Yet, a haunting question lingers: have we fallen into some of the same practices we so vehemently condemn, specifically systemic Islamophobia?
On Canada Day in 2013, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were arrested by the RCMP after allegedly attempting to bomb the British Columbia legislature.
The arrests were widely celebrated as a victory in the global war on terror. However, three years later, Canadians discovered that the arrests were not the success story the RCMP portrayed them to be.
In July 2016, Justice Catherine Bruce of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the RCMP manufactured the case against them and entrapped Nuttall and Korody.
The case represents the only terrorism trial in North America where entrapment was successfully invoked by the defence to overturn terrorism convictions, leading to a stay of proceedings and ultimately the couple’s acquittal. However, behind this groundbreaking case lies a darker truth – the deeply concerning tactics deployed by the RCMP.
Inside Project Souvenir
In a tale that reads like a Hollywood thriller, the RCMP found themselves entangled in a web of intrigue when they received a tip from CSIS in February 2013 that Nuttall had been purchasing potassium nitrate and making some violent pro-Islamic remarks.
In response, the RCMP launched an elaborate surveillance operation it called Project Souvenir.
Undercover “Officer A” roped Nuttall into a fictitious jihadist organization planning a large-scale attack on the West. Nuttall, tasked by Officer A with devising the plan, presented a wide range of grandiose ideas, from train hijackings to firing rockets over the B.C. legislature.
As the operation unfolded, it became clear that Nuttall was not capable of carrying out any of the proposed plans. Officer A threatened Nuttall with expulsion from the organization if he did not come up with a viable attack plan.
Ultimately, a plan came together about planting pressure cookers at the legislature in Victoria. Yet Nuttall’s lack of knowledge and incompetence in handling explosives became glaringly apparent.
This led Officer A to promise Nuttall that all resources, including the elusive C4 explosive, would be provided.
On Canada Day in 2013, Officer A gave the couple a ride to the legislature, where they planted the pressure-cooker bombs. Later that afternoon, the couple was arrested.
The over-policing of Muslims
Despite Nuttall’s long criminal history spanning 20 years, he only seemed to attract the attention of RCMP after his conversion to Islam.
It became evident in the trial that the police lacked substantial evidence to support any suspicions about the couple. There was no corroboration for the CSIS alert that initiated the investigation in the first place, but police proceeded with it anyway.
It seemed instead the police were profiling the couple based on their religion, and falsely associating devout religious beliefs with political violence and terrorism.
The RCMP allocated around $1 million in overtime payments to 200 Mounties for this five-month operation.
This raises the question of whether Muslim communities in Canada are over-policed, as suggested by University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach.
The RCMP’s unwavering determination to proceed with the investigation, disregarding warnings of a potential police-generated crime within the police ranks, poses the question: were investigators fuelled by stereotypes and discrimination?
What Roach describes as “over-policing” of Muslims has led to rampant human rights abuses. Alarming parallels emerge in cases like Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki and other targeted Muslim Canadians, where intelligence may have stemmed from guilt by association and anti-Muslim stereotypes.
These cases paint a brutal picture of the over-policing of Muslims in Canada, underpinned by suspicions of Muslims as terrorists.
A recent study by criminology and sociology academics Baljit Nagra and Paula Maurutto sheds further light on CSIS’s mass surveillance of Muslims in Canada.
The study documents how CSIS fosters a culture of informants and reveals how racial narratives surrounding perceived “radicalized extremist” Muslims have provided legitimacy for sweeping surveillance at the hands of intelligence services under the guise of the war on terror.
CSIS adopts a “radicalization” framework, which identifies religious devotion as a marker that labels young Muslims as “at risk” for potential indoctrination into “radical extremism,” directly linking Islam to potential terrorism.
As we reflect on the safeguarding of our rights and freedoms, we are confronted with a humbling realization: we may not be so different from our neighbours south of the border.
Canada must continue examining the tactics and decision-making processes employed by its law enforcement agencies.
In doing so, we must reflect on the profound consequences of over-surveillance on the freedoms of religion, expression and association – particularly for Muslim Canadians – and their impact on equality.
Author: Basema Al-Alami – SJD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto