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Book Reviews

September 11: Consequences For Canada

by Kent Roach
Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 272 pages, $22.95
Reviewed by Philippe Lagassé


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Owing to the fundamental values and principles on which they are based, liberal democracies are particularly vulnerable to terrorism. Rights to privacy, due process, freedom of speech and association, while essential for liberty, can also be used to aid and protect those who terrorize liberal societies. A fundamental challenge facing liberal democracies in their efforts to counteract terrorism, therefore, is the delimitation of how far a nation can encroach on liberties in order to protect its citizens. In September 11: Consequences for Canada, University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach examines how the Canadian government has performed this careful balancing act since September 2001. His meticulous scrutiny of Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, persuasively demonstrates that Ottawa has gone too far in limiting liberty to guarantee security. Moreover, Roach shows that the government’s anti-terrorism efforts have been misdirected, and risk being redundant and ineffectual.

Were Roach’s book limited to this legal analysis, it would be a welcome introduction to the Canadian ‘liberty versus security’ debate. Unfortunately, September 11: Consequences for Canada also serves to promote Roach’s vision of a morally superior Canada, whose participation in the American-led war on terrorism is presented as a violation of its peacekeeping, multicultural, and human security values. The problem is not that Roach argues for a distinct, progressive Canada. Such an argument should be heard and respected. The problem is rather that Roach does not argue at all; he simply puts forth this idealistic vision without examining its merits or implications. As a result, the book’s solid legal critique is drowned in a sea of empty rhetoric.

Roach’s concerns about the Anti-Terrorism Act are many. First, he questions why Ottawa felt it necessary to introduce new anti-terrorism laws when existing laws already identified most terrorist acts as criminal. Roach attributes Ottawa’s decision to an increasing tendency to politicize crime: writing new laws to show that the government is ‘doing something’. A larger problem demonstrated by C-36 is that enacting new laws can prompt the government to expand its coercive powers. The Anti-Terrorism Act makes criminal the disruption of essential services. Roach fears that the Act can therefore be used against legitimate protesters. Similarly, C-36 includes provisions for preventive arrest and forced self-incrimination. These, and many other troubling C-36 provisions, lead Roach to conclude that the government was too zealous in drafting the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Second, C-36’s consistency with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is no proof that it is wise or commendable. Roach outlines various ways in which C-36 could be misused by law enforcement, yet still be considered constitutional. Of particular worry to Roach is that C-36 does not specifically prevent racial profiling or other forms of discrimination. Cabinet’s ability to list groups as terrorists without judicial oversight is a further problem. Not only does this ease the burden on prosecutors to prove an individual guilty of being, or having affiliations with, terrorists, it also impinges on the proper function of the courts. In response, Roach urges the courts to reassert control over their functions and to be active in the defence of the rights of minorities and the accused.

Lastly, Roach criticizes Ottawa for giving priority to anti-terrorism laws ahead of consequence management efforts. To complement its new anti-terrorism laws, the United States formed a new department of homeland security to coordinate those efforts. In Canada, however, the proposed Public Safety Act (which addresses consequence management) has yet to become law. Given that terrorists are unlikely to be deterred by the threat of criminal sanction, Roach worries that the government is disproportionately concerned with the actors instead of their actions. Insofar as consequence management deals with disasters of all kinds, natural or deliberate, Roach thus proposes that more attention be paid to dealing with the effects of terrorism.

Overall, Roach’s legal analysis of C-36 is poignant, though at times too dismissive of the pressure on the government to ‘do something’ about terrorism following 11 September 2001. Above all, Roach succeeds in compelling the reader to think critically about the ramifications of C-36, particularly as it pertains to the rights of an accused person, and the need to give priority to consequence management efforts. The same cannot be said about Roach’s opinions on the war on terrorism, Canadian nationalism, Canada–US relations, and the national character of the United States.

An underlying theme of September 11: Consequences for Canada is that the events of September 2001 have provided Canadians with a new opportunity to embrace a distinct nationalism. This nationalism is not simply about being different from the United States; it is meant to be an embrace of Canada’s moral superiority over America. Roach litters his book with examples of this supposed Canadian superiority. Whereas the United States is portrayed as a nation ignorant of history and intolerant of dissent, Canada is said to be deeply historical and tolerant. For instance, Roach argues that Americans silenced criticism of their government post-9/11, while Canadians respected all views. This assertion is false. Every criticism of American foreign policy heard in Canada was echoed in the United States. Indeed, most condemnations of American foreign policy originated in the United States. America is a profoundly self-critical country. One need only look to at the writings of Susan Sontag and Noam Chomsky, the documentaries of Michael Moore, and the activism of the University of California at Berkley to see this.

Next, greater security cooperation with the United States is understood by Roach to be a threat to Canada’s distinct values. Specifically, joint visa and immigration controls and discriminatory border practices are seen as a threat to Canada’s refugee policies and multicultural society. While this may be true, Roach hurts his case by glossing over the economic consequences of not cooperating with the United States. Roach seems to suggest that Canadians should not be encouraged to weigh the economic costs of their social policies. Most surprisingly, Roach dismisses the 1938 Roosevelt–Mackenzie King agreement that Canada will never allow itself to be a security liability to the United States. According to Roach, this dispensation is no longer applicable since it referred to a German/Japanese threat. In effect, Roach is suggesting that Canada now ignore a continental defence axiom to which Ottawa has adhered since before the Second World War. No mention is made of how Washington might react to Ottawa’s rejection of the keystone principle of joint continental security.

Roach’s weakest proscriptions relate to Canada’s role in the war on terrorism. With Canada joining the Americans in Afghanistan, Roach believes this country undermined its long-standing role as a peacekeeper and advocate of international law. In addition, Roach holds that Canada, as a proponent of human security and peacekeeping, is in an ideal position to renounce solutions to terrorism which rely on the use of force. This argument is problematic for three reasons. First, Roach never explains properly how human security can weaken terrorism. The only “evidence” given is that terrorism is rooted in poverty, and that a human security agenda helps to improve unfortunate economic situations; the idea that poverty leads to terrorism is accepted without question. The purported strengths of the human security agenda are not supported by concrete examples. Second, Roach’s claim that the war on terrorism has been ineffectual is highly questionable. Several thousand Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured, Afghanistan can no longer serve as a base of terrorist operations, and authorities throughout the world have cooperated in preventing new attacks. While force alone may not end the threat of terrorism, it is not as ineffective as Roach maintains. Finally, Roach ignores the moral imperative of the war on terrorism. A nation that cowers behind consequence management measures, refusing to take up arms against those who harm its closest friends and allies, is arguably without a sense of right or wrong. Canada was not neutral in the war against the Axis powers. Nor was Canada neutral in the Cold War. Neutrality in the war on terrorism could therefore be seen as an abandonment of Canada’s historic sense of justice.

In a 1984 interview, French philosopher Michel Foucault was asked why he did not engage in polemics. Foucault answered that, as compared to the sincere interlocutor, “[t]he polemicist...proceeds encased in privileges that he possess in advance and will never agree to question.... [H]is final objective will be, not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth, but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning.” Therein lies the main flaw of Roach’s work; while his critical analyses of C-36 and lagging consequence management initiatives are insightful, his dogmatic fidelity to the human security agenda and nationalistic truisms preclude a productive debate about Canada’s response to terrorism and the future of Canada–US relations. September 11: Consequences for Canada stands out as an important legal investigation, but a poor political one.


Philippe Lagassé, a recent graduate of the War Studies Programme at Royal Military College, is a doctoral candidate at Carleton University.