Crime or Terrorism: Not So Easy To Decide

Posted by  on June 25, 2018
Crime or Terrorism: Not So Easy To Decide

The use of vehicles to commit criminal acts of terror has been sweeping globally. This tactic was originally incited by Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch to its Western recruits in 2010. Since then, this inexpensive, easy to organize, yet effective tactic has spread across the globe. In Toronto, 10 people were murdered, a majority of them women, as a result of a van attack by Alek Minassian on April 23rd 2018. While the use of vehicles as a weapon was incited by Al Qaeda terrorists, this method of killing people has not been limited to followers acting to perpetuate the ideology of Al Qaeda’s or ISIS.

The devastating series of events that took place in Toronto brought awareness of the “incel” movement to a mass array of Canadians. “Incel”, short for “involuntary celibate”, is a social group whose members who are resentful about their inability to have consensual sexual relations with women. While not all members who have identified as incel have committed violent acts, two violent men in particular, Alek Minassan and Elliot Rodgers (Santa Barbara, USA), have been used as a representation of the misogynistic ideals harbored by “incel’s”. The release of Elliot Rodgers’ video outlining the perverse beliefs that he held that used to justify the violent acts he committed, along with the praise given to Elliot Rodgers by Alek Minassian on his Facebook account prior to his killing spree, are indicative of the harm members of this group can cause.

As soon as the acts of Rodgers or Minassain were deemed not to be associated with Al Qaeda or ISIS, many commentators refused to refer to them as terrorism. However, before dismissing the murders committed by Alek Minassian on April 23rd 2018 as an act of terrorism, it is relevant to consider that acts of terrorism are not limited to the actions of a specific race, gender, or religion. The Criminal Code recognizes this reality.

Section 83.01(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada states:

terrorist activity means

(b) an act or omission, in or outside Canada, (i) that is committed
(A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and
(B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organiza- tion to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada, and
(ii) that intentionally
(A) causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence,
(B) endangers a person’s life,
(C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public,
(D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C),

Terrorism does not have to be rooted in race or nationality to be classified as terrorism. Rather, terrorist acts, can have an ideological purpose. While a further inquiry could assist in understanding the incel movement and its role in Minassian’s killings on April 23rd 2018, we should ask ourselves whether this was an act of terrorism. What societal values allow us to accept dismissing this act as not being an act of terrorism? Women have been institutionally and socially marginalized for generations, and gender-based violence is prevalent. Just look back to the Montreal Massacre as a clear example of this. In the context of the Montreal Massacre, it was not seen at the time as an act of terrorism. Similarly, The Ku Klux Klan were not labelled terrorists for lynching African Americans.

Based on the available facts to the public, it is unclear as of yet whether the accused deliberately drove into an area to kill mainly women, and whether the acts were ideologically motivated. The debate about whether his crime was simply mass murder, or whether it was also an act of terrorism, can have implications for government action and public perception. But no matter what it is called, there is no controversy about the reality of what it was: a human tragedy.

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Arun S. Maini, lawyer and founder of The Defence Group, has practised criminal law since 1995. He’s a graduate of the University of Toronto and Dalhousie University Law School. After completing his articles at a Bay St. law firm, Mr. Maini joined the federal Department of Justice as a prosecutor of drug trafficking, tax evasion, and immigration fraud cases in Toronto, Brampton and Vancouver. In 1999, Mr. Maini transferred to the provincial Crown attorney’s office in Brampton, where he prosecuted a wide range of criminal offences, from theft to murder. In 2003, Mr. Maini left the government to establish The Defence Group. Mr. Maini handles all criminal offences and regulatory prosecutions.

Over more than 25 years as a criminal lawyer, Mr. Maini has prosecuted and defended hundreds of criminal cases, and has extensive jury trial experience. Mr. Maini has also lectured at The Advocates’ Society and has taught advocacy at the Law Society and Osgoode Hall Law School’s Intensive Trial Advocacy program. Maini appears occasionally in the media to comment on criminal law – see examples from the CBC, the Toronto Star, and the National Post.

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