Issues

March 2008

Re: “Constabulary Duties,” by Paul F. McKenna

Re: “Constabulary Duties” by Paul McKenna

I read with some interest Paul McKenna’s essay, which admittedly raises some valid points about the evolution of policing and the complex issues that impact the profession (“Constabulary Duties,” March 2008). What seems somewhat disproportionate, however, is the quick-to-judge and purely academic references about the complexities, challenges and inherent difficulties faced by the very people who are actually doing the work, who have both feet on the ground, who are accountable for every intimate decision they make and who, as is evident in the essay, are forever second-guessed, criticized and even put up for ridicule as Mr. McKenna seems to have done by the off-hand dismissal of Duty: The Life of a Cop, which I co-authored with Jerry Amernic.

I find it amusing that my hard-earned police career as portrayed in that book, spanning some 40 years in four major police organizations, 17 of which as the chief executive, would be trivialized by yet another academic raconteur who has never walked in my shoes, never had to make a life-and-death decision and, most assuredly, never had to deal with the meticulous oversight and accountability demanded of my profession. I hardly think that the writer can honestly and fairly refer to Duty as a mere effort to serve up a “ghost-written tome characterized by equal parts of self-congratulation, mythology and Horatio Alger Jr.” What a classless regard for my contribution and that of those with whom I worked closely over the years, the very people who have embraced an oath of office and made the commitment to deliver uncompromised public service to free and democratic societies, which among other benefits, allows the writer to take gratuitous academic cheap shots at people like us.

But I digress. I find it even more disturbing that, among other abstract conclusions about policing, the writer would be fixated on the regrettable incident involving the use of the Taser by RCMP officers at the Vancouver Airport and be so quick to pass judgement on such a tragic event that is currently the focus of multiple investigations. I also take issue with the writer’s simplistic understanding of the intelligence-led policing concept, which I argue is not a substitute for community-based policing, and most assuredly I do not ascribe to the writer’s views that “the ‘thin blue line’ that demarcates intelligence-led policing connotes separation and exclusivity of action rather than partnership with the public.” Intelligence-led policing is an evolution and enhancement to community-based policing concepts, concepts that complement each other. They are not mutually exclusive; nothing we do in policing is.

Finally, I feel very comfortable with the fact that, unlike the writer, I am able to speak about policing issues from a grounded-in-reality perspective and that, as I intimated in Duty: The Life of a Cop, I happen to have all the right detractors.

Julian Fantino
Toronto, Ontario


Paul McKenna Responds

Julian Fantino dismisses me as “yet another academic raconteur” in his response to my essay on policing in Canada (“Letters and Responses,” April 2008). He is clearly unaware that I have spent 25 years working in precisely some of the same police departments he has (albeit as a humble “civilian”) and have based my views not on abstract academic insight but on more of a participant-observer ethnography of the work of police officers at all levels.

Paul McKenna
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Dystopic Utopia?,” by Tarek Fatah

Re: “Dystopic Utopia?” by Tarek Fatah

In his review of Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism (“Dystopic Utopia?March 2008), Tarek Fatah provides a myopic analysis of the numbers of Muslims purported to support the actions of 18 Muslims charged with plotting terrorist acts in Canada. A self-professed “frontline” fighter of Islamic extremism, Mr. Fatah seems to have hit the jackpot in unearthing disturbing attitudes amongst the multitudes—by citing statistics provided by pollster Michael Adams. According to Mr. Fatah’s calculation, “at least 96,000 Muslim Canadians believe that if, hypothetically, their co-religionists carried out a terrorist attack on Canada, there would be some justification.”

The trouble is, however, that some of the polling numbers published in Unlikely Utopia do not agree with the numbers first published by the 2007 Environics study cited in the book. According to the original data, 75 percent of those Muslims polled had heard of the arrest of 18 Toronto-area Muslims on terror charges. Of that sub-sample, 73 percent said that such an attack was not justified, 5 percent said there was complete justification and 7 percent said there was “some” justification. Let’s not forget that each result is accurate to within ±2.2 percentage points (in 19 out of 20 samples). When a sub-sample is used, the uncertainty is further compounded. Do the math and the following picture emerges: 3.75 percent (±4.4 percentage points) of all Muslims polled believe that there was complete justification, while 5.25 percent (±4.4 percentage points) believed in “some” justification. You don’t have to have a PhD from Harvard to see that these numbers are statistically meaningless, and cannot be used to ascertain a credible number (of terrorist sympathizers).

Nonetheless, even a handful of violence-prone individuals poses a viable threat to public safety. Canadian Muslims seem to recognize this fact. The Environics study found that 72 percent of Muslims in this country believe they have a “great degree” of responsibility for reporting potentially violent extremists, while 15 percent believe they have “some degree” of responsibility to do so—giving a total of 87 percent who believe it is their duty to turn in violent extremists. These statistics are reprinted in Unlikely Utopia, and should give readers pause about the “scary numbers” put forth by Mr. Fatah.

