Canada has conducted its first "anti-terror" arrest since passing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's controversial Bill C-51 - which has recently been constitutionally challenged.

A Muslim-Canadian man was detained in a small northern town, on charges of distributing Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) propaganda.

The implementation of this questionable legislation makes this an opportune moment to reflect on the general failure of the "war on terror" and raises a number of important questions.

Why, some 14 years after the passage of George W Bush's US Patriot Act, does Harper want to introduce what is in effect a similar failed policy to Canada?

And why, one might ask, is the introduction of police state tactics - which run contrary to both the Canadian and the US constitutions - still considered a "best practice" when it comes to the goal of eliminating terrorism?

Wasted resources

As Patrick Cockburn and other commentators note, the advent of ISIL would seem to be the most obvious manifestation of the failure of the so-called war on terror which even the likes of the Daily Mail concede has been a disaster.

Another contributing factor to this failure is the lack of political will to simply end arms sales and support to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - the two Western allies whose own intelligence services and governments have done more to contribute to rampant jihadism than any other nation states.

Would the billions of dollars spent on elaborate security, surveillance, and entrapment schemes since 2001 not have done more to eliminate terror if they had been used to fund things such as secular women's centres, schools for girls, and humanitarian assistance for the displaced in the Middle East and South Asia?

International experts agree that mass surveillance without intelligent analysis does not stop terror, it only contributes to the erosion of democracy and civil liberties.

 

Or perhaps be used to uplift and support the vulnerable youth immigrant populations throughout North American communities - who are most at risk of recruitment?

While the "war on terror" agenda certainly fuels right-wing governments and their efforts to quash dissent - and is used as a profit-making exercise for the "security" industry - it has done very little to end terror and very much to destroy democratic and constitutional values.

Simply collecting vast amounts of data without proper analysis and follow through is hardly a winning strategy.

International experts agree that mass surveillance without intelligent analysis does not stop terror, it only contributes to the erosion of democracy and civil liberties.

According to a 2014 New America Foundation report, the US government's claims about the role of warrantless NSA surveillance programmes in keeping Americans safe are "overblown and even misleading".

Canadian experience

So why is Canada adopting failed policies and why so late in the game?

Two separate acts of "lone wolf" terror by two disaffected, mentally ill, and substance-abusing young French-Canadian men last year - a Quebecois loner who killed a solider in a supermarket and another who killed a soldier near Parliament Hill before going on a shooting rampage - gave Harper the opportunity he needed to enact the legislation.

But the Canadian record to date is as pitiful as the US experience - where the "terror watchlist" resulted in 40 percent of those watched having "no recognised terrorist group affiliation".

Consider the "Toronto 18" case in 2006 - the year Harper came to power.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) used entrapment to encourage a group of bored Canadian teenagers and young adults with jihadist fantasies into acting on them - via a police agent named Mubin Shaikh.

Acting as an agent provocateur and "jihadi trainer", Shaikh encouraged and assisted the youth in planning a series of attacks - including one against the parliament building - that were foiled by police in a dramatic sting operation.

And a similar case has just played itself out in British Columbia, where two mentally unstable former drug addicts and recent converts to Islam were encouraged to blow up the provincial legislature in the name of "jihad" by an RCMP agent provocateur posing as an Arab businessman.

Their actions were encouraged through an elaborate entrapment scheme, where the pair was often terrified of their "recruiter" and the consequences of not following through with the plan to blow up parliament.

Harassment of activists and the violation of civil liberties and privacy continue unabated in both Canada and the US, effectively giving the green light to regimes across the world to do the same - making citizens everywhere less, not more, secure.

 

Canadian authorities seem to be following the example of the FBI, whose attempts at entrapment of would-be terrorists have bordered on the absurd.

As CAIR lawyer Zahra Billo said in a Guardian article: "The FBI seek out troubled people - nobody is arguing that some of these individuals aren't deeply troubled - and then enable and facilitate their aspirations. It is the FBI's job to stop operational terrorists. It is not the FBI's job to enable aspirational terrorists."

Second class citizenship

In Canada, the ghost of the Maher Arar post-Patriot Act extraordinary rendition case is never far from these scenarios. In what remains one of the most egregious and terrifying examples of the "war on terror's" contempt for human rights, the Canadian engineer of Syrian descent endured nine months of torture in a Syrian jail on false allegations of terrorism with the aid and abetting of Canadian and American agents.

And let's not forget the ongoing "security certificates" issue that targets foreign nationals living in Canada - particularly those with Middle Eastern backgrounds.

After Adil Charkaoui, the Moroccan-born Canadian citizen who was arrested and imprisoned on trumped up charges of being a "jihadist", challenged his arrest and secret trial (with no evidence admitted) in court in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the security certificate legislation on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

But three other men, including Algerian-born Mohamed Harkat, are still in a legal limbo and fighting deportation.

Bill C-24, which is essentially a two-tier citizenship system that adversely affects immigrants and those eligible for dual citizenship, justified by the government via the spectre of "jihadi terrorism", further erodes the democratic process.

Harassment of activists and the violation of civil liberties and privacy continue unabated in both Canada and the US, effectively giving the green light to regimes across the world to do the same - making citizens everywhere less, not more, secure.

Meanwhile, Western strategies that arm and fund Syrian opposition groups co-opted by the likes of ISIL, combined with decades of disastrous foreign policy, further destabilise the entire Middle East.

They make "homeland security" measures seem not only weak and ineffectual, but also petty and pointless.

And Canada's adoption of Patriot Act-style legislation can only add fuel to a fire that's burning a more destructive path than anyone could have imagined a decade and a half ago.

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, and has been reporting from Iraq since 1997. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera