Peter MacKay’s career stands as definitive proof we don’t live in a meritocracy. Rightfully dubbed “Minister Wrong Again” by columnist Tabatha Southey for bungling everything from fighter jet acquisitions to sex work legislation, the man has failed upwards all the way to Justice Minister of Canada.
This weekend MacKay's wrongness was on full display again, as he spoke at an RCMP press conference in Halifax. MacKay, along with local law enforcement, announced to the media that they had thwarted a planned Valentine’s Day shopping mall mass shooting.
The appearance by the Justice Minister was unusual — and opportunistic. (As journalist Stephen Maher asked on Twitter, is MacKay “now a spokesman for the RCMP? Why is he announcing this stuff?”) The message from MacKay was muddled, but revealed again that the Conservative government has politicized its discourse around public safety in disturbing ways.
In opening his remarks, MacKay asserted that the planned mass shooting “does not appear to have been culturally motivated, therefore not linked to terrorism.” This despite the fact that authorities reported that a group of young people, including one person from the United States, held “shared beliefs” and planned to carry out the massacre. When asked by a reporter about whether one of the shooters’ beliefs had to do with the notorious Columbine school massacre, MacKay responded, “I cannot confirm that, but what I can tell you is that this appeared to be group of murderous misfits that were coming here or were living here and prepared to wreak havoc and mayhem in our community.”
We can only speculate as to what MacKay considers “culturally motivated,” but we know now, thanks to some research by bloggers reported by the Halifax Media Coop and elsewhere, that the young adults planning this mass murder had cultural affinities for Nazi and white power symbols, and something of a fixation with gun culture including Columbine.
It turns out that by “misfits,” MacKay just meant Columbine-obsessed white power Nazi sympathizers — nothing like terrorism at all.
MacKay’s language suggests a double standard, to say the least. The Conservative government, in a statement by Prime Minister Harper himself, labelled the Ottawa shooting last October as an act of terrorism on the day of the attack. In fact, whether on the domestic or the international scene, the Harper government is quick to use the term “terrorism” when the attacks involve Muslims or those claiming to act in the name of so-called “jihadi” networks. To give just one recent example, Harper immediately took to Twitter this weekend to condemn the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in which two people were killed. But he and his government have said nothing about (let alone condemn as terrorism) the execution-style murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by a known white racist and Islamophobe.
After stating that the apprehended mass civilian casualty event in Halifax didn’t have anything to do with terrorism, MacKay nevertheless used the occasion to fearmonger about terrorism and to champion the government’s current proposed “anti-terror legislation.” This quote from MacKay needs to be read in full:
“An individual that would so recklessly and with bloody intent plot to do something like this I would suggest would also be susceptible to being motivated by groups like ISIS and others. This is the main concern — that any individual in Canada, whatever their motivation or proclivities might be, would also be susceptible to being recruited or radicalized.”
So the real danger, according to MacKay, is not that these Nazi-loving misfits allegedly conspired to kill innocent people at a shopping mall, but that they might have been recruited and “radicalized” by ISIS.
At the press conference, MacKay went on to plug his government’s proposed Bill C-51, which would grant sweeping new powers to police forces and CSIS. Of course, the arrests that allegedly prevented the Valentine’s Day massacre in Halifax were made under existing legislation. The plot was uncovered thanks to a tip to Crime Stoppers. It turns out it’s already illegal to plan a public shooting spree.
Peter MacKay, Minister Wrong Again indeed. In this case, however, his statements in Halifax weren't a gaffe. They simply revealed the government's thoroughly opportunistic and more or less dog-whistle-pitched racist approach to anti-terrorism and public safety.