The Rise of Treason and the Decline of Canadian-Based Terror Threats

James Bissett
March 1, 2010
A former Canadian Ambassador with 36 years of service in eastern and central Europe, the Caribbean and Moscow, along with service as head of Canada’s immigration service, James Bisset argues the unwillingness to call treason by its proper name—and preference to use other, less serious sections of the Criminal Code when dealing with terrorists is an example of how deeply political correctness has permeated our society: “There is a dangerous tendency to obscure the truth and to camouflage unpleasant facts by ignoring them or by using euphemisms to minimize their gravity. “

The Rise of Treason and the Decline of Canadian-Based Terror Threats

James Bissett
March 1, 2010
A former Canadian Ambassador with 36 years of service in eastern and central Europe, the Caribbean and Moscow, along with service as head of Canada’s immigration service, James Bisset argues the unwillingness to call treason by its proper name—and preference to use other, less serious sections of the Criminal Code when dealing with terrorists is an example of how deeply political correctness has permeated our society: “There is a dangerous tendency to obscure the truth and to camouflage unpleasant facts by ignoring them or by using euphemisms to minimize their gravity. “
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An era ago: William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and William Joyce

For many years, high treason was regarded as the most heinous of crimes. In England, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was punishable by being “hanged, drawn and quartered.” Many historical figures suffered this gruesome fate. Among them were Scottish rebel William Wallace in 1305, the notorious Guy Fawkes in 1606, and some of the defeated highlanders after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Perhaps the best-known British traitor to be hanged for treason was William Joyce (or Lord Haw Haw, as the public called him). He was executed in January 1946 for having broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda from Berlin during the Second World War.

Louis Riel, the controversial Métis leader, was one of the few Canadians executed for treason. He was hanged in Regina in 1885. His death sentence was controversial and caused strong opposition in Quebec. Nevertheless, the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was adamant that treason deserved the death penalty and swore, “He shall hang though every dog in Quebec barks in his favour.” After the Second World War, another Canadian was hanged for treason, but unlike Louis Riel, few Canadians have heard of him. His name was Kanao Inouye, a second-generation Japanese, born in Kamloops, British Columbia. Inouye journeyed to Japan in 1938 and served in the Japanese military during the war. He was a brutal guard in Hong Kong, and he was held responsible for the deaths of eight Canadian prisoners of war. He was executed in 1947 in Stanley Prison, Hong Kong. Inouye was the last person in Canada to be charged with treason.

The majority of individuals charged with treason committed the act during wartime or rebellion. Treason is essentially a political crime and is usually motivated by ideological, religious or political reasons. Those who commit treason have forsaken their loyalty to the sovereign power of the state of which they are citizens. They are prepared to betray their country and their fellow citizens and very often do so with violence and terror. Since treason is a crime against the people as a whole and not against an individual, it has occupied a special category in the lexicon of crime. The severest penalty in the Criminal Code is usually reserved for traitors and the penalty is meant to serve as a symbol and warning to others that treason will not be tolerated.

Since the hanging of Inouye in 1947, there have been occasions in Canada where it might have been appropriate to charge individuals with treason, but there has been reluctance to do so.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War in September 1945, the revelations by Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, of a spy ring operating in Canada resulted in charges against a number of Canadians suspected of providing classified information to the Soviet Union. Thirty-nine suspects – most of them public servants – were arrested. Of the 20 brought to trial, only 11 were convicted, including Frank Rose, a Member of Parliament from Montreal who had been elected as a member of the Communist Party of Canada. None of those convicted was charged with treason, and Rose was convicted of violating the Official Secrets Act. He served four and one-half years of an eight-year sentence. In addition, his Canadian citizenship was revoked. The Gouzenko defection and the reality that the Soviets were spying on their former allies played a key role in alerting the West to the Soviet menace, and it was a factor in ushering in the beginning of the Cold War. If the Gouzenko defection had taken place during the Cold War, would Frank Rose have been charged with treason is an interesting question.

The FLQ, radical Islam and the decline of citizenship

After the October Crisis of 1970, when the murderers of then Quebec minister of labour, Pierre Laporte, were apprehended and brought to trial, they were not charged with treason under Canada’s Criminal Code despite the wording of section 46(2)(a): “Every one commits treason who, in Canada, uses force or violence for the purposes of overthrowing the government of Canada or a province.” Persons found guilty of treason are liable to be sentenced to imprisonment for life. Paul Rose and Francis Simard were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Bernard Lortie was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while Jacques Rose (the brother of Pauil Rose) was sentenced to eight years as an accessory. During the crisis, some members of the FLQ cell involved in the murder of Laporte were granted safe passage to Cuba. They eventually returned to Canada and spent less than a year in jail. By the early 1980s, all of the convicted were walking freely in the streets of Quebec. The murdered Pierre Laporte was forgotten, and the perpetrators were almost afforded celebrity status. In 1981, Jacques Rose received a standing ovation when he was introduced at a Parti Québécois convention.

The members of the FLQ responsible for violence and murder were not charged with treason because – even if decrying their methods – a significant part of the Quebec population sympathized with the aims of the terrorist group. A charge of treason by the government carries with it the risk of losing the political support of those who sympathize with the goals of the terrorists. It is therefore more prudent for political leaders to use other less “political” sections of the Criminal Code, thus avoiding the fallout of daring to use the word “treason.” As far as the FLQ rebels are concerned, their lenient treatment would seem to give truth to the old saying, “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Nevertheless, there is a downside to this reluctance to charge traitors with treason. A lesser charge suggests that an ordinary crime has been committed, and as a result, the powerful symbolic significance of a charge of treason is lost. Moreover, to deal with treason as if it were just a common crime runs the risk of misleading the people and concealing the existence of a serious threat to the security of the state. The unwillingness to call treason by its true name and to prefer to use other less serious sections of the Criminal Code when dealing with terrorists is a further example of how deeply political correctness has permeated our society. There is a dangerous tendency to obscure the truth and to camouflage unpleasant facts by ignoring them or by using euphemisms to minimize their gravity.

The real causes of treasonable acts are often concealed for fear of offending particular ethnic or religious groups or organizations. The most glaring example of this was the failure after the events of 9/11 to identify the perpetrators as radical Muslims. Instead, war was declared against a vague and ambiguous term – “terror.” It was not until October 2005 in a speech in Washington before The National Endowment for Democracy that then president George W. Bush dared to identify the real enemy as radical Islamists who are dedicated to ending Western influence in the Muslim world, gaining control of Muslim governments and establishing a radical Muslim empire from Spain to Indonesia.

Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been a series of terrorist acts by Muslim extremists in a number of countries. So far, Canada has been spared these outrages, often committed by people born in the countries where the acts are perpetrated. However, Canadian security services had warned as early as May 2000, before 9/11, that there were many extremist Muslim groups operating here and that a terrorist strike could not be ruled out.

The warnings became more meaningful when in March 2004 a young Muslim, Momin Khawaja, was arrested and charged with plotting with a group of British Muslims to detonate fertilizer bombs in London. Khawaja, who was born and raised in Canada, was found guilty of financing and facilitating terrorism and of building a remote-controlled device that could trigger bombs. He was sentenced to 10½ years in addition to the five he had already spent in prison. The Crown asked for two life sentences, but the judge believed it had not been proven that Khawaja knew the device he built would be used to detonate bombs in London.

The legal proceedings took five years to complete, primarily because the judge had earlier declared a part of the anti-terrorist law to be contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it defined a terrorist act as one committed “for political, religious or ideological purposes.” According to the judge, defining terrorism in this way “…will result in racial or ethnic profiling by government authorities at many levels.” Even before this surprising judgment, the Minister of Justice, Vic Toews, indicated the law was to be amended, since it could lead to profiling of people of a particular religion, especially Islam! Many Canadians might have assumed that what was more inclined to cause profiling of Muslims was the fact that they were setting off all the bombs.

The court’s ruling and the statement by the Minister of Justice were clear indications that political correctness was to be a primary obstacle in preventing our security forces from successfully bringing to justice those who plot against the state and are willing to murder their fellow citizens in the name of religion. There seems no reason to doubt that political correctness is also a factor in explaining why our government is disinclined to charge terrorists with treason despite the clarity of the language defining treason in the Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code makes it clear that a Canadian citizen commits high treason if, while in or outside of Canada, he or she “…levies war against Canada or assists an enemy at war with Canada, or any armed forces against whom Canadian forces are engaged in hostilities whether or not a state of war exists ….” The Code also provides for a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of high treason. By any standard, it would seem that Momin Khawaja should have been charged with high treason.

The Khawaja affair was not an isolated incident. In June 2006, 18 Canadian Muslims from 15 to 43 years old were accused of plotting a series of terrorist activities that included bombing attacks against the CBC, the Toronto Stock Exchange, the headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Parliament buildings, as well as kidnapping and beheading the Prime Minister and other political leaders. Five members of the group pleaded guilty to belonging to a terrorist organization and of planning to detonate bombs. They were sentenced from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment. Seven had their charges dropped or stayed, and the remaining six have yet to come to trial.

