Ever since Vancouver hosted the APEC conference in 1997, Canadian politicians have faced a dilemma. How do you clamp down on messy street protests without violating fundamental laws that guarantee freedom of assembly and prohibit political interference with policing?
Post September 11, the answer has revealed itself, as elegant as it is brutal: ditch the laws.
For the past month, civil libertarians and politicians have been duking it out over whether Bill C-36 could be used against political protesters. Justice Minister Anne McLellan says the law is designed to "target terrorists and terrorist groups," and insists it isn't an attempt to crack down on "legitimate political activism and protests," such as the demonstrations during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.
In the face of these assurances, as well as minor amendments to the bill, many have relaxed, convinced that the right to dissent is still protected in Canada. That's because they haven't looked at Canada's other anti-terrorism law, Bill C-35.
On Saturday night, I found myself at a party honouring Nelson Mandela and raising money for his children's fund (I'm still trying to figure out how I ended there). It was a lovely affair and only a very rude person would have pointed out that the party was packed with many of the banking and mining executives who refused to pull their investments out of apartheid-run South Africa for decades.
Mr. Mandela was in Canada this week to receive the highest honour my country has to offer: he was the second person in our history to be made an honorary citizen. So only someone with no sense of timing would have mentioned that, as the Liberal government was honouring Mr. Mandela, it is ramming through an anti-terrorism bill that would have sabotaged the anti-apartheid movement on several fronts had it been in place at the time. (Many other countries are passing similar laws.)
This weekend, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf asked the U.S. to show a little love in return for his cooperation. Specifically, he is fixated on some F-16 fighter jets, sold to Pakistan and then withheld because the country was developing nuclear weapons.
It's the kind of back-scratching diplomacy we've come to expect since September 11: an aid package here, a loan there. And then there are all the smarmy understandings that the U.S. will look the other way when the Chinese or Indonesian militaries beat back liberation movements within their borders, since all state repression seems to be part of the war on terrorism now.
Are these back-room pay-offs and gentlemen's agreements really going to be the only legacies of September 11, or is there more the world community could be demanding during this, the most multilateral of moments?
What do you call someone who believes so firmly in the promise of salvation through a set of rigid rules that they are willing to risk their own life to spread those rules?
A religious fanatic? A holy warrior? How about a U.S. trade negotiator.
On Friday, the World Trade Organization begins its meeting in Doha, Qatar. According to U.S. security briefings, there is reason to believe that al Qaeda, which has plenty of fans in the Gulf state, has managed to get some of its operatives into the country, including an explosives specialist. Some terrorists may even have managed to infiltrate the Qatari military.
Given these threats, you might think that the U.S. and WTO would have canceled their meeting. But not these true believers.
Instead, U.S. delegates have been be kitted out with gas masks, two-way radios and drugs to combat bio-terrorism (Canadian delegates have been issued the drugs as well). As negotiators wrangle over agricultural subsidies, softwood lumber and pharmaceutical patents, helicopters will be waiting to whisk U.S. delegates onto aircraft carriers parked in the Persian Gulf, ready for a Batman style getaway.
Just hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, Republican Representative Curt Weldon went on CNN and announced that he didn't want to hear anyone talking about funding for schools or hospitals. From here on it, it was all about spies, bombs and other manly things.
"The first priority of the U.S. government is not education, it is not health care, it is the defense and protection of U.S. citizens," he said, adding, later: "I'm a teacher married to a nurse—none of that matters today."
But now it turns out that those frivolous social services matter a great deal. What is making the U.S. most vulnerable to terrorist networks is not a depleted weapons arsenal but its starved, devalued and crumbling public sector. The new battle fields are not just the Pentagon, but also the post office; not just military intelligence, but also training for doctors and nurses; not a sexy new missile defense shield, but the boring old Food and Drug Administration.