Just who do we call a terrorist?

In late January, Kingston was the centre of a major “terrorist” story.

I live in Kingston; in fact, just a few blocks from one of the houses raided in the investigation. This was certainly the closest I had ever come to such excitement, a word I use with considerable cynicism. I was, however, oblivious to the investigation until it was all over; neither hearing the apparent days of drone activity in the skies over Kingston nor seeing any indication of the raid on the house.

Others I know were aware of pieces of the story as it unfolded: a friend works in the building that houses ISKA (Immigrant Services of Kingston and Area), which was treated to the presence of RCMP, FBI and local police for a number of days. The students living in a house near one of those raided, one of them the daughter of a close friend, were questioned by the RCMP, lest they had seen or heard anything suspicious. Parents of kids attending a nearby high school received a message from the school assuring them that their children had never been in any danger.

At the end of it all, the day before the second anniversary of the Quebec City mosque attack, a 16-year-old believed to be a Muslim refugee from Syria was charged with a number of terrorism-related offences. A 20-year-old, another a Syrian refugee, living in Kingston with his family, was also arrested but was released without any charges having been laid against him.

Comparisons are important

Let’s compare the legal responses to the Quebec mosque attack and the Kingston “terror” story.

Alexandre Bissonnette, the young man convicted of the Quebec mosque attack, in which six people were killed and 19 injured, was charged with murder and attempted murder. Despite his social media activity in which he displayed views that were violent, racist and zenophobic, he was not charged with any terrorism-related offences.

The Kingston teenager faces a number of terrorism-related offences, even though there is no evidence he had any terrorist connections, had engaged in any previous terrorist activity or held or espoused hatred for any group of people. His alleged actions have not resulted in injury or death. The RCMP readily acknowledged that there was no known target or date for any kind of attack.

What’s the difference? Bissonnette is a home-grown, white-skinned Canadian killer, whereas the unidentified Kingston teen is likely Muslim and hails from Syria.

As Karl Neremberg noted in rabble.ca:

“When an old-stock English- or French-speaking Canadian commits a crime, however brutal and bloody, we tend to see it as a crime and nothing more. In our collective eyes, the only guilty person is the perpetrator himself. His guilt does not extend to any group or community . . . The story is quite different when the accused person is someone who is, possibly, a recent arrival to Canada.”

It happens with VAW too

We do the same thing with acts of violence against women.

FACT: a woman in Canada was killed every other day last year, most often by a man she knew.

FACT: women’s shelters in this country are almost always full to overflowing.

FACT: calls for support to sexual assault centres have reached record levels across Canada.

The authorities in the Kingston “terror” story acknowledged:

“At no time was the city of Kingston or any Canadian area under direct threat.”

This did not stop them from laying terrorism charges against a teenager.

Canadian women – more than half the country’s population – are under threat every day, and yet we do not identify violence against women as a national security threat or call it a form of terrorism.

Racism, Islamophobia and misogyny continue to thrive in Canada. It is time to change that story.

One thought on “Just who do we call a terrorist?

  1. Lynching in the US has long been recognized as a pattern of oppressive conduct affecting the entire black community through terror, an impact that the separate murders of single individuals would not have. Police murders of unarmed, running away, even sleeping and/or underage black boys and men in the US can be understood as the continuation of this form of racist terrorism. The analogy to the stalking, rape and murder of women is obvious. It’s a pattern of crimes against individual women that has the effect of oppressing and controlling the conduct of us all through fear.

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