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Halifax plot shows Harper's racist redefinition of terrorism

Stephen Ellis

March 1, 2015

There's no doubt the that Valentine's Day plot to commit mass murder in a Halifax shopping mall would have been an act of grisly terror, if we define terror as killing people for a religious, ideological or political purpose.
Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, 23, from Geneva, Illinois, and Randall Steven Shepherd, 20, from Halifax, have been formally charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Another alleged participant, 19-year-old Jamie Gamble, shot himself to death after police surrounded his parent’s home. A fourth friend, a 17-year-old male from Cole Harbour, was questioned and released without charge. Among the items retrieved by police were three long-barrelled rifles.
Halifax police and Nova Scotia’s RCMP are taking credit for "foiling" an alleged plan to carry out mass killings of civilians in a public place. In particular, the four were allegedly planning to "open fire" on shoppers in the Halifax Shopping Centre. In actual fact, the plan had been communicated to Halifax police by Illinois authorities, who, in turn, were given an anonymous tip. Police made arrests at the Halifax Airport as Shepherd waited for Souvannarath's arrival.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil praised the work of police. “On behalf of all Nova Scotians, I thank our police officials, here and in the United States, for their quick and professional work. We are grateful for their dedication and vigilance."
“Terrorists” vs “Misfits”
Moments thereafter, analysis of events took on a more calculated tone. Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais commented: “The important thing to realize is this is nothing to do with ethnic or political considerations.” Justice Minister Peter MacKay stated that this was not a terrorist crime. “The attack does not appear to have been culturally motivated, therefore not linked to terrorism.” Instead, he called the group a band of “murderous misfits.” It has become very clear that the Harper's government would not label such acts of actual or contemplated violence "terrorism" unless it could be cynically linked to Muslims.
But understanding that you don't let a good crisis go to waste, MacKay managed to tie himself in knots connecting the plot to Bill C-51, the legislation that would, among other things, vastly expand the powers of Canada's secret police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or CSIS. 
“An individual that would so recklessly and with bloody intent plot to do something like this I would suggest would also be susceptible to being motivated by groups like ISIS and others,” he said. “This is the main concern—that any individual in Canada, whatever their motivation or proclivities might be, would also be susceptible to being recruited or radicalized.” When asked more recently to define terrorism, MacKay conveniently responded, "Look it up."
So, who benefits from a definition of terrorism that is arbitrarily arrived at?
In an article in the Halifax Media Coop entitled, "Nova Scotia Media Not Telling the Full Story. Plotters' Neo-Nazi sympathies downplayed," Rob Devet explains that the political motivation of the plotters was clear: “That at least some of the plotters were into posting Nazi paraphernalia on their facebook pages, or espousing white supremacist ideas on message boards has been downplayed by local reporters. The Tumblr blog of James Gamble, the 19-year old found dead in Timberlea, features pictures of Adolph Hitler and marching Nazis. You go to the Tumblr blog of Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, the Illinois woman now in custody, and a swastika is the first thing you see. Meanwhile, thanks to the work of people who know their way around in the world of blogs, message boards and handles, there are strong suggestions that at least Souvannarath has a long-time infatuation with fascist and white supremacist ideas. None of this has made it into Nova Scotia news outlets.”
What this means is that only the government and the police will decide which murderous conspiracies are acts of terror and which are not. So, the murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa last fall was an act or terror, despite very clear evidence of serious mental health issues on the part of the attacker. Harper's Conservatives also quickly condemned the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen. Yet Harper's gang remain silent on the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by a known white racist. There is no question that had Islamic literature or symbols figured into the possessions or web pages of the Halifax plotters, this event would have quickly been categorized as an act of terrorism. 
Furthermore, the vague language in the proposed Bill C-51 will surely ensnare environmental activists and other engaging in legitimate dissent against Harper's corporate agenda. Allowing the government and other state authorities to decide what constitutes "terror" will further erode the democratic rights generations have fought to maintain.

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