Armed with these “scary numbers,” Mr. Fatah then exploits the tragic death of Aqsa Pervez. He asserts that she was killed “for not wearing the hijab.” This motive is based on speculation from Aqsa’s distraught high school classmates. Yet there has been no official police statement regarding motive. Let’s wait for the trial to unearth the facts, and then take measured action.

Speculation and “scary numbers” can never substitute for fact.

Sheema Khan
Kanata, Ontario


Michael Adams Responds

Before proceeding to Mr. Fatah’s response to my book, Unlikely Utopia, I would like to address the factual errors in his description of the methodology used in the Environics survey of Muslim Canadians. Mr. Fatah suggests that Environics hired additional Muslim interviewers to conduct the telephone survey of Muslim Canadians. This is false. No additional interviewers were hired, Muslim or otherwise. Some of our existing Muslim interviewers worked on the survey, as did a number of non-Muslim interviewers.

The idea that our Muslim interviewers might have coached their fellow Muslims in how to answer survey questions, an accusation that Mr. Fatah raises but does not quite launch, is also baseless. Our interviewers, and those of all reputable firms, adhere strictly to an interview script and are recorded as they do so. Any deviation from the script—even for a benign point of clarification—results in the entire interview being thrown out. Environics would have been pleased to share any of the above information with Mr. Fatah had he made inquiries.

As for Mr. Fatah’s thoughts about the book itself, I contest his claim that the book, which purports to be about pluralism, is really about Muslims. There is no question that Mr. Fatah’s review is about Muslims, but the book he reviews is indeed about Canadian multiculturalism: a policy framework and (often ill-defined) national sensibility underpinned by the idea that migrant groups and ethnocultural minorities draw strength from their own communities, and ultimately participate more successfully in Canada at large when their group identities are affirmed rather than extinguished. The book marshals a great deal of data to suggest that dozens of minority groups, including Muslims, are succeeding in and contributing to Canada. Mr. Fatah does not dispute these findings.

But with regard to Muslims, the group that preoccupies him, Mr. Fatah raises two concerns: terrorism and misogyny (driven by religious rigidity) as exemplified in the murder of Aqsa Parvez by her father. Presumably Mr. Fatah’s review was submitted before news broke of the Sikh father in British Columbia who murdered his three-year-old daughter simply for being a girl. But I suspect Mr. Fatah would have ignored this example, as he ignores the Air India bombing, Italian, Russian and Chinese organized crime in Canada, and all the Robert Picktons, Marc Lepines and Paul Bernardos of the world. Mr. Fatah has to ignore these “externalities” because when we think honestly about the whole mess of repugnant, violent behaviour in the world and even here in Canada, we can no longer believe that there is something profoundly wrong and dysfunctional about Muslims and only Muslims.

As I state clearly and repeatedly in the conclusion of the book, if a terrorist attack were to be perpetrated on Canadian soil by one or more Muslims, whether immigrants or “visitors,” it would be a tragedy and an appalling crime, an unacceptable act that should be prosecuted and punished with the full force of our country’s laws. But it would not cast doubt on the success or wisdom of multiculturalism in this country any more than the Montreal massacre cast doubt on whether men can ever really live with the idea of women being engineers. It would be a criminal act. Crime is deviant by definition. Terror is seen as unacceptable by the vast majority of Canadian Muslims: nine in ten. While Mr. Fatah is derisive of my examples of extreme opinions held by small proportions of Canadians, these examples are entirely appropriate as ways to understand the small minority of Canadian Muslims who express support for (hypothetical) terrorism: small minorities in all groups hold opinions that are unpalatable to the mainstream. Minorities within these extremist minorities will express their extreme opinions through violence, as Christian anti-abortion activists do in the United States.

Crime—whether domestic violence or terrorism—is its own issue. Multiculturalism works and works well for the vast majority of newcomers to this country, including Muslims, who overwhelmingly express loyalty to, hope for and pride in Canada. To state this clearly is not to be soft on terror, tolerant of domestic violence, culturally self-loathing, lax about religious zealotry or, in short, the dangerously naive Neville Chamberlain Mr. Fatah suggests I am. It is simply to look at the data and admit that Canada is doing a relatively good job of integrating a quarter million new immigrants a year, all of whom have staked their own and their children’s futures on the idea that they will arrive in a safe, fair society where opportunity, not suspicion, awaits them.

Michael Adams
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Darwin on My Mind,” by Michael Ruse

Re: “Darwin on My Mind” by Michael Ruse

In “Darwin on My Mind” (March 2008), Michael Ruse levels astonishing charges against distinguished philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga ‹ that Plantinga “dislikes modern science and loathes and detests (and, if the truth be known, fears) evolutionary theory.” Ruse provides no evidence at all for these extraordinary claims, which are at odds with everything I know about Plantinga. Certainly the philosophical argument that Plantinga raises concerning naturalistic evolution is far from justifying this hyperbolic slander, regardless of whether that argument is cogent. How is Plantinga supposed to defend himself against calumny when no reasons are supplied? Does not LRC’s editorial policy require a bit of supporting evidence to accompany apparently damning claims when published under its name?

