This Canadian Press article by Laura Kane explains how the distinction between “terrorism” and mere criminal activity can be blurry, and why the alleged plot to shoot up the Halifax Shopping Centre this past weekend doesn’t qualify as a terror plot:
Police said there is no evidence that ideology or culture is part of the allegations. But if plotting to cause mass murder in a public place is not called terrorism, then what is?
Defining terrorism is a complex task, one that has preoccupied governments since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, experts say. And with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new anti-terror bill before Parliament, taking a closer look at the Canadian definition is all the more crucial.
“The problem of defining terrorism has been a thorny one from the get-go,” said terrorism expert John Thompson, vice president of Strategic Capital and Intelligence Group.
“Terrorism overlaps with so many other activities. When does a violent protest become terrorism? When does some sort of psychotic episode where someone is acting out become terrorism? It’s a very hazy border.”
In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of intimidating the public’s security or compelling a person, government or organization to do or refrain from doing an act.
Andrew Mack, a security expert and professor in the school for international studies at Simon Fraser University, called the alleged Halifax plot a “deadly criminal offence,” but not a terrorist one.
“The important point there is political intent, and ‘political’ is fairly widely interpreted,” he said. “If we’re talking about (ISIS), for example, they will always justify what they’re doing in religious terms. But as far as law enforcement is concerned, that’s political.”
That’s the question: were the shooters motivated by any religious or political ideology? A widely-shared article by Robert Devet, for the Halifax Media Co-op, argues that the would-be shooters’ fascination with Nazism is being downplayed:
The Tumblr blog of James Gamble, the 19-year old found dead in Timberlea, features pictures of Adolph Hitler and marching Nazis.
You go to the Tumblr blog of Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, the Illinois woman now in custody, and a swastika is the first thing you see.
Meanwhile, thanks to the work of people who know their way around in the world of blogs, message boards and handles, there are strong suggestions that at least Souvannarath has along-time infatuation with fascist and white supremacist ideas. None of this has made it into Nova Scotia news outlets.
One CBC reporter looked at Gamble’s Tumblr blog, and mentions the Nazi references in passing, almost as an afterthought.
The same for a Chronicle Herald story, where a reference to Nazi images warrants one sentence.
You have to wonder whether coverage would have changed in tone had the plotters been Muslims, and had the Tumblr images been of Osama Bin Laden, or ISIS militants?
That’s a good question, actually. Justin Bourque, who murdered three RCMP during his shooting rampage in Moncton, was apparently motivated at least in part by his radical anti-government, anti-police beliefs, yet he wasn’t charged with terrorism-related offences.
Islamist terrorism is a very serious threat – we saw that in Copenhagen this past weekend, right around the same time as the Halifax plotters were being charged. But not all terrorists are Muslims – and, it goes without saying, not all Muslims are terrorists.