Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Macdonald-Laurier Institute Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley says this week’s Ottawa shooting is a reminder that we are still not immune from the scourge of treason.

Crowley argues that this week’s events, which resulted in the death of Canadian Forces Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in front of the War Memorial in Ottawa, show that “a tiny disloyal minority” continue to reject the freedoms that Canada stands for.

By Brian Lee Crowley, Oct. 24, 2014

How could a Canadian do this?

That is a question on many minds in the wake of the two terror attacks in Ottawa and St-Jean this past week.

But far from being inexplicable, such attacks are part of a phenomenon that every society is familiar with, including ones blessed with liberty, prosperity and the rule of law like Canada and other western democracies.

Treason, after all, is hardly a novel concept.

In the 20th century the west saw much treachery by its own citizens, often, but not exclusively, in the context of the Cold War.

Nor is it just the disaffected who betray their country. Too often it is the educated and privileged who actively seek to harm the society that nurtured them. Think of Burgess and McLean, the Cambridge-educated members of Britain’s spy service, who ultimately defected to the Soviet Union after having damaged Britain’s safety, caused the death of British agents and undermined the trans-Atlantic security relationship. The famous “Third Man”, the third traitor whose existence was unproven but long suspected, turned out to be Sir Anthony Blunt, a former Oxford don and curator of the Queen’s art collection. Not exactly the downtrodden of the East End or Wigan Pier.

Then there were the communist-inspired Red Brigades in Italy, and the Red Army Faction in West Germany, both of which carried out horrific terror attacks against their compatriots. Ditto for many groups in the US, including the Symbionese Liberation Army and far-right Minutemen types, including Timothy McVeigh who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma, killing 168 and wounding hundreds more.  And of course all four of the successful assassins of US presidents were themselves Americans.

The Cold War may have given rise to much treachery allegedly inspired by admiration for Communist ideals, but treason was not limited to that conflict. Local spies for Germany were hard at work in allied countries during the Second World War. During the long conflict between Britain and Ireland lots of English acted against the interests of their home country, including author and civil servant Erskine Childers, executed by firing squad in 1922.

In our innocent and naïve Canadian way we think that we ought somehow to be immune to this, but why anyone would think this is rather mysterious.

How soon we forget the cowardly bombings and kidnappings carried out by the FLQ in Quebec in the late 1960s that resulted in the assassination of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.

Before that we had our own issues of treason during the Cold War, including the famous scandal caused by the defection of Soviet embassy cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko with information on a major Canadian spy ring trying to steal nuclear secrets for the Soviet Union.  Member of Parliament Fred Rose was imprisoned for his role in the ring, and a royal commission on espionage set up.

Our very first political assassination, that of Father of Confederation Darcy McGee in the streets of Ottawa, was carried out by a Canadian with Irish nationalist sympathies.

While most of us think Canada is the most blessed country on Earth, this view is vigorously rejected by a tiny disloyal minority. It used to be that they were mostly seduced by a utopian vision of an earthly communist paradise. Today the Canadians who hate what Canada stands for are more likely to be drawn from the ranks of a fringe of radicalized Muslims who believe that we are irredeemably ungodly and corrupt.

The solution in both cases is the same: a clear-eyed assessment of the dangers that we face and a commitment to preserve what the vast majority of Canadians love about this country. That means strong and unapologetic surveillance and police actions as well as personal vigilance against those who would do us harm. But it also means jealously guarding our freedom. It’s a balance we have struck before in the face of domestic threat. We will do so again.

Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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