Bernard W. Kobes
Tempe, Arizona


Michael Ruse Replies

I base my evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s attitude to Darwinian evolutionary theory on the following points:

1. About scientific origin of life stories (true, some would not include this in Darwinism, but let us be expansive) he has written that the work is “for the most part mere arrogant bluster,” adding that “given our present state of knowledge, I believe it is vastly less probable on our present knowledge … than is its denial” (“When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible”). He gives no evidence for this claim, nor does he systematically consider and rebut the huge amount of work that is going on in this direction.

2. He is a fellow traveller with Intelligent Design Theory (IDT). His Terry lecture at Yale was a defence of guided evolution, and in the discussion period he admitted right out that he favoured guided evolution over non-guided evolution. Guided evolution means that God acts to direct the mutations in the way that He wants, and this is the crux of IDT.

3. He distorts Darwinism beyond the point of parody. In the argument quoted in my review of Why Think?, Plantinga suggests that if our perceptions evolved to enhance survival rather than truth-perception, it might be possible to think you were boozing it up at high table in New College Oxford with Freddie Ayer and Richard Dawkins even as you fended off attacking crocodiles. But no Darwinian would ever claim this, and we can head off such absurdities without recourse to God. Fighting crocodiles requires skill and bravery and much more. If evolution does deceive us it does so for a good reason — I think it kids us into thinking that there is an objective basis for morality, but it does this because if we thought morality merely subjective we would start cheating and morality would break down. I may be wrong, but I give a reason for my beliefs.

4. He denies the serious application of evolutionary theorizing to human nature, a view apparent in his Henry lecture “Evolutionary Psychology and Scripture Scholarship: More Alike Than You Might Have Thought.” I challenge him. Does he think even remotely possible Sarah Hrdy’s claim that the reason why upper-class Indians who practise infanticide and always kill females is a biologically grounded reason with roots in the same reasons why many high-status female mammals selectively abort female fetuses?

On top of this Plantinga distorts the nature of science generally. In his article on “Religion and Science” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, he denies that science has to be naturalistic — that is, keep God out of it. He does this, for example, on the basis of Newton’s having invoked God to keep the planets in orbit. This quite ignores the way science has developed and matured in the nearly four centuries since Newton. William Whewell, the early 19th-century British philosopher and historian of science, and an ordained and believing Anglican clergyman, would be a better guide for Plantinga on questions of science and faith. Whewell did not think there could be a naturalistic explanation of organic origins. So he said that it was a question to be answered by non-scientific means.

I am not quite sure why Plantinga and his defenders always frenetically claim that Plantinga is perfectly science friendly and not hostile to Darwinism. I am hostile to IDT and do not pretend otherwise, even though I have friendly relationships with supporters of IDT and have even gone so far as to co-edit a book on the topic with William Dembski, one of the leaders of the movement. (I did so on the grounds that, as a philosopher and a university teacher, it is my obligation to let ideas hang out and be exposed for criticism. This does not mean that I think you should teach IDT in biology classrooms. There is a time and place for everything.) Similarly, Plantinga should simply say that he rejects Darwinism and embraces IDT and leave it at that.

Michael Ruse
Tallahassee, Florida


Re: “Catching Ottawa’s Attention,” by John Sewell

Re: “Catching Ottawa’s Attention” by John Sewell

If we want to change the world, working with governments is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. There is a crucial role for radicals in the best sense of the word—those who push for systemic change to achieve a moral ideal. In fact, the central argument in The Art of the Possible: A Handbook for Political Activism is that we need both radicals and reformers to see historic progress on all the issues we care about.

John Sewell emphasizes the importance of moral leadership to achieving social change (“Catching Ottawa’s Attention,” March 2008). To be sure, many people hope to be inspired by visionary leaders who can lead them to political action. For many more, personal outrage is the only reason they decide to get involved in politics at all. But while inspiration and outrage are powerful motivators, they rarely get the job done.

We all look up to and admire those who can articulate the solutions to our dilemmas with a clarity that only great orators can achieve. Ultimately, however, the issues that are defining this generation—global warming and detention without a fair trial—all break down into a series of unglamourous policy choices that must be confronted directly and accurately, one by one.

Sewell also rightly points out that today, individual or corporate social entrepreneurs are bypassing a lot of red tape and addressing both the big picture and local social problems with good business ethics and a lot of common sense. What he doesn’t mention is that even when social change is initiated completely outside of government (as with the Grameen Bank, for example) government inevitably plays a make-or-break role as either facilitator or obstructionist to a good idea’s continued success.

Today there are too many radicals and far too few reformers. I do not claim that being a reformer is easy. But the goal of The Art of the Possible is to provide a handbook for those serious about turning outrage into action.

Amanda Sussman
Toronto, Ontario


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