Category Archives: Global Security

On Being “Walled” In by Risk-Averse Politicians

November 16, 2015

So, Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan wants Prime Minister Trudeau to “suspend your current plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year and to re-evaluate this goal and the processes in place to achieve it.” Is this the spirit that built the West? I don’t think to-day’s people of Saskatchewan are nearly that risk-averse, any more than were their ancestors.

Just how risk-averse do we need to be, in the present circumstances? Just how risk-averse are we? The fact of 129 deaths in Paris last week stimulated the CBC into a corporate paroxysm that has not yet run its course, and our newly-minted Opposition, and many others, into pleas for more lethal violence for our war on lethal violence in Iraq and Syria. The fact of two (2) deaths of soldiers in Canada earlier this year caused Parliament to ratchet up “security” to new records on the draconian scale. The imagination of similar danger arising from among 25,000 hapless Syrians agitates Premier Wall into nervous correspondence. Clearly the appetite for risk-aversion remains keen, at least in some circles.

Keen, but perhaps a trifle selective. The fact of 3,500 to 4,000 deaths annually in Canada by suicide evokes some gentle hand-wringing, but not much pouring of energy and money into a war on lethal despair and its causes. The fact of 2,000 to 3,000 deaths annually in motor vehicle accidents does not stimulate us to ruthless pursuit of lethal bad driving or ruthless anything,—just the usual routine persistence, not accepting these deaths but taking them in stride,—nor the 700 to 1,100 deaths from workplace accidents, nor even the 500 to 700 deaths from homicide. That’s 8,000 deaths per year, on average, arising from deplorable, often preventable phenomena that do not cause the CBC to foam at the mouth, nor columnists to rage, nor Parliament to pass draconian new laws, nor Premier Wall to write minatory letters, nor Canadians as a whole to set aside our humane and generous instincts.

A few years ago, after I was unexpectedly thrust into the task of managing a family counselling agency, I learned of a school of therapy called “Solution Focused”, invented by the late Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As I remember, it counselled according to three guiding rules.

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Before he can convince me that our system of security is so “broke” that it cannot manage the speedy arrival of 25,000 waifs of the mad world, Premier Wall is going to have to show me more deaths than two, in this country, or even 129 in France. Right now I am prepared to believe that our police and security services do very well against potential terrorist acts, and will stay so prepared even if we suffer a tragic episode or two. I accept these as risks of modern life, as we all do in the face of suicides, traffic accidents, industrial accidents, murder, and the rest. They are causes for persistent dedicated effort, but not for panic.
  2. If you try something that works, keep doing it. I think that we, here in Canada, in the face of our statistical evidence, must conclude that our approach to the threat of “terrorism” is working. Either that, or the threat itself is very small. We do not need to direct more energy to that threat, but could reasonably apply the same levels of commitment, singleness of purpose, skill, energy, time and money to other threats that have proved numerically much more significant. Go for it, Premier Wall! You and your colleagues have my full support for an all-out assault on the causes of suicides, mangled corpses in cars and work-places, and murders of all kinds.
  3. If you try something that does not work, don’t keep doing it. Do something different. Premier Wall and his hench-voices would have us keep doing it, perhaps even do more of it, if we can merely imagine that some day it might not work. Never mind the facts, just give us the dire possibilities: we’ll act on those. At what point may we begin to call this cowardice?

No, Premier Wall! say I. Bring on the 25,000 Syrians, as we did before—speaking of something that worked—for the Hungarians in their need, and the Vietnamese boat people in theirs, and the Kosovars in theirs, not to mention the settlement of Western Canada in earlier times. And let us also not forget the continuing disgrace and shame of our deplorable brushing aside of Sikhs, Jews, and others when they called to us out of their darkness.

And as for addressing something that’s obviously not working, how about ramping down the violence in the Middle East, or at least, if we can’t do that, ceasing to be part of it. Ground the bloody planes. Find a better way. That would be doing something different, indeed.

Faced with insanity, don’t join in. Become Solution Focused. Take a deep breath. Take two. Think. Remain sane. Remain humane.

A Plea for Sanity and Moderation in Response to Violence

Letter to the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, November 16, 2015

Respected Sir:

I believe, as do many others, that when dramatic events such as the attacks in Paris take place, voices of sanity, moderation need to be heard. I intend that mine should be one of them. We are already hearing plenty of the other kind, not to mention the disgraceful act of criminal violence in Peterborough.

Based on what I know of you and your hopes for the government you lead, I believe that your own instincts will be towards sanity and moderation in response. I hope you know that a great many Canadians, myself among them, will support you fully and as loudly as we can, as you try to work things out along those lines.

In principle, I believe your wish is correct, that Canada should stop bombing people in Iraq and Syria. Bombing people, whoever does it and for whatever reason, is always an act of barbarism. It is like capital punishment: it is never a moral response to any situation. It is done for reasons of revenge, frustration, weakness, and the desire to wage war without taking much risk. It is a despicable way to fight, and I wish we were not fighting that way in Iraq and Syria. The sooner we can stop, the better.

On the other hand, if NATO decides to fight that way in support of the French, then we might well be stuck for the time being. But our advice should be to find a better way. If we end up having to go along with our allies, so be it, but I hope we will find a way that is not despicable.

ISIS is not the only force for barbarism that we need to purge from the world. We don’t get very far that way if we act barbarously ourselves. Waging war in the proper way and for the proper cause is not barbarous, although always mournfully regrettable and an admission of failure. I hope you will be able to find a better way, not only consistent with our international obligations, but also with morality.

Somebody recently referred to our bombing in Iraq and Syria as an important “symbolic act”. I do not believe in killing people for symbolic purposes. If we have to use killing for purposes of symbolism, then our imaginations have become impoverished indeed. We can, we must, learn to do a lot better than that.

I will support any efforts that Canada might make to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Middle East. I do not believe that a state of continuous warfare and the violent cultivation of hatred can do the job.

Domestically, I hope that we will not over-react or listen to the voices of hysteria. We have all the tools we need in our police and security forces to respond to criminal risks and acts, perhaps even too many. We do not need further measures of repression. We simply need to use the ones we have.

And, most emphatically, I continue to support your plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year end, or at least to approve them. The attacks in Paris should not change our resolve to help those people, which is based on humanitarian generosity and a practical recognition that we are rich and resourceful enough to welcome them, and we should do it.

Thank you.