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Trade Freedom for "Security"? That's a Raw Deal, Canada

So here we are -- witnessing the slow and painful death of freedom in Canada as the Harper administration relentlessly wages a war on critical thinking that has left us with drastic reductions to our anonymity, due process, freedom of assembly, and virtual privacy in exchange for some intangible conceptualization of security.
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The odds of dying in a terrorist attack on North American soil are roughly 1 in 20 million. Canadians have a better chance of being killed by a stray bullet in a random Toronto shooting -- 1 in 222,000, or suffering a fatal car accident -- 1 in 11,000.

According to the Terrorist Risk Index, Canada enjoys the lowest risk of terrorism out of all major Western economies -- and at 1 in 14 million, even winning the Lotto 649 is more probable than experiencing an act of extremism here at home.

If we scrutinize the recent history of alleged terror plots foiled in Canada, we are met with a few hastily planned and easily thwarted attacks on the B.C. legislature and a VIA Rail passenger train, a loosely associated terror bunch --"Project Samossa," and a meagre attempt to smuggle parts of an AR-15 rifle through the airport in Montreal.

Evidently -- if past experiences and expert analyses serve as any indication, that is -- terrorism is not one of the most serious threats to Canadian safety and security. Urban violence and negligent drivers are responsible for more deaths in a month than every terrorist incident on Canadian soil since before September 11th.

Unfortunately, the sensational language employed by the Harper administration and law enforcement agencies when referring to terrorist threats tends to be substantially more dramatic than the realities uncovered by those expert non-partisan analyses, past historical experiences, and irrefutable statistical evidence.

For example, the 2013 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada -- an annual review by the Ministry of Public Safety -- is teeming with rhetorically charged phrases such as "radicalizing homegrown violent extremists," and speculative claims about the imminent dangers posed by the increasing power of omnipresent terror cells.

"Canada continues to be featured on al-Qaeda's list of priority targets... The terrorist threat impacts how we conduct diplomacy, business, travel, security and development assistance, both at home and abroad... The majority of domestic terrorists are influenced by the ideology of al-Qaida."

These statements -- and the countless others spouting from the report -- illustrate the Conservative government's unsubstantiated conviction, which Prime Minister Harper himself has reiterated time and again, that "the biggest security threat to Canada is Islamicism."

For its part, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has also chimed in to stress, "there are many terrorist organizations active within Canada's borders," not to mention the fact that "Canada's solidarity with the United States and other Western democracies in the fight against terrorism has rendered Canada a potential target."

What's more, arrests in the above mentioned alleged planned VIA Rail passenger train and B.C. Legislature attacks were accompanied by flashy RCMP press conferences where stark-faced liaisons brazenly trumpeted links between the would-be extremists and some sort of domestic "al-Qaeda recruitment force" -- even though neither government nor the RCMP has yet to present any evidence to the public substantiating such claims.

Nevertheless, I can probably guess what some of the more credulous of Canadians are thinking...

The reason we have had so few terror-related incidents in Canada -- that our risk is lowest in the Western world -- is because our law enforcement agencies and government intelligence services do such an outstanding job containing terrorism. Moreover, the reason they cannot tell us more about their operations is because it will expose the government's plans to all the terrorists out there.

Regrettably, that is exactly the sort of dangerously convenient rhetoric the Harper administration wants us to believe. It's political posturing par excellence -- the classically tyrannical "we can't tell you what we're up to for security reasons, but trust us, there are plenty of scary terrorist threats out there that we're keeping you safe from."

But why in the world would our governments and law enforcement agencies want to inflate the terrorist threat you ask?

The answer is simple: to engage the strongest political validation of them all -- fear.

With fear come easy justifications for augmented military spending, increased political leverage, and, above all, a terrified citizenry which longs for security, safety, and refuge -- the kinds of things we were told could only be guaranteed if we were willing to give up some of our Charter-imparted rights and freedoms in return.

In the wake of 9/11 we allowed the Liberal government to pass Bill C-36 -- an anti-terrorism act containing provisions allowing for secret trials, pre-emptive detention, and expansive surveillance and security powers. When the Maple Spring gripped Quebec, the provincial Liberal Party passed Bill 78 -- a law that required protests of 50 plus to register with the authorities beforehand. And when the Boston bombings presented an opportunity, Harper's Conservatives pushed through Bill C-309 -- a bill banning the wearing of masks during laxly defined "riots or unlawful assemblies."

Also in the works, Bill C-12, a further surveillance act legitimizing the warrantless acquisition of customer information from ISPs, email hosts, and social media sites on a voluntary basis; the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement regulating the sharing of digital content and further eradicating privacy safeguards online; and the new Strengthening Counter-Terrorism Legislation, amendments to the Criminal Code reinforcing the power and influence of that original "anti-terror" Bill C-36.

So here we are -- witnessing the slow and painful death of freedom in Canada as the Harper administration relentlessly wages a war on critical thinking that has left us with drastic reductions to our anonymity, due process, freedom of assembly, and virtual privacy, all in exchange for some intangible conceptualization of security.

And therein lies the problem -- security is not a tangible thing. Rights and freedoms are definite and palpable public goods that once earned, can be invoked and enjoyed. Security is a vague and mysterious assurance that once engaged, can operate outside the parameters of a free and transparent democratic society.

In short, we're trading something irreplaceable that will in all likelihood never be returned to us for nothing but a vague promise by a government asking us to "trust them." When you simplify the exchange, it doesn't sound like a fair deal does it?

After all, while we cannot say for certain how much safer all this "security" has made us, we can say how much less free it has made us -- and that right there should serve as a stark reminder that those willing to trade freedoms for "security" will end up with neither.

10th WORST Country For Press Freedom: Sudan

Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index 2013

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