Counter-terrorism strategy lists environmentalism as “extremism”

publication date: Jul 9, 2012
author/source: Terrance S. Carter and Nancy E. Claridge
Canada's Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Vic Toews, announced on February 9, 2012, the release of Canada's first counter-terrorism strategy, Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada's Counter-terrorism Strategy (the "Strategy").

The Strategy assesses the nature and scale of the threat of terrorism, and sets out basic principles and elements that underpin the government's counter-terrorism activities. With an overarching goal of countering domestic and international terrorism in order to protect Canada, Canadians and Canadian interests, the Strategy is meant to prioritize the government's counter-terrorism efforts and promote an open discussion with Canadians on threats faced.

Environmentalism lumped with white supremacy, domestic bombings 

As explained below, environmentalism is targeted as an example of domestic issue-based extremism, next to "white supremacy" and the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, as well as the Norway terrorist attacks in 2011. 

The Strategy frames Canada's counter-terrorism activities under four pillars: Prevent, Detect, Deny and Respond. These elements prevent individuals from engaging in terrorism, detect the activities of individuals who may pose a terrorist threat, deny terrorists the means and opportunity to carry out their activities, and respond proportionately, rapidly and in an organized manner, to terrorist activities to mitigate their effects. 

The Strategy states that countering terrorism demands innovative approaches and a global effort. It highlights the importance of cooperation with Canada's international partners, all levels of government, security intelligence and law enforcement agencies, industry stakeholders and civil society. It includes mechanisms for monitoring the government's efforts and reporting to Canadians on the Strategy's progress, including an annual report. 

Interestingly, the Strategy states that the threat to Canada from terrorism has three main components, one of which is domestic issue-based extremism. More particularly, it names environmentalism as one source of low-level violence by domestic issue-based groups in Canada. In this regard, the Strategy states: 

Although not of the same scope and scale faced by other countries, low-level violence by domestic issue-based groups remains a reality in Canada. Such extremism tends to be based on grievances - real or perceived - revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism. Other historical sources of Canadian domestic extremism pose less of a threat.  

Although very small in number, some groups in Canada have moved beyond lawful protest to encourage, threaten and support acts of violence. As seen in Oklahoma City in 1995 and in Norway in 2011, continued vigilance is essential since it remains possible that certain groups - or even a lone individual - could choose to adopt a more violent, terrorist strategy to achieve their desired results.

Senate, federal budgeteers join in attacks Lately Canada is seeing an increased negative focus on environmental organizations. For example, in the recent Senate debates beginning on February 28, 2012, Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton alleged interference of foreign foundations in Canada's domestic affairs through their funding of Canadian charities. The charitable sector has raised concerns about increased scrutiny of foreign funding of charities in Canada, particularly with regard to environmental organizations and the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. 

Additionally, the federal Budget 2012 introduced enhanced compliance and disclosure requirements for charities and registered Canadian amateur athletic associations regarding political activities. In this regard, Budget 2012 states that "[c]oncerns have been raised that some charities may be exceeding these limitations and that there is currently no requirement for a charity to disclose the extent to which it receives funding from foreign sources for political activities." These comments were in reference to media coverage concerning the Senate debate. 

Hazy logic unfortunate, unnecessary 

It is unclear why environmentalism has been targeted in the Strategy, or how it is logically connected to white supremacist organizations or terrorist activities like the Oklahoma City bombings or the recent attacks in Norway. But it will no doubt create an unfortunate and unnecessarily pejorative characterization of an important part of the charitable and not-for-profit sector in Canada. 

For example, the Globe and Mail reports that documents obtained under an Access to Information order revealed that federal security services have identified Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ("PETA") as the kind of "multi-issue extremist" groups that pose a threat to Canadians. This included a CSIS report that highlighted PETA's opposition to the Canadian seal hunt and reported its plan to launch a website portraying the mascot of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as "bloodthirsty seal killers." And they noted PETA's threat to boycott Canadian maple syrup.

Deliberate blurring of boundaries for questionable purpose Likening environmentalists and animal rights groups to home-grown terrorists and mass murderers raises the question of whether the government is blurring the lines of counter-terrorism in order to target otherwise legitimate opponents and justify questionable surveillance campaigns. Canada's new strategy is clearly an issue that the non-profit sector in Canada will need to carefully monitor, and vigorously oppose when it restricts the ability of charitable and not-for-profit organizations in Canada to pursue their legitimate goals. 

For more information, see The Strategy, "Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada's Counter-terrorism Strategy"; the announcement of the Strategy,; Globe and Mail article February 16, 2012, by Shawn McCarthy, "Security services deem environmental, animal-rights groups ‘extremist' threats". 

Terrance S. Carter is the managing partner of Carters Professional Corporation, and counsel to Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP on charitable matters. Nancy E. Claridge is Partner at Carters Professional Corporation. The authors would like to thank Kristen D. van Arnhem, Student-at-Law, for assisting in the preparation of this article. 

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