- - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There was a time, not too long ago, when most Canadians would tell you that terrorism wasn’t a major issue in their country. After two terrible events last week, that confident lion’s roar has quickly turned into a nervous mouse’s squeak.

First, Martin Couture-Rouleau ran into two Canadian soldiers with his car on Oct. 20 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. One was killed, and the other remains in the hospital. Police officers immediately pursued Couture-Rouleau and shot him down.

Second, Michael Joseph Zehaf-Bibeau went to the War Memorial in Ottawa on Oct. 22 with a loaded gun. He killed a reservist, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, went across the street to the Parliament buildings, and got inside after shooting the foot of a security guard. He then reportedly fired off 20 to 30 gunshots at security personnel, until the heroic Kevin Vickers, sergeant-at-arms of Canada’s House of Commons and an expert sharpshooter, brought this situation to a screeching halt.

Two wayward souls, who have been described as “thugs,” apparently went berserk and on killing sprees, right? Well, if you dig a little deeper, there are other things that ring some alarm bells.

Couture-Rouleau, a recent convert to Islam, was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) this summer and had his passport seized. He was suspected of links to terrorism, and was added to a high-security list of 93 people who had similar radical tendencies. As for Zehaf-Bibeau, he wasn’t on the list — but was on the national security radar. He had traveled to Syria and reportedly maintained connections with radical groups.

It would therefore be incorrect to say radical Islam had nothing to do with two lunatics blowing a gasket within 48 hours of each other. There’s nothing incorrect in saying these two Canadians had either direct or indirect links with terrorism and radical Islam.

A possible rise in homegrown terrorism isn’t something to be taken lightly. I’m afraid that’s not always been the case in my country.

In 1999, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service report listed 50 terrorist groups that had “sleeper cells” in Canada. This included al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

Previous Liberal governments recognized the threat, but did little to stop them. It got so bad that a 2004 U.S. Library of Congress report noted, “Canada has played a significant role as a base for both transnational criminal activity and terrorist activity.” Canada’s lax attitudes had made us a security hazard in American eyes.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has successfully banned Hamas and other terrorist groups. With new threats in our world, including the barbaric Islamic State, more needs to be done.

I agree with Ian Brodie, the prime minister’s former chief staff, who wrote in The National Post that there’s “no reason to turn Parliament Hill into an armed fortress” and that “Canadians should be able to enjoy the environs of the Hill freely.” Regardless, the nation’s safety and security must be balanced with individual rights and freedoms to ensure that Canadians are protected in all ways, shapes and forms.

For example, more funding needs to be earmarked for the police, military, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. This wouldn’t create a police state. Rather, these groups can best help Canadians fight the war on terrorism, and prevent further growth of homegrown terrorism.

Various parliamentary security measures should also be instituted. This wouldn’t create an Orwellian nightmare. Rather, adding overhead cameras and hiring more security personnel (equipped with guns) would make politicians, staffers and visitors to Parliament feel safer.

There should also be some debate devoted to an idea I’ve thought about for years; namely, putting a gate around Parliament Hill. This wouldn’t create an armed fortress. Rather, it would be similar to what your country did with the White House.

As The Washington Post’s Katie Zezima wrote on Sept. 23, “once upon a time it was possible for just about anyone to stroll into the president’s home during an open house and partake in the free-flowing booze.” Times changed in the United States, and national security became a real concern.

Well, the same thing has happened in Canada. While a fence around Parliament Hill won’t establish complete protection, as we’ve recently seen in Washington, it’s still the right strategy in these difficult times.

There are many lessons Canadians can learn from Americans. Your country has valiantly faced terrorism squarely and protected your democratic institutions in times of crisis. While Canada hasn’t quite reached this stage, we won’t let the terrorists win.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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