Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 12, 2007
Counter-terrorism expert relies on his Catholic faith
John Thompson says the world is engaged in a global jihad
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"These terrorists are willing to do all kinds of things to people,"
- John Thompson
"If you're Chinese women and a snakehead has just taken your passport and dropped you in a brothel you can be assured he does not have any respect for human dignity," he said.
"If we're going to allow everyone to participate in society, we have to keep the snakeheads and the terrorists away from the people they would victimize," he said.
Thompson believes that Canada has been doing a better job at combating terrorism since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, but he is worried that Canadians have been lulled into a sense of complacency. He fears Canadians, in their openness, "will be taken as suckers."
"Success leads to complacency, which leads to vulnerability," he said.
"I'd rather keep reminding people the threat exists," he said. "Or else in the aftermath of an attack we'll adopt some measures that are truly foolish."
In Ottawa Feb. 27, opposition parties combined forces to defeat 159-124 a Conservative government motion to maintain two controversial provisions in anti-terrorism legislation enacted by the Liberals after 9/11.
Provisions for preventive detention and investigative hearings had a five-year sunset clause. The Conservatives, as well as several Liberals, including former cabinet ministers Anne McLellan, John Manley and Irwin Cotler, argued the never-used provisions are necessary in the event of an imminent attack.
The previous week, the Supreme Court had given the government a year to fix 30-year-old legislation allowing for the detention of individuals deemed to be safety risks under security certificates.
Though the justices did not rule the security certificates themselves unconstitutional, they said the legislation did not meet the proper balance of security and human rights because there was no provision for detainees to know the evidence against them and to defend themselves.
This means national security is looming as an election issue, but Thompson did not like seeing it treated in a partisan manner.
"The debate on these issues is necessary and vital," Thompson said. "The first human right is the right to live in safety" and if a government is not able to keep its citizens secure, then other rights become moot.
"The first human right is the right to live in safety."
- John Thompson
He holds to the view, also taken by the Supreme Court in a 2004 decision, that the constitution is "not a suicide pact."
Born in 1959, Thompson grew up in Ottawa and attended St. Basil's, the city's first circular church, opened the year after he was born. His father used to joke about how great it was to go to a round church "because the devil could never corner you there."
Though Thompson did not attend Catholic schools, a nun strapped him when he was in Grade 2, leaving him with a slight resentment of authority. "I was a cheeky little kid and I probably deserved it," he admitted.
He joined the Canadian armed forces in 1977 "as an act of nonconformity" because at that time "no Canadian kid in his right mind" would have done so.
Though he had strayed from his faith in his teenaged years, he found that joining the armed forces buttressed it. Not only did the service train him in external discipline, it cultivated internal discipline as well. He entered the service as a private and left 13 years later as a captain, specializing in intelligence.
By then, the Berlin Wall had come down and the Cold War was over, so he shifted his focus to counter-terrorism and organized crime. He joined the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies as an analyst, then in 1990 moved over to the Mackenzie Institute.
Thompson believes that the West is engaged in another world war, a global jihad that extends far beyond the trouble spots in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. In addition to the Middle East, jihadists are also at work in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Central Asia, Sudan, Somalia, Western Europe and North America.
The jihadists share a common ideology, training, money sources and have a shared concept of victory, he said. "They see it all as one war, even if we don't," he said.
Thompson differentiates between jihadists and ordinary Muslims, who have been the principal victims of this extremist ideology.
"Ultimately, the best protection that Canada can provide for itself is to be a place where Muslims who immigrate to Canada feel safe and at home," he said, noting that many Muslims in North America assist the police in preventing terrorism.
He believes that Canada and other western democracies will be fighting this war for decades. Survival also demands that Canada strengthen its own sense of identity.
"We have to have a better sense of ourselves," he said. "We've let that lapse over the last few years. Society needs to be integrated at some level."
He also stressed that tolerance is like a form of credit that needs to be returned. Religious groups that come to Canada need to extend the same level of tolerance to other religions that is extended to them, he said.
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