Arctic terror threats real: really?

This week, CBC's website carried an article with the alarming headline, Arctic Terror Threats Real: Security Agencies.

This week, CBC’s website carried an article with the alarming headline, Arctic Terror Threats Real: Security Agencies. The story opens: “The chilling prospect of terrorists or other extremists exploiting the Canadian Arctic has attracted the watchful eye of federal security agencies”.

Chilling, as in cold, as in the Arctic: very clever, in a headline writer’s kind of way. But is anybody really chilled, as in the blood turning cold with fear, at the prospect of “terrorists or other extremists” in the Arctic? Who are these misdirected terrorists, and who are these other extremists?

Terrorists are the bogeymen of the 21st century. They blow up passenger aircraft, hotel lobbies, shopping malls, crowded city squares, and packed commuter trains. In extreme cases they take out entire buildings, killing thousands. They are terrifying in a much different way from the communist bogeyfolk of yesteryear, who had the power to blow up the entire world, but didn’t use it.

To be labelled a communist, at least in the US, used to mean a career in ruins, friendships frayed, and the public humiliation of being hauled up before the infamous McCarthy committee. To be labelled a terrorist today is to become a person with no rights. A terrorist, even a suspected terrorist, may be incarcerated without charge, may disappear into a secret prison system, and may be prosecuted using evidence gained under torture.

So these “other extremists” who find themselves lumped in with the terrorists who threaten the Arctic must be a pretty dangerous bunch. But who are they? What constitutes an extremist in Canada today? According to the joint CSIS/RCMP assessment cited in the CBC story, “Issue-based activist groups in Canada continue to engage in generally peaceful protest activities … Some activist groups have also resorted to the use of direct action tactics … While protest activities … generally take place in large urban centres, they have also occurred in remote locations, including the Canadian Arctic.”

Let’s try to untangle this web of bafflegab. Does the report mean to contrast or to conflate peaceful protestors with those who have “resorted to direct action tactics”? It seems impossible to tell. What is meant by direct action? Does the report intend to create a giant subset of activists, some of whom blow bubbles at police officers while others blow up mail boxes and dump murdered diplomats in the trunks of cars?

The whole story drips with ambiguity, hinting at, though never quite drawing, a thread of consanguinity between peaceful protestors, Black Block window-smashers, and al-Qaida. When we read that “protest activities” have taken place in the Arctic, we are left to guess whether these were peaceful, legal protests, or some undefined form of direct action.

This July a group of Iqaluit suburbanites staged a small demonstration to prevent the rezoning of their neighbourhood. Back in 2008, some truckers threatened to blockade the Dempster Highway if it wasn’t upgraded. Let’s assume that these matters haven’t raised much concern in the halls of the Canadian security establishment, where they’re busy watching what’s going on next door, in Danish waters in the Davis Strait. There, Greenpeace activists are trying to block a British company from deep-water drilling for oil. Protestors have boarded the rig, tangled with the Danish navy, and floated in the ocean in the path of an explorations ship.

If Canada proceeds with the monumental folly of drilling for oil in the Arctic, the rigs will require some protection against terror attacks, though surely they’ll be in far greater danger from icebergs. What we won’t need is an over-reactive security establishment that creates a bin called “threats” and tries to dump protesters in it along with terrorists.

When it comes to the crunch, which will be the greater threat to the security of Canadians, the protestors bobbing in the ocean in their orange survival suits, or the oil companies rushing the entire region toward environmental disaster? Oh, and let’s not forget that other threat to our freedom and security: overzealous cops who treat civil disobedience as another form of terrorism.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Whitehorse resident turns 100

Olive Patton celebrated earlier this month

Hospital cancels Whitehorse woman’s surgery 45 minutes beforehand

Patricia Nowell-Lindquist had changed into a gown and was fully prepped when she was told the news

UPDATED: Cross Country Yukon starts GoFundMe campaign for stolen pump

The theft means snowmaking is on hold until a replacement is found

Rams, Crusaders continue Super Volley winning streaks

Vanier secures first overall in boys standings

Commentary: Does Yukon need a United Way?

“The reason we ask is that we may not be sustainable”

Whitehorse FC sides impress at B.C. tournaments

Four teams, four tournaments, only one loss

Yukon soccer teams represent at Canada Soccer National Championships U15 Cup

“Everybody brought their game to a totally new level and set a (new) bar”

Yukonomist: The greying of the Yukon

It’s the kind of thing you might see in a society that suffered a major war twenty years ago

History Hunter: New book honours fallen Yukoners of World War I

The book introduces the story of Yukon’s wartime involvement and describes heroic contributions

U Kon Echelon holds weekend mountain bike racing camp in Whitehorse

“It’s incredible the changes I’m seeing from when we started in September to now”

Liberals to scope out ‘efficiencies’ in departments

The premier was asked about ostensible reductions to department budgets at question period

You and your new car warranty

There are some things that may put your new vehicle or extended warranty at risk

Most Read