Reviewed by Stephen Burgess-Whiting (Department of History, University of Western Ontario)
Published on H-Canada (August, 2003)
When I was asked to review Kent Roach's September 11: Consequences for Canada, memories of that day instantly filled my thoughts. I remembered that the horrific events in the United States were only of secondary concern for me. My wife and I heard of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center just as we were leaving to attend a friend's funeral. The news of the second plane's impact came across the airwaves of our car radio. While my wife and I searched for answers concerning our friend's tragic and untimely death, we realized the radio broadcaster was inquiring into the same unknown, albeit on a much larger scale. Roach's book goes a long way in answering the major questions concerning Canada's responses to September 11.
The main question Roach's book attempts to answer is whether Canada can respond to the domestic and international pressures of September 11 in a way that does not jeopardize Canadian nationalism or sovereignty. Roach states his book has two main goals: "to provide a critical assessment of the consequences of September 11 for Canada" (p. 18), and "to provide a sense of how Canada's anti-terrorism policies should evolve in the future" (p. 19). Of the book's seven chapters (the first being the introduction), three focus mainly on the political and legal aspects of Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act. In the remaining three chapters, Roach broadens his assessment to encompass the consequences of September 11 for Canadian democracy, sovereignty and security.
The best parts of the book are the sections critiquing the consequences of the government's design of the Anti-Terrorism Act as "Charter proof." Even though Roach concludes Bill C-36 is likely Charter proof, the bill unnecessarily infringes on the civil liberties of Canadians. This analysis reminds readers that our Charter rights are not absolute. Furthermore, despite the fact that Canada's pre-existing criminal law covered all aspects of the new Anti-Terrorism Act, the legislation went forward for political reasons. Roach refers to this phenomenon as memorial criminal law.
Roach also laments that an emotional Canadian public, combined with American pressures, led the government to develop a legislative response to September 11 that was inconsistent with Canada's political culture. Roach believes Canada's more generous refugee and immigration laws, and commitment to multiculturalism were sacrificed for national security. Although the federal government did provide forums for criticisms and adopted some of the critics' suggestions, these measures were insufficient to satisfy Roach. Moreover, as Roach argues in his chapter on the preservation of Canadian security, he views the use of "governing through crime" and increased military spending as an American, not Canadian, response that will be ultimately unsuccessful in preventing terrorism.
According to Roach more attention and finances should be aimed at administrative and technological innovations in producing a broader human security agenda. The federal government's failure to take these steps led Roach to conclude that the government's actions sacrificed Canada's commitment to its historic promotion of civil liberties, leniency, democracy, internationalism, pacifism, peace-keeping, international law, and multiculturalism. As such, Canadian prestige and sovereignty has been sacrificed to satisfy Washington's demands. But Roach is optimistic (perhaps because the government did not use the powers of the Anti-Terrorism Act in its first year of enactment) that a Canadian nationalism, as well as a sovereign response based not solely on anti-Americanism, can and will inform the country's future foreign policy and national security challenges. This would prove to be partially true in Canada's refusal to contribute military aid to the current war in Iraq. (Roach completed his monograph before the war in Iraq started.)
Much of Roach's analysis is based on personal insights into the legislative formation and debate over Bill C-36, press reports, and a comprehensive assessment of Supreme Court activism in Canada since the enactment of the Charter--a subject in which Roach is a leading scholar. Although Roach is a law professor focusing mainly on the legal and political consequences of September 11, the book was written with an appreciation of the importance of Canada's history and an acceptance that Canada has a useable past. The result, however, left me feeling both pleased and frustrated. In using George Grant's Lament For A Nation as a comparison, Roach analyses September 11 by employing the reader's historical consciousness. Despite the fact that the sub-section entitled "The Importance of History to Canadian Identity," in Chapter Five, is less than two pages, many of the book's overall assumptions are historically based. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Roach defends many of his conclusions based on the premise that Canada is historically committed to the promotion of civil liberties, leniency, democracy, internationalism, pacifism, peace-keeping, international law, and multiculturalism. All of these claims are legitimate, if not completely accurate. The cause for frustration is that each of these assertions is presented as an uncontested historical fact.
