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Terrorism: reporting v publicity

Publication: 
Nigel Morris-Co...
chiefofficersnet

Not long ago, it's hours not even a day, a man drove, at high-speed a rented van along pavements and up streets in the face of incoming traffic in Toronto, Canada.The man has been arrested and is in custody. He has been named as Alek Minassian, aged 26. Whatever Minassian's motive, one thing is clear: publicity was inevitable because the choice of weapon, the fact that it's in Canada and the fact that it took place only a few kilometres from a G7 ministers meeting convened to discuss developments in terrorism and counter-terrorism. Media has provided blanket coverage around the world. It's time to think about that.

For example, the USA's so-called "extraordinary rendition" was nothing new: governments have been using authority (sometimes legally approved, sometimes assumed) to remove players from the anti-government stage for thousands of years. After all, what was the arrest of Christ and his subsequent trial and execution if not an exercise in removing a troublesome member of society who was increasingly a source of upset for the then status quo. That is just one example out of many. In Northern Ireland, the British government held suspected terrorists incommunicado, even in secret. There were the right-wing dictators of South America whose way of dealing with dissidents was to "disappear" them and even worse were the incredible numbers murdered by those enforcing communism from Asia to Europe.

Across the world, governments publicly decry "shoot-to-kill" policies while actively pursuing them when it is regarded as politically expedient to do so. It matters not, in principle, if that policy is carried out by an officer with a side-arm or by a drone pilot with a missile on the one hand or by a terrorist with an Uzi fired from the back of a motorcycle. Both are morally reprehensible. Governments have the capacity to make that action legal - but there's a snag: if the person is convicted of an offence, in absentia or otherwise, the vast majority of countries have abolished the death penalty. Only by securing a treason conviction would such a targeted killing be possible and even then there are the complexities of whether it is properly considered an execution and, of course, the question of who else might be killed or injured during the killing.

And so, the problems mount up and all the time, there are additional pressures brought about by media and by pseudo-media such as facebook and the like.

A photograph of the driver has been published on several media websites. The Toronto Sun, unlike others, credits a source: LinkedIn. That profile does not show up in searches now. His surname is very common on LinkedIn.

The police are not saying this was an act of terrorism but they are saying that it was deliberate. They are having to fend off criticism that the officers who conducted the arrest did not shoot the suspect. Toronto's Chief of Police Mark Saunders takes a different view, commending the officers for following Canadian procedures which require officers to use "the minimum force necessary to effect an arrest."

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