Canada's No Safe Haven From Breivik-Style Hate Crime

Yesterday a Norwegian public enquiry commission released a report and found that the attack that left 77 people dead and 240 wounded last summer, could have been avoided if police and other authorities had not been so slow to react.

Anders Behring Breivik is now on trial for the attack, which included a bombing in central Oslo that left eight people dead, and a shooting spree at a youth camp on nearby Utoya Island, where 69 people died. Many of the dead were young people.

The Breivik trial and the surrounding media have focused on one question: Was Breivik insane when he ensued the attack? Insanity assumes that the criminal behaviour consisted of random, senseless acts, by someone who did not understand the consequences.

It means the shooting spree and bombing did not occur as a result of belief in any particular ideology or membership in any group.

It means it was not case of "terrorism" -- for which there is less societal tolerance and fewer judicial rights. After all, it is more difficult to obtain a fair trial, for example, in many places, if you are a terrorist as opposed to, simply, a nutcase.

Breivik, it is reported, insists he was not insane and that he carefully calculated every move. He points to a 1,500-page manifesto, filled with hatred and intolerance towards minorities, particularly Muslim European immigrants. He is reported as saying his actions were motivated, not in a vacuum of delusion, but in self-defence of a climate, created by left-wing political parties, who allowed Islam upon his land.

Breivik continues, reportedly, to refuse to express remorse for his actions and insists his hatred is not madness but logic.

And if Breivik can be believed to be telling the truth it means Breivik is a terrorist. And it means the terrorism he committed took place alongside his sincere and destructive belief that it would reform his society, by frightening his fellow citizens enough to stop them from aligning themselves with the liberal left-wing of Norway.

Is domestic terrorism, instigated by white supremacists, such as Breivik, on the rise?

It is in America, where 10 days ago, Wade Michael Page, a former U.S. army soldier killed seven people, including himself and critically injured many more, including a police officer, when he attacked a congregation of 500 at an American Sikh Gurdwara in Wisconsin.

Years before, it's reported that Page had been discharged from the army after failing a psych assessment. Notwithstanding, reportedly, he appears to have his wits about him in an interview he did for a publication, in which he talks about his efforts to gather support for white supremacist beliefs.

Page is now dead. So as we continue to extend our sympathy and condolences to our Sikh neighbours and friends, are we secure in the knowledge that another such terrorist attack is unlikely? Not necessarily.

Recently, more incidents of hate crimes -- though not resulting in such carnage -- are reported to be taking place, with alarming frequency. There have been at least seven reports of hate crimes targeting Muslims and mosques in the last 10 days in the United States.

In fact, the day after the Wisconsin Sikh gurdwarah shooting, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned to the ground by arson. It had been targeted twice before -- once shortly after it opened in 2007 when arsonists set its sign on fire and then, on July 4 this year, when the building was set on fire by a torch thrown into the air. To date, no one has been charged. Fortunately, no one was injured.

In Morton Grove, Illinois, on Friday, a man named David Conrad shot a pellet gun at a mosque wall, next door to his home, while several hundred congregants prayed inside. No one was hurt. In Lombard, Illinois, on Sunday, a homemade bomb was thrown at an Islamic school while worshippers prayed inside. Because the container holding the explosives failed to break the window and explode inside the school, no one was injured.

In North Smithfield, a mosque was recently vandalized by a man who "head-butted" and pulled down signage. In Hayward, California, on Saturday, four teens were arrested on hate crime charges for taunting worshippers by throwing eggs and oranges and shooting BB-pellets at a mosque. In Oklahoma City, on Sunday, vandals defaced the Grand Mosque with paintballs, and, in Ontario, California last Tuesday, a group threw pig legs at a mosque site while worshippers left temporary prayer space there.

Here in Canada we look down at the United States and say, "well, everything is worse down there, more guns, more violence, more racism."

Not so fast.

Here at home in Canada, the Gatineau Mosque, in our nation's capital of Ottawa/Hull, was vandalized three times this past January, forcing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to issue a statement of condemnation against the vandal.

A few weeks ago, on July 27 in Winnipeg, a car was damaged as it sat in a parking lot at a mosque there. And only weeks before that, vandals spray painted "KKK" and a swastika on the gym wall of a Sikh school in Brampton, Ontario. (Since 9/11 Sikh citizens have reported greater numbers of hate crimes, being mistaken for Muslims by criminals.)

According to Statistics Canada figures from 2009, the frequency of hate crimes are up. The largest increase was among those hate crimes motivated by religion, which rose 55 per cent in 2009.

The reason? Some say it is due to the increased rhetoric of right wing political parties and their statements to media, which since 9/11, have focused on describing immigrants and visible minorities, particularly Muslims, as "the other."

Others say right wing conservative ideology alone does not necessarily lead to crime or domestic terrorism.

The solution? If we wish to protect our society as a whole from being overrun by thugs of any faith, ideology or colour, the answer is clear -- law enforcement in western nations must have a plan to protect the security of all its citizens against terrorists of all ideologies. Even the white ones.

"The police and security services could and should have done more to avert the crisis," said Alexandra Bech Gjor, head of the commission for the public enquiry into the Norway attack.

Breivik was open about his views before the attack. The late, Wade Michael Page was in a band, singing about his radical beliefs, to his compatriots.

Where were the police? And are we safe now?

Shahla Khan SalterChair, Muslims for Progressive Values Canada