In chronic denial: Police, courts and Parliament


During the press conference held by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announcing the arrests of the Toronto 18, the police spokesperson emphasized that those arrested “represented a broad strata of Canadian society.” The Toronto Star went even further and claimed it would be “difficult to find a common denominator among them.” There seemed to be an almost desperate attempt to deny the reality that all of the men allegedly involved were Muslims and that many of them had attended the same mosque in Toronto. Several media reports suggested the “would-be” bombers were simply misguided youth who were not capable of carrying through with their terrorist plans. Again, it was not thought appropriate to charge these men with treason, and the media and – sadly – even our security forces appeared determined to show there was no link to radical Islam.

Our reluctance to charge terrorists with treason is symptomatic of a larger problem inhibiting Canada from confronting and dealing forcefully with radical Islamists and their dreams of establishing Muslim hegemony throughout the world. The almost-sacred status afforded the twin pillars of multiculturalism and diversity has blinded our intellectual elite and politicians to the obvious dangers of this menace. Despite warnings by prominent Canadians Muslims such as Rashid Manji, Tarek Fatah and Salim Mansur and despite the overwhelming evidence that radical Islamists have repeatedly committed outrageous acts of violence and terror in almost every part of the globe, there is a disturbing denial in the media, government and the academic institutions of Canada to acknowledge that we have a serious problem. Political correctness has forestalled any attempt to design sensible programs aimed at combating the spread of this threat.

Shortly after the events of 9/11, the federal government passed an omnibus anti-terrorist act that defined terrorism and incorporated a number of new offences into the Criminal Code. Although the new legislation was mild compared with most of the European anti-terrorism laws and contained a five-year sunset clause, a wide range of protesters outraged that the legislation might trample on civil and human rights immediately attacked it. Multicultural Canadians – tolerant, affluent and politically correct – immune from the reality of war and mass violence at first hand, could not imagine there were people who might wish to harm them.

As might be expected, the legislation was challenged in the courts, and in the Momin Khawaja trial, the judge struck down the definition of terrorism on the grounds it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The legislation was finally rendered ineffective in March 2007, when Parliament by a vote of 159 to 124 refused to renew the two most-essential clauses in the law – preventative arrest of a suspect about to commit a terrorist act and the power to bring before an investigative judge someone suspected of withholding terrorist information. The anti-terrorist act had little “anti” left in it.

In February 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered a further blow to our counter-terrorist efforts by ruling that the Security Certificate process was contrary to the Charter. The Security Certificate had been used by the government as a fast-track system for getting rid of foreign nationals suspected of being security threats. When two federal ministers and a federal court judge were satisfied that an individual who was not a citizen was a security risk, a certificate was issued to detain the person and then remove him or her from Canada. It was a tried-and-true process – until it ran up against the Charter.

The implications of the demise of the Security Certificate are serious. We are left with only the criminal law to deal with terrorists, and this is less-than-adequate protection. Despite what some members of the judiciary and government may have declared, the fact is that terrorism is motivated by political, religious or ideological reasons. The structure of criminal law was not designed to deal with religious or ideological violence. Most terrorists are not criminals, nor do they consider themselves as such. In many cases, the first criminal act committed by a terrorist is to self-destruct by detonating a bomb that kills dozens of innocent victims. It is then too late for a criminal charge to be laid. The act has been done, and only the obituaries are left to be written. When combating terrorism, the name of the game is prevention, and this demands extraordinary methods that are frequently not sanctioned by the criminal law.

The tragic dismantling of our anti -terrorism legislation is but a small part of the vulnerable position Canada finds itself in as a result of our enthusiastic embrace of rights and freedoms and our seeming obsession with multiculturalism and diversity at the expense of common sense and pragmatic realism. One of the chief villains is our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was framed in an age when it seemed as if there would never be a threat to the security and safety of Canadians. The legal rights section of the Charter affords legal rights to “everyone” and not just Canadian citizens. As a result, anyone in Canada – whether visitor, temporary worker, illegal alien, asylum seeker or someone just passing through – has legal rights under the Charter.

In the last 25 years, our asylum system has allowed more than 700,000 people to enter Canada simply by claiming to be persecuted in their own countries. None was pre-screened for medical, criminal or security issues, and many were smuggled into the country by international criminal gangs. In 2005, citizens of 152 different countries – including states known to produce terrorists – made asylum claims. The Fraser Institute reported that of 25 suspected terrorists in Canada, 16 had entered as asylum seekers – including the notorious Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian terrorist who attempted to blow up the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium.

