Canada is a haven for terrorists, and they have a new weapon. Disturbingly, it is made entirely from household materials available at any grocery store, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to track, control or predict. Marked by a sickly sweet smell, a thick and viscous consistency and a flaky crust, the cream pie is the newest offensive weapon for domestic insurgents. Or at least that is what some politicians are saying.
Gail Shea, federal minister of fisheries and oceans, was struck by a tofu cream pie while speaking at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters Jan. 25. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed responsibility for the action, which targeted Shea and the federal government as part of their campaign to “stop the government’s ill-advised sanction of the slaughter of seals.” While animal rights groups clashing with the Canadian government over the seal hunt is nothing new, the response of some politicians to these events indicates a disturbing trend.
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne told reporters, “when someone actually coaches or conducts criminal behaviour to impose a political agenda on each and every other citizen of Canada, that does seem to me to meet the test of a terrorist organization.” He continued, calling on the “government of Canada to actually investigate whether or not this organization, PETA, is acting as a terrorist organization.”
Byrne’s comments echo a belief that has been creeping into Canada over the past decade in the criminalizing of civil society and social justice groups &- especially environmental and animal rights organizations &- under the auspice of national security. The classification of environmental and animal rights organizations as “terrorist groups” harkens back to the era of former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. During McCarthy’s time in office, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and dissident voices, like that of renowned broadcaster Edward Murrow, were branded as communists without evidence or corroboration.
Under the so-called Green Scare campaign in the United States, environmentalists were recently labelled as the “number one domestic terrorist threat.” Numerous activists have been prosecuted under a “terrorist enhancement” classification, upping sentences and sending activists into supermax prisons. In 2006, the U.S. passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which allowed for the prosecution of animal rights activists under terrorist statutes for property damage or causing fear of injury – such as the fear of injury by pie-ing.
The phrase “eco-terrorism” has become a part of the popular lexicon as a blanket term for environmental activism. Greenpeace has earned itself the moniker numerous times, recently in the wake of their high-flying banner stunt at Parliament Hill in December. The reality is that the vast majority of activists charged as “eco-terrorists” are at worst guilty of minor property damage and typically limit their activities to civil disobedience and awareness raising. An example is the case of Jeff “Free” Luers sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison for property damage estimated at $28,000.
Shea has earned herself a place alongside five other Canadian politicians targeted with pies to the face: Quebec Premier Jean Charest, former prime minister Jean ChrÃ©tien, Alberta Premiers Ed Stelmach and Ralph Klein and Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier. Most of the pastry-wielding threats to freedom were charged with assault and sentenced to a month in jail, something that Byrne would like to see increased for 37-year-old Emily McCoy, arrested for Canada’s most recent pie toss.
Canada defines terrorism as activities “directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state,” according to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Does a cream pie fulfill the statutes of an act of serious violence? No. Does the yearly “cull” of hundreds of thousands of seals qualify as violence? Yes, state sponsored violence against animals, but still violence. Does this condone non-violent actions of groups such as PETA? Absolutely, until they start clubbing politicians, which would have a considerably smaller impact on biodiversity than killing seals.
Politicians may not always like or agree with the tactics of civil disobedience, but to call it “terrorism” is an insult to the history of the civil rights movement, ridiculous at best and, at worst, chillingly neo-McCarthyist. As Edward Murrow once said, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” for dissent &- to question one’s government, openly and loudly &- is the foundation of a responsible democracy. Byrne should watch his back, his comments have probably landed him on a shortlist of pastry-related targets.