he is now pushing hard to reopen the debate on gay marriage, a debate whose outcome is nebulous at best and whose ultimate purpose does little to benefit either its supporters or detractors.
Looking at our recent track record, it’s little wonder that Canada’s government is becoming increasingly extremist. Its policies support the Bush administration by appeasing Christian fundamentalists; the recent international conference on AIDS/HIV held in Toronto was boycotted by PM Harper; and it no longer seems possible for Canadians to criticize their government’s Afghanistan policy and have their thoughts and concerns published in the mainstream media.
There is an alarming and growing tide of post 9/11 anti-Islam, anti-immigrant, anti-native, and anti-multiculturalism attitudes in Canada. The censorship of dissenting voices and development of totalitarian political ideologies are bad news for Canada, setting us back some hundreds of years. When an opposition MP recently voiced his considered opinion that Parliament should revisit the issue of listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the ensuing political and media firestorm not only silenced further debate, but forced him to resign from his position as a foreign affairs critic.
It is simply not Canadian to view the rest of the world from the privileged and arrogant position of superior power and wealth. We Canadians should not allow the crime of 9/11 to change our basic character, to rob us of our national soul. Or, have we already changed beyond the point of no return?