The reality is that we are no longer in control of our borders and cannot prevent anyone who claims persecution from entering. Naturally, this weakness has not gone unnoticed by potential terrorists. The Charter has in effect undermined Canadian sovereignty to the point where we cannot stop the bad guys from entering, and we cannot get rid of them once they get in. The simple solution to this problem is to change the legal rights section of the Charter to apply to Canadian citizens only.

Another cause for concern is the loss of control of our immigration program. Most immigrants coming to Canada are not interviewed by a Canadian visa officer. Most of the processing is done on paper, and there is no time for personal interviews or for counselling. Only about 10 per cent of newcomers have gone through a security screening. It is assumed that all immigrants will become settled if they meet the selection criteria or are sponsored by relatives who can look after them and help them settle. The personal suitability of immigrants can no longer be taken into account. In the selection of applicants for the job market, suitability is considered the most important qualification, but when we are selecting new citizens for Canada, personal suitability as a factor in selection is prohibited.

In the case of applicants from Muslim countries, there is no attempt to find out if the prospective Canadian citizen will be comfortable and happy living in a secular society. There are no questions asked about women’s rights, about the applicant’s views about freedom of expression or tolerance of other religions. In other words, we have not the slightest idea if the Muslim we are inviting into our country is an extremist or a moderate or something in between.

In the past 10 years, an estimated 533,000 Muslims have immigrated to Canada from Muslim countries. It can be assumed that by far the vast majority of these immigrants are not supporters of radical Islam. In 2005, the respected U.S. Pew Research Center conducted a global attitude study that found that 80 per cent of Canadian Muslims identified themselves as moderates. This is a comforting figure, but on the other hand, 14 per cent of those polled identified with extremist Islam. Since the total Muslim population in Canada is approximately 750,000, the 14 per cent figure should be cause for concern.

All prospective immigrants of the Muslim faith should be interviewed to determine if they hold extremist views and if so, they should be refused entry. The politically correct criticism that such a policy would be racist or religious profiling should be set aside in the interests of public safety. This is not so much a question of race or religion as it is of a radical ideology that has no place in Canada. Of course, all immigrants should be interviewed and assessed to determine their likelihood of being able to establish themselves successfully in Canada and to live comfortably in a modern, secular society. However, the volume of immigration is so high, the practice of individual interviews and counselling of immigrants has been carelessly abandoned. This, in itself, is a confession that immigration in the past 25 years has become primarily a question of numbers at the expense of all else – including the safety and security of Canadians.

Needed: 1970s-style citizenship


Until the mid 1970s, immigrants to Canada were required to reside here for five years and then they acquired domicile status, which, among other things, protected them from deportation unless they were convicted of treason or a serious drug crime. The acquisition of domicile status also made them eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship after a five-year period of residence. However, the 1976 Immigration Act removed the concept of domicile entirely, and the new Citizenship Act of the following year reduced the waiting period for eligibility to apply for citizenship to three years. There seemed to be no rationale for this reduction apart from the desire of politicians to enable newly arrived immigrants to be able to vote at an earlier stage of their residency. The 1977 Act also recognized the concept of dual citizenship, so that Canadian citizens are now able to swear allegiance to more than one country.

These changes have devalued the concept of citizenship and have resulted in many thousands of people living in other countries while remaining fully entitled to the benefits and protections that Canadian citizenship confers upon them. The Asia Pacific Foundation reported in October 2009 that an estimated 2.8-million Canadians were living abroad. The absurdity of this “citizenship for convenience” was illustrated when the Canadian taxpayer was obliged during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict to pay for the evacuation of 15,000 Lebanese Canadians. After the fighting ended, more than 7,000 returned to Lebanon.

It is time to turn the clock back and restore domicile in our legislation and to require at least five years’ residence before eligibility for citizenship. Furthermore, there is an argument to be made that the rules governing revocation of citizenship should be reviewed, as should the concept of dual citizenship. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s new study guide to help new immigrants better understand Canada is a positive (if belated) improvement, but it is just a guide and the guidance would be better provided to newcomers before, rather than after, their arrival in Canada.

It would seem evident that Canada needs to take the issue of security more seriously. We are naively vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Many of the most elementary steps that could be taken to improve our situation – including the symbolic gesture of using the charge of high treason against terrorists – have been prevented by a politically correct preoccupation with multiculturalism and diversity and an almost slavish adherence to a flawed Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These fashionable concepts are unlikely to be overthrown easily, because they provide our politicians and others with a rationale to avoid making tough decisions. It will take nothing short of a catastrophic event with the loss of lives before our political leadership will be forced to react. The first reaction will be to blame our security agencies. That will have missed the real source of the problem: political correctness, courts, Parliament and even the Charter.

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