Recently, I received news that the Canadian federal parliament was hours away from officially declaring the Muslim Brotherhood organization a terrorist organization. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this, since the Muslim Brotherhood has, indeed, engaged in activities that are questionable and should at least stir up some debate about whether they qualify as a terrorist organization or not.
The most surprising aspect of this, however, was that this decision was to be made so suddenly – there was no mention of it in the news, no recent mention of a debate in Canadian political circles, nor any other incident that truly compelled the Canadian government to act on this initiative. I thought it was somewhat peculiar, so I decided to do some reading to see what was happening.
A friend of mine brought my attention to the only piece of tangible evidence that shows the Canadian government contemplating the move to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization – this brief request by Conservative MP Brad Butt presenting a petition to the House of Commons on behalf of “hundreds and hundreds” of Canadians (there is a 15-second video that shows this, but I could not find the link to show it. The official transcript of the House of Commons debate on that day shows it here).
The concerning thing, however, is that this is merely a petition brought forth to the Canadian government’s attention, with the hope that they will act on due to the importance of its content. It has not yet been approved, nor has it even been discussed as of the date of writing this post. That is to say – nothing has happened yet. And even more concerning is that some newspapers and political parties in Egypt genuinely believe that this is a done deal, and are already calling on other countries to follow suit.
This is not meant to be a criticism of all the hard work that Egyptian-Canadian activists have done in order to bring this petition to the government. In fact, I applaud this effort, since it likely required a lot of leg work and connections made with people to bring their attention to the issue (I would hope that, in getting these signatures, that the activists not only spoke to Egyptian-Canadians, but also to Canadians of all different backgrounds. But, I digress). I would hope that this petition is an indication of a wider global trend that would begin to criminalize some of the acts that the Brotherhood are perpetrating on Egyptians and people in the world at large.
However there must be a clear distinction between a political development and a legal development. Political developments are, at the very most, an indication of wider trends that might influence legal developments. This is the main concept behind the rule of law – the law is independent of the political order of the day, and should not be influenced by the waning currents of politicians. And make no mistake – this petition presented by Mr. Brad Butt is nothing more than a political development, still early on in the process needed before a petition becomes a law.
What is a petition, and how does it work?
To put things in perspective, here is a brief breakdown of the Canadian petition process. For more detailed information, please see this link.
Step 1: Prepare the petition form indicating what exactly is being asked of the members of Parliament. Here, it is obvious that whatever is being asked of the Canadian Parliament has to be within the powers of Canadian parliament. Specifically, this means that you cannot ask the Canadian parliament to do something that is reserved for the municipal or provincial government, or to the courts of law or administrative tribunals. In the context of this petition, it can be fairly presumed that this is something that the federal government has jurisdiction over – the listing of terrorist entities is a matter of national security, and therefore, the responsibility of the federal Minister of Public Safety. (I have not seen the petition, nor what exactly is it asking for, but I would hope that it was worded properly to specifically request the listing of the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt as a terrorist organization).
Step 2: Get at least 25 authentic signatures or addresses on the petition. Once completed, submit to a member of parliament, who then submits it to the Clerk of Petitions for certification.
Step 3: The petition has to be certified by the Clerk of Petitions to ensure that the petition meets requirements as to form, content, and language. That is to say, the petition has to be worded properly, ask a clear request, etc. The Clerk of Petitions also has to verify that there was no fraud in preparing the petition. This means also an examination of the signatures contained in the petition has to occur, to ensure that the petition is being presented on behalf of Canadians, or that the petition is signed by mostly Canadian citizens. It is allowed to have SOME signatures by non-Canadians, though too many signatures may invalidate the petition (it is not clear how many signatures by non-Canadians would be considered too much).
Step 4: Once the Clerk of Petitions has verified that the petition meets the requirements, the member of parliament may then present it to the House of Commons during what is referred to as “Routine Proceedings”. Most petitions are presented orally during this time, and the presentation cannot exceed 15 minutes.
Step 5: The House Clerk presents a written notification to the Privy Council Office notifying them of the petitions presented in the House of Commons. The Privy Council Office has to respond to all petitions within 45 days of their presentation (this is to give the PCO an opportunity to arrange with the necessary government departments and agencies to develop a response). However, it’s important to note that there are no penalties or consequences if the government fails to respond within 45 days.
As you can see, the petition presented by Mr. Brad Butt is still not the last stage of the petition process. At this point, it is assumed that the petition meets the requirements of the petition, but there is no guarantee as to the result that will come about as a result of this petition. There is no guarantee that the petition will be responded to within 45 days, and there is no guarantee that there will be any developments on this petition, especially considering that the months of March and April are very busy times of the year for the House of Commons due to the debates on the Canadian federal budget.
Is there a chance that the Muslim Brotherhood will be listed as a terrorist organization by Canada?
It’s important to note that there are other factors that will affect whether the Canadian government follows through on this initiative. Sometimes, it is not enough to say that “hundreds” or “thousands” of Canadians are demanding this change – there needs to be more tangible reasons that would compel the government to take a certain position (just to put things in perspective – “hundreds” of Canadians support the Marxist-Leninist Party, which doesn’t really have a tangible chance of being elected anytime soon in Canada).
Looking at a recent example, we can look to Canada’s decision to label the LTTE (i.e. Tamil Tigers) of Sri Lanka as a terrorist organization in 2006. It would seem that one of the factors that compelled Canada to make that decision was the LTTE’s aggressive solicitation of funds from Tamil supporters in Canada. Realizing that the organization was trying to capitalize on Tamil presence in Canada, the government criminalized membership in the organization to put an effective stop on those aggressive solicitation efforts (in addition to other interests that the government of Canada had in stopping the Tamil Tigers’ efforts, such as the efforts to quell political propaganda officers and limiting the procurement of arms).
Despite the Brotherhood’s efforts of subverting and destabilizing the Egyptian state over the past year, there has not been any evidence that suggests the Brotherhood’s network is operating illegally within Canada (that is not to say they do not have a presence – they likely have a political and financial presence in the country). Until there is tangible evidence showing that the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities are subverting Canada’s interests, or trying to divert Canadian financial resources to support its global efforts, the Canadian government may be hesitant to jump at the opportunity to officially list the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
Of course, this is where the Canadian-Egyptian activists can prove us all wrong – they may have already taken that into account, and may actually be able to affect change in this scenario. Time will tell!