One problem is that Roach's references to Canadian historical traditions are not bound to any clear chronology. As a result, he selectively draws upon historical precedents that neatly fit his arguments, without dealing with the many aberrations or contradictions. Perhaps I am being unfair, but Roach does compliment Canadians for being historically conscious in debating the consequences of September 11, while our American neighbors reportedly were not (pp. 128-29).
Like many historians, Roach disagrees that Canada has a record of protecting civil liberties in the face of real or perceived threats to the country's national security. Roach's presentation of Canada's commitment to multiculturalism is, however, problematic. Although Roach is probably right that Canadians have generally accepted ethnic minorities, he underestimates those who would deny that the government's official multiculturalism policy has benefitted the country. Moreover, Canada's commitment to internationalism, in its present form, is a relatively new development. So too are Canada's more generous immigration and refugee policies.
Throughout the inter-war years, Canada's isolationist foreign policy did more to undermine the League of Nations' ability to fulfill its collective security role than any other nation. When faced with the advance of Nazi Germany, Canada sought security from the only country capable, the United States. The August 1940 Ogdensburg Agreement established Canada's first military alliance with the United States and, as Jack Granatstein reminds us, it brought immediate benefits. These benefits, however, had long-term consequences in the form of NORAD and Cruise missile testing. In his criticism of Granatstein, Roach joins a distinguished list of scholars who question Granatstein's interpretation of the independent influence Canada can exert, while being military allies with the United States.
Roach also disagrees with historian Michael Bliss's assessment of the future path Canada should follow in its relations with the United States. By grouping Bliss and Granatstein together in the "no-choice" school of thought, the complexity of Granatstein's argument is lost (pp. 157-58). Upon careful reading, Granatstein's no-choice or only-choice argument does, in fact, provide room for a vibrant and sovereign Canadian nationalism. Granatstein believes the policy of co-operating with the United States in certain foreign policy areas gives Canadian policy-making the greatest voice in future policy decisions concerning North American security. Once allied and co-operating, Canadian policy makers can then influence American decision-makers from within. Canada, therefore, can safely resume its important role as world do-gooder. But this will only work if Canada presents itself as a credible and reliable ally.
One of the main examples utilized by Roach to demonstrate Canada's historical commitment to internationalism is Pearson's peacekeeping solution to the Suez crisis. Roach leads the reader to believe the United States and the United Nations, as a whole, accepted Pearson's suggestion because Canada was a strong and influential middle-power. Even though the Pearsonian foreign policy era represents the golden age of Canadian foreign policy, R. A. Mackay reminds us that Pearson's triumph was successful not because of Canadian influence, but "because of the great powers' (Britain, France, United States and the Soviet Union) acquiescence."
While the Trudeau administration's foreign policy was also internationalist, it continued to co-operate with the United States. Trudeau's assertions of internationalism and attempts to develop an independent foreign policy from the United States failed. Granatstein and Bothwell describe Trudeau's foreign policy as "sporadic" and in the end reinforcing the status quo, in that they were a continuance of Canadian security dependent upon American military capabilities. Granatstein and Bothwell also identify another element of Canadian foreign policy, Canadian idealism. This idealism should be, as it historically has been, coupled with the realistic assessment that Canada needs allies in assuring its own national security. More directly, since 1940, Canada has been permitted to have a more ideological foreign policy because the United States will always ensure its military security.
