‘Ottawa shooting shouldn’t be used as pretext for stripping away more civil liberties’

Annie Machon
Annie Machon is a former intel­li­gence officer for MI5, the UK Secur­ity Ser­vice, who resigned in the late 1990s to blow the whistle on the spies’ incom­pet­ence and crimes with her ex-partner, David Shayler. Draw­ing on her var­ied exper­i­ences, she is now a pub­lic speaker, writer, media pun­dit, inter­na­tional tour and event organ­iser, polit­ical cam­paigner, and PR con­sult­ant. She has a rare per­spect­ive both on the inner work­ings of gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and the media, as well as the wider implic­a­tions for the need for increased open­ness and account­ab­il­ity in both pub­lic and private sectors.
‘Ottawa shooting shouldn’t be used as pretext for stripping away more civil liberties’
​Canada should not rush to use the attack on the Parliament as a pretext for stripping away civil liberties and increasing dragnet surveillance on the Canadian people, Annie Machon, former intelligence officer for the UK's MI5 told RT.

A gunman attacked Canada's parliament near a room where PM Stephen Harper was speaking on Wednesday while a soldier was fatally wounded at a nearby war memorial in a second shooting incident.

Ottawa shooting TIMELINE

With reports emerging that Canadian police are investigating Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as a suspect and US officials telling Reuters that the suspect was a Canadian convert to Islam, Annie Machon says it is too early to jump to conclusions and blame the violence on “Muslim extremism” or “domestic radicalization” before a proper investigation is conducted.

RT:It's fairly unusual to get such reports from Canada. So you think there’s a reason behind the surge in violence?

Annie Machon: I think this is interesting but it is too early to speculate about where it is coming from. I'm sure that the political classes in Canada will make political hay out of this by saying that it must be Muslim extremism, domestic radicalization, that sort of thing. But I think, as horrific as this crime is, my sympathies go out to the families. Horrific as this crime is, we need to take a step back and there needs to be a proper crime scene investigation. We need to look at the forensics, we need to identify the perpetrators. We need to look at who they are linked with, and where they are coming from and what their motivation might have been rather than jumping to conclusions for political ends.

RT:From the reports there were up to 30 shots fired inside the parliament building itself. Fortunately none of the MPs or the Prime Minister were hurt. Was it a lucky coincidence or did the attackers have other goals?

AM: Well if they are aiming at a government building then they of course have some sort of political motivation behind them, but I think it is too early at this stage to try to speculate what that may be.

Let’s not forget for example the attack and the bombing in Oklahoma in America in 1995 and all the initial media reports – were that Al-Qaeda, is it Islamic extremists that carried that out? And in fact it turned out that the domestic extremist Timothy McVeigh that carried that out. And similarly with the downing of MH17 with the Malaysian flight over Ukraine, immediately everyone jumped into assumption that it must be Russian separatists armed by Russia who carried out the attack.

And of course the only way to establish what really happens is for a thorough forensic investigation and evidential case-building study after the attack when people can work out what happened, hopefully gather evidence and put people on trial in front of a jury of their peers. That would be the sane, logical and actually mature response within a mature democracy.

So I hope the Canadians will do that rather than using this as yet another pretext for stripping away the civil liberties and increasing surveillance and policing of the Canadian people.

Police officers watch as commuters who spent the day in lockdown, head home in Ottawa, Canada on October 22, 2014.(AFP Photo / Lars Hagberg)

RT:So, based on your experience with British intelligence, what steps do you think Canadian intelligence officials are going through right now?

AM: It will be a linkage between the police and also the intelligence agencies. They will be trying to secure the crime scenes, trying to arrest any further perpetrators that might be out there, and gathering the forensic information. But once they have identified the perpetrators, they need to work out who they are, what their potential affiliation might be, who their networks potentially might be, and what their motivation is.

So it is very much an evidential gathering process, hopefully not a hysterical over response politically, which certainly says we've got to spy on everybody and this is a justification for drag net surveillance.

We saw something similar last year in the UK with the gruesome murder and beheading of Lee Rigby in the UK. And that was definitely a political statement. But the British government at that point did say “we are not going to have a knee jerk reaction, we are not going to push for more snooping and surveillance powers until we know what is really going on here.” And all credit to them for that.

RT:The genie of terror seems to be out of the bottle in the UK, do you think the same thing could be the case in Canada?

AM: It might possibly be evolving. As I have said, it is too early to know. The genie of terrorism has been out of the bottle in the UK for decades though. People tend to forget since 9/11, that the UK has been suffering from terrorism for decades, because of the civil war in Northern Ireland. The provisional IRA in the 1970's, 80's and 90's could put bombs down at will on UK streets for political advancement, and they did. And they had many, many big PR hits and they've caused many thousands of deaths. And yet even through those three decades of terrorism that we've experienced in the UK on a fairly regular basis, we did not throw away our civil liberties and our basic freedoms in a way that since 9/11 we have done across the world. And I would council all governments to try and avoid that and to gather the evidence and take measured steps before we throw away our hard earned freedoms across the Western world.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.