No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability (Gurski) and the piece that prompted it (Gardee)

Phil Gurski on Ihsaan Gardee’s earlier column (reprinted below):

There are times when you read something that makes your blood boil and demands a response. One such time occurred to me last week within the pages of The Hill Times in an op-ed by Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Entitled “Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security“, this op-ed piece is full of language like “over-reaching and draconian,” “smearing Muslims,” “Islamophobia,” “systemic bias and discrimination,” and “little or no accountability,” all directed at CSIS and other agencies involved in national security.

Gardee paints a picture of CSIS that seems to have it in for Canada’s Muslims and which has undermined attempts by those communities to “establish robust partnerships.” He appears convinced that CSIS is an organization run rogue that has “protracted problems” which leads to the “stigmatization” of those among us who are Muslim.

As a former analyst at CSIS who not only worked on Islamist extremism for 15 years, but who has written four books on the topic—and met with Muslims all across the country to discuss the issues of radicalization and terrorism—I think I am in a better position than him to draw a better picture. And no, for the record, I am not a ‘shill’ for CSIS and more than happy to point to the bad as well as the good within the agency.

So to the first accusation levelled by Gardee: does Islamophobia exist within CSIS? Absolutely—I saw it first-hand and challenged it when I saw it, although it is not as pervasive as he thinks it is. And, yes, the lawsuit containing allegations about Islamophobia among other shortcomings that was settled by five former employees was based on facts, as I outlined quite clearly in a previous Hill Times column. Aside from that, however, everything else Gardee alleges as endemic within CSIS—I cannot speak for another agency such as CBSA as I never worked there and would never purport to know what goes on within its walls—is false. As CSIS won’t publicly address these fabrications, I will, if for no other reason than I toiled tirelessly for a decade and a half to do my small part in keeping Canadians safe from terrorism and don’t want my time construed as wasted in a racist environment.

But if you look at the terrorist/violent extremist environment in Canada since 9/11, which seems to be the timeframe Gardee sees when everything went to hell for Muslim Canadians, the vast majority of attacks have been perpetrated by Islamist extremists. And that does not even take into account the Islamic State ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon that led to the deaths of countless thousands in Iraq and Syria. Does this perhaps explain why CSIS and its partners have focused on the Muslim community in that time, given that these perpetrators come from that community?

What Gardee appears to fail to understand is that CSIS is an intelligence agency that is driven by intelligence. Intelligence tells it where to put its resources; that and government requirements. If the threat is emanating primarily from a small number of Canadians who happen to be Muslim then that is exactly where you would want our protectors to look, not elsewhere.

I am not saying that CSIS or its employees are perfect. No, they are not as they are human. In addition, there is always room for improvement, and that includes its relations with communities across Canada, Muslims among them. Since 9/11, however, CSIS has done its part with its partners to prevent deaths. I would think that Gardee would at least acknowledge that much.

I thus reject Gardee’s accusations. He owes CSIS an apology for his ill-considered words. Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst with CSIS, an author and the Director of Intelligence and Security at the SecDev Group.

via No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability – The Hill Times

Gardee’s op-ed made in the context of C-59:

Once bitten, twice shy. That’s the sense within Canadian Muslim communities when it comes to the Liberal government’s proposed overhaul of national security law under Bill C-59.

The legislation was back before the House last week after examination by the Public Safety and National Security Committee.

Let’s not forget where this first started. Under the previous government, Canadian anti-terrorism laws quickly morphed into overreaching and draconian policies. This was coupled with Muslim communities facing jarring public scrutiny and increasing Islamophobia.

Back then, despite efforts from Canadian Muslims to establish robust partnerships on national security, the government’s response was to smear them as a threat to Canada. The result: trust between Canadian Muslims and the government agencies tasked with protecting us all evaporated after years of work.

The days when the loyalty of Canadian Muslims was being questioned by government officials seem behind us—for now. But that is no standard by which to measure meaningful change.

That very public show of Islamophobic discourse by government overshadowed something even more alarming—the permeating of systemic bias and discrimination against Muslims by and in our security agencies.

In the past several months alone, we have seen sweeping allegations by CSIS employees about racism and Islamophobia within the service and new data that suggests the CBSA disproportionately targets non-whites, particularly those from the Middle East.

These accounts, along with the direct reports regularly received by our organization, only amplify concerns about what Canadian Muslims have been experiencing for years.

To be fair, Bill C-59 does make important, long-overdue improvements to previous laws, including better and more focused review powers and mechanisms as well as some stricter directives to prevent complicity with torture by foreign powers.

Last December, our organization told the House Public Safety Committeethat redress and review were only a partial solution to the problems plaguing Canada’s national security system. Real reform of security work is necessary to address systemic bias and discrimination.

As outlined by experts and civil society, there are several concerning elements in Bill C-59; however, two key issues have recently come to the fore.

First, the government has not substantially reined back the contentious disruption powers given to CSIS—an agency that we know through public inquiries has targeted Muslims with little to no accountability for their actions. There must be a concerted effort by government to confront the systemic bias in the way CSIS approaches and resources its intelligence work. Until real change occurs, these powers which remain unproven in their effectiveness are only an invitation to more abuse and scandal.

Second, the lack of due process in the Passenger Protect Program—Canada’s No Fly List—continues. This has been one of the most troubling instruments of state power for over a decade. There are no reported cases of Canadians successfully getting off the list through the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office which was created in 2016. Families impacted by the list say the inquiries office has been of little to no use. Although recently funding has been earmarked for a new redress system to remove false flagging, how and why Canadians find themselves on this draconian list in the first place remains unanswered.

As we look ahead, the aegis of this legislation does not engender the kind of trust from communities that is needed.

Incidentally, Public Safety Canada’s recently launched Canada Centre for Community Engagement and the Prevention of Violence is pledging a strategy that “reflects the realities faced by Canada’s diverse communities.” Canadian Muslims are closely watching whether this initiative is yet another exercise in falsely framing national security as the “Muslim problem” or whether policymaking will finally take into account the growing threat of far-right extremism in Canada.

In other words, rebuilding trust with our communities cannot be achieved through roundtables and focus groups.

It has been more than a decade since the Arar Inquiry report first outlined some of the protracted problems within our country’s security apparatus. Through the haze of political haste, 12 years later Canadian Muslims are still seeking the partnership with government that ends their national security stigmatization.

Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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