These dual forces in Canadian foreign policy are positive and productive in asserting Canadian sovereignty. Roach's appeal to a pacifist tradition in Canada is also problematic. As Thomas Socknat's definitive work on Canadian pacifism Witness Against War (a source not used by Roach) identifies, the pacifist movement in Canada has undergone many transformations, and when faced with catastrophic international crisis its minority voice became weakened beyond effectiveness. Even during the inter-war years when Canadian pacifism was at its height and isolationism was the basis of our foreign policy, movements to commemorate peace had the reverse effect by reaffirming victory and the noble sacrifices the soldiers of the Great War committed.
The most damaging counter to Roach's assertion of a Canadian pacifist tradition is found in the thought of one of Canada's most well-known pacifists, J. S. Woodsworth. Allen Mills's book on Woodsworth's political thought reveals that the latter's commitment to pacifism was secured in his acceptance and promotion of a "fortress North America." Co-operation with the United States would provide Canada the security and platform to pursue a policy of disarmament and world peace.
Roach's argument of a Canadian pacifist tradition is also at times presented as synonymous with Canada's peacekeeping tradition. Roach is right to assert that peacekeeping has become a symbol of our national identity, and one Canadians can take pride in. But again, the issue is not as clear-cut as Roach presents it. As historian Paul Gough describes in his article on the national peacekeeping monument, the government's attempt to present a commemorative link between peacekeeping and the peace movement resulted in convoluted messages about peace and peacekeeping. After all, peacekeepers are soldiers, trained in the same machinery of death utilized by soldiers in combat roles. Even more curiously, Roach does not acknowledge the argument that Canada's military history secured its development as a sovereign nation.
Other historical comparisons were also troubling. For example, Roach argues that the Anti-Terrorism Act jeopardizes Canada's commitment to democracy because it has the potential to squash political dissenters, although its intended focus is on suicidal extremists. According to Roach, the FLQ's demise was quickened by the leniency displayed by the federal government and Canada's willingness to foster a democratic and non-violent separatist movement. Restrictions on civil liberties can therefore foster extremists. While this may be true, can the terrorists in Al-Qaeda be compared to the members of the FLQ? Certainly, there needs to be some accounting of the differing contexts.
Overall Roach does an excellent job of analyzing the legal and political debates surrounding the Canadian responses to September 11. Unfortunately, his historical comparisons weaken his conclusions. And although his historical consciousness is at times blurry and selective, he challenges the reader to draw upon their sense of Canada's collective past in surveying the road ahead. This is a process that historians deem necessary, but one that all citizens can find refreshing and rewarding. Most importantly, this process leads to positive and critical self-examinations. This is a readable and masterfully written book that every Canadian should become familiar with. Certainly it will become subject of much debate, a true indicator of a successful book. If only I could find a similar work to help me better understand the consequences of the other loss I experienced that somber day.
. See Donald Avery, Reluctant Host: Canada's Response to Immigration Workers, 1896-1994 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995).
. James Eayrs, In Defence of Canada: Appeasement and Rearmament (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965): pp. 55-56.
. J. L. Granatstein, How Britain's Weakness Forced Canada into the Arms of the United States (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989).
. R. A. Mackay, "The Canadian Doctrine of the Middle Powers," in Towards a New World: Readings in the History of Canadian Foreign Policy, ed. J. L. Granatstein (Mississauga: Copp Clark Pitman, 1992): p. 71.
. J. L. Granatstein and Robert Bothwell, Pirouette: Pierre Trudeau and Canadian Foreign Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).
. Thomas P. Socknat, Witness Against War: Pacifism in Canada, 1900-1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987).
. Jonathan F. Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1997): pp. 214-215.
. Allen Mills, Fool For Christ: The Political Thought of J.S. Woodsworth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991): p. 205.
. Paul Gough, "Peacekeeping, Peace, Memory: Reflections on the Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa," Canadian Military History, 11:3 (Summer 2202): pp. 65-74.
. Vance; and Desmond Morton, A Military History of Canada: From Champlain to the Gulf War, 3rd ed. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992), p. ix.
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Stephen Burgess-Whiting. Review of Roach, Kent, September 11: Consequences for Canada.
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Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.