If Trudeau is schmoozing with terrorists, why aren’t we arresting any?

First published in the National Post on August 7, 2014.

When the news broke that Justin Trudeau had made a 2011 campaign stop at a Quebec mosque where, as United States military documents put it, “known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained,” I was shocked. Not by Trudeau’s political indiscretion in visiting a place of worship with allegations of terror links, but because of the Canadian government’s misguided anger.

Indeed, the Conservative government seemed far more concerned with Trudeau’s visitation of the mosque than it did by any terror-related activities that took place there.

I’m not defending Justin Trudeau. This is, after all, the man who absurdly pontificated on the need “to look at the root causes” of the Boston bombing while refusing to acknowledge it as an act of terrorism. It is also the same Trudeau who addressed the radical Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in 2012.

But I’m most disappointed in Stephen Harper, the tough-on-crime and tough-on-“Islamicism” Prime Minister whose office, on Wednesday, offered up Roxanne James, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, as a guest on my radio show on London, Ont.’s AM980 to specifically discuss Trudeau’s visit to the mosque.

When the PMO arranged my interview with James, I was looking forward to hearing what the government had done or was doing to address the radicalization alleged at the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque. Shockingly, what I presumed was the most relevant question to the discussion, appeared to dumbfound James, who skirted it no fewer than three times, offering up only scripted condemnations of Justin Trudeau.

“I think it was completely outrageous. I think it’s completely unacceptable that the leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, would associate with a group that allegedly radicalizes Canadians to join al-Qaeda and has even been listed by the Pentagon as a location known to them,” James told me during the live interview.

I asked, “Why is this a politics question and not a question of Canadian public safety and intelligence?”

I was expecting anything but the answer she gave.

“I thank you for that question, but as you know, I probably —I cannot comment on operational matters of national security, Andrew,” she said. “But I think the real question is here — Justin Trudeau knew about this. He knew about this and instead he went into this mosque, did a whole lot of handshaking and trying to win votes. He will stoop at nothing to try to win over terrorist organizations. I can’t believe this.”

Different approaches to the issue produced the same result.

Politics should never trump national security, if genuine public safety concerns exist within this discussion.

As has come to light since the original story broke, the terror connection of Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah came from several captured terrorists associated with the mosque — including its former Imam — in the late 1990s.

Does the mosque preach radicalism or hold any connections to terrorism now, or when Trudeau visited in 2011? I have no idea.

But if the only anti-Canadian event at the mosque that troubles Conservative government is an invitation to Justin Trudeau, the partisan attacks are far more “inexcusable” than Trudeau accepting it.

What’s to stop non-citizens from voting in our elections?

First published in the National Post on October 5, 2011.

As a result of a recent relocation, I wasn’t on the voters list in my riding for the upcoming Ontario provincial election. So, when I showed up to vote in the advance polls, I had to show my driver’s licence and a piece of mail — my phone bill, as it so happens — to prove identity, age and residency. No problem. But something neither of these documents did was verify my citizenship.

Citizenship is, in theory, a fundamental criterion in voting eligibility. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair in not considering the possibility that citizenship verification takes place on some sort of psychic, metaphysical level by the attending poll clerk, or, perhaps, merely a behavioural profile on whether the would-be voter exudes the essence of Canadian-ness. But I doubt it. I’m more apt to wager on a profoundly simpler idea: Elections Ontario, much like its national counterpart, doesn’t verify citizenship of electors.

A couple of years ago, (thankfully) former Toronto mayor David Miller backed an unpopular proposal to allow non-Canadians residing in Toronto to vote in municipal elections. That would have been a first for Canada. In the last federal election, Michael Ignatieff’s wife was unable to cast a ballot to support her husband due to her citizenship status. (Little did Mrs. Zsohar know that as long as she could drive or had a health card, no one would have stopped her from giving her husband a much-needed sympathy vote.)

What would happen if a non-citizen, armed with phone bill and driver’s licence, went to vote and, by coincidence, the polling clerk happened to know for a fact that they weren’t a Canadian citizen? Could they be prevented from casting a ballot? A phone call to Elections Ontario to pose that very question had a confused customer service agent ask me, “What do you mean? You need to be a citizen to vote.” How enlightening.

The non-statement from Elections Ontario aside, it’s well established that foreign citizens have voted in Canadian elections. I know of at least one American who voted in our last election, and a French citizen who had to call Elections Canada to explain that she was ineligible to receive the voter cards they were sending her. Tales of foreign citizens voting in our elections have even been reported in the media, typically as curiosities.

Much has been written about the historical pattern of politicians in Chicago wooing the graveyard vote, but those indiscretions are minute compared to the systemic indifference to non-Canadians being able to vote in Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections.

There are 1.5 million non-citizen residents of Canada over the age of 18. There is little to stop any or all of them from influencing our democracy. Forget “foreign workers.” A better use of time during the current campaign would have been figuring out how to update our election laws to rule out any interference by foreign voters.