By Scott J. White, Special to CNN
Scott J. White is an associate professor for National Security and director of External Academic Programs at Drexel University's College of Computing and Informatics. The views expressed are his own.
At its core, terrorist violence challenges a state’s commitment and adherence to liberty and democracy, and the threats we face within our borders and beyond test the very underpinnings of our society. Canada faced just such a threat this week.
On October 22, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is alleged to have engaged in an unspeakable act of wanton violence, reportedly walking up to a soldier guarding a memorial and shooting him, before opening fire inside the country’s parliament.
In 1927, the Right Hon. Raoul Dandurand, a lawyer and Canadian senator, said that Canada and defacto the United States were “a fireproof house, far from the sources of conflagration.” The longtime politician was noting our geographic distance from Europe and that continent’s history of conflict. However, the events of 9/11 demonstrated that the United States was no longer exempt from the direct impact of a spillover of terrorist violence. And this week’s incident was a reminder that neither is Canada.
Domestically, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have identified a small but notable number of radicals whose extremist words stand in contradiction to our way of life and our democracy. However, in free societies, such as Canada, words no matter how controversial are not a crime. Indeed, even suspected terrorists are entitled to careful protection of their rights and are accorded due process of law.
Herein lays the paradox we face – the very qualities that make our society worthy of preserving are the very things that may be corrupted and exploited by those who wish to harm us.
Of course, terrorism is hardly a new phenomenon. However, the problem of how best to confront terrorism continues to confound our society. The threat of violence against the state and ultimately its people, will, if unchallenged, undermine its very existence. The problem for our democratic society is how best to challenge those who would use violence against us, without disregarding the rights and liberties which we all share.
Successful terrorists have effectively used our freedoms to their advantage in the past. For proof, one need look no further than the events of September 11, 2001. The 19 al Qaeda terrorists were able to move about the United States unobstructed for months before the attack. However, the dilemma facing the United States and all free nations has not changed from that fateful day, namely, how do we address the legal prevention and avoidance of terrorist acts without resorting to illegal or anti-democratic means?
In Canada’s case, this past week’s attacks suggest there are three responses we should be considering.
For a start, Canadians will have to view security differently – there must be a cultural change. Security must be viewed as a necessity, even if that security alters the relationship between the parliamentarians and their constituents. There must be strictly controlled access points and visitors must be more careful scrutinized.
In regard to the security services on Parliament Hill, where this week’s attack took place, there is no single command and control structure – there are four agencies responsible for security in the Parliament. Either greater communication protocols must be established between these services, or a single command structure with jurisdictional authority for security must be established.
Finally, greater vehicle restrictions have to be implemented on the Hill.
Open societies such as Canada are especially vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Our openness permits would be terrorists to develop here at home or cross our borders and move about freely without fear of arbitrary arrest or detention. Vigilance, constant and unwavering, is the price we must all pay to keep our nation and our world safe from those who would use violence, or the threat of violence, to coerce, or intimidate us into changing our way of life.