Parliament and national security overreach, new U.S. Iran Envoy, suspension of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia and more

Unanimous parliamentary motion on expanding terrorist list a dark day for our democracy

Let it be stated categorically that combatting hate-based violence, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia is an urgent task, and we need to “up our game” significantly in light of recent events both here in Canada and south of the border.

We welcome the announcement by the Government of Canada designating January 29th as the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against IslamophobiaIn the words of Thomas Woodley, President of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), who joined efforts with the Canadian Muslim Forum in 2018 to achieve this goal:

Recognizing January 29th is a huge symbolic step towards combatting anti-Muslim hate and discrimination in Canada….

But the unanimous passage of a non-binding motion brought by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh urging the government to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist group is entirely the wrong way to proceed.

To put this another way, parliamentarians, in the absence of intelligence or evidence, and in an inherently political process, voted to label a group as “terrorists” so as to bring them within the ambit of draconian national security legislation, long decried by human rights advocates as a gross overreach of government power in conflict with fundamental legal principles of due process.

For example, a May 2019 updated brief to the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) states:

We have expressed significant concerns about the entire “Terrorist Entities Listing” program in the past, including its political nature, and its impact on due process and freedom of association. It’s very concerning that the only change in Bill C-59 is to weaken rules around the revisions of the list.

The ICLMG further warned:

Bear in mind that the Terrorist Entities List allows for decisions to be made behind closed doors, based on secret information that need not meet the legal standard of evidence, and which can be withheld from the listed entity on vague grounds of “injuring national security”.

Such secrecy undermines the justice system and prevents the accused from mounting a proper defence.

Using tools that violate fundamental principles of justice against a white supremacist group will not undo the legacy of harm caused by these laws, and will undermine efforts to oppose them in the future — including when they are used for political ends or in ways that reinforce racism and xenophobia.

In short, two wrongs do not make a right.

Why has the NDP abandoned its principled stance against the Terrorist Lists?

 While Conservative support for this motion is entirely consistent with the Harper government’s enactment of Bill C-51, legislation harshly critiqued by scores of legal experts, four former Prime Ministers, five former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and many others, the actions of the Green Party and the NDP are much harder to fathom, given their respective positions in the past firmly against national security overreach.

Perhaps both party leaders should consider the question posed by the Centre for Constitutional Rights in their podcast Episode 34: Criminalizing Black Protest: When We Resist:

What happens when law enforcement deems Black activism as a national security threat?

As for the NDP, the author of the odious parliamentary motion in question, this is a party that has heretofore steadfastly opposed the anti-terrorism laws, including calling for the abolition of the Terrorist Entities List.

Add to this the fact that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is a former defence lawyer who would know intimately the breaches of fundamental legal rights inherent in this mechanism and it is hard to discern the reason for this shocking about-face.

For his part Public Security Minister Bill Blair says evidence, not politics, will determine whether the Proud Boys are named as a terrorist group:

To be clear: the decision to list any organization as a terrorist entity is based on intelligence and evidence collected by our national security agencies….

Terrorist designations are not a political exercise.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to resist misguided calls to expand (instead of abolishing) the Terrorist Entities List and instead to combat white supremacist and hate-based violence by focusing on laws, regulations and other measures that prohibit criminal activity, criminal organizations and violent crimes, without putting the fundamental rights of all Canadians at risk.

The Biden administration and the Iran nuclear deal

New Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his first press conference since taking office, reminded journalists of President Biden’s very clear commitment to returning the U.S. to the Iran nuclear deal, stating:

With regard to Iran, President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing and then we would use that as a platform to build, with our allies and partners, what we called a longer and stronger agreement and to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran.

He then went on to say:

But we are a long ways from that point. Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts. And it would take some time, should it make the decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance in time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So we’re not – we’re not there yet to say the least.

The reference to a seemingly long process of verification (an IAEA responsibility under the JCPOA) is concerning, given the importance of resurrecting the agreement before upcoming Iranian presidential elections which are expected to bring further gains for hardliners opposed to the deal.

Biden appoints nuclear deal architect as U.S. Iran envoy

A much more positive sign of the administration’s determination to make good on Biden’s commitment can be found in the President’s decision to appoint Robert Malley (former head of the International Crisis Group) as his Iran envoy.

In the words of a state department official:

Secretary (of State) Blinken is building a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views. Leading that team as our Special Envoy for Iran will be Rob Malley, who brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program….

Malley was a key member of former President Barack Obama’s team that negotiated the nuclear accord with Iran and world powers, an agreement that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 in the face of strong opposition from Washington’s European allies.

This appointment would task Malley with one of the new administration’s most daunting and politically divisive foreign policy challenges.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

The reinstatement of the Iran nuclear deal is hugely important in bringing greater Middle East stability but also in terms of global efforts to reduce nuclear dangers. The appointment of Robert Malley is a wonderfully positive signal that Biden means to get this done.

Whither Canada?

We call on Prime Minister Trudeau, in concert with European allies, to publicly support the reinstatement of the Iran nuclear deal at the earliest possible time.

U.S. halts arms deals to Saudi Arabia and U.A.E.

A recent headline in the reads: UK under pressure to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. (28 January 2021).

The reason for the pressure is the U.S. decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pending a review, in respect of which, Andrew Smith, director of the U.K.’s Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) stated:

If Biden sticks to his word and ends the arms sales it could be a huge step towards ending the brutal bombardment and blockade [of Yemen]. It would also set a vital precedent and could help to force action from the UK and the other arms-dealing governments …

If the US government, the biggest arms dealer in the world, is prepared to take a stand, then it is long past time for Boris Johnson and his colleagues to do the same.

Whither Canada?

It is also long past time for Canada to end its shameful arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. We call on them again to do so.

Update on continuing civil society action on TPNW 

Recent blogs have highlighted a range of civil society and parliamentary actions to mark the  entry into force of the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Today we add to that list the Canadian Call to Action on Nuclear Disarmament, sponsored by Canada’s largest nuclear disarmament umbrella organization, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW). In the words of its Chair Earl Turcotte:

Included in this ‘Call’ is a request that the Government of Canada establish nuclear disarmament as a foreign policy priority and to allow parliamentary debate and Standing Committee Hearings on Canada’s role in advancing global nuclear disarmament.

The CNANW also calls upon Canada to accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which is an historic milestone in the global campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

The CNANW Call to Action can be accessed in full by clicking here and the accompanying media release by clicking here.


Co-hosted by the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN), Canadian Pugwash Group and the Rideau Institute, the February 2021 Arctic Security Webinar Series begins with keynote presentations on 2 February 2021 from 3:00 to 4:00 pm EST.

Click here for details and registration information.  

Wednesday, 3 February 2021 from 3:00 to 4:30 pm EST is the grand finale G78 webinar on the Future of UN Peacekeeping, co-hosted by the Rideau Institute and the World Federalist – Movement Canada.

Click here for all the details, including registration information.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Israeli security forces)

Tags: 2017, Bill C-51, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), Feb 2021 Arctic Security Webinar Series, G78 webinar series on the Future of UN Peacekeeping, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), Iran nuclear deal, January 20 - National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN), Proud Boys, Robert Malley, Terrorist Entity Lists, The National Security Act, U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, U.S. arms sales to UAE, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, unanimous parliamentary motion