BTC: 'It wouldn't be the end of the world'

As Kady reports, UBC’s Michael Byers is aiming to be the next NDP candidate in Vancouver Centre. And as Paul coyly notes, the professor once said something rather surprising about the threat of a terrorist attack on Toronto.

Intrigued by Paul’s insinuation but not recalling the comments in question, I sought clarification from a colleague. He (esteemed bureau chief John Geddes) was nice enough to find a transcript of Mr. Byers’ appearance on CBC’s At Issue panel on June 8, 2006. The discussion focused on the arrest of the so-called Toronto 18. Here’s the relevant portion (including immediate rebuttal from a pre-Maclean’s Andrew Coyne).

MANSBRIDGE: Michael, perhaps not surprisingly, this has dominated conversation in central Canada this week and dominated the central Canadian media. Has it been that kind of an issue outside of that area, especially along the West Coast?

BYERS: Well, I think in the rest of Canada, people have a little bit more perspective on this, partly as Chantal mentioned, other parts of Canada have their own experiences with terrorism. Here on the West Coast, we had the Air India bombing. People remember that and they remember the approach that was taken in the aftermath, a slow methodical criminal justice approach, not one that was entirely satisfactory, but certainly one that helped to quell the danger of extremist terrorism here on the West Coast. 

But another thing to remember is there is a lot of space between Toronto and the rest of the country and quite frankly, I hate to say this, Peter, but if there was a flash and a bang right now and Chantal and I were talking to two blank screens, it wouldn’t be the end of the world in the rest of Canada. It would be very unfortunate, we would be very worried, but it’s a simple fact that this is a big and diverse country.

And a final point to mention is that in Canada, across the board, we have a very internationalized population, one that’s had a great deal of experience with trauma in other parts of the world. It takes more to shake us than it might have been taken to shake the Americans in September 2001.

COYNE: I’m sorry, I have no idea what that last comment was about, and a terrorist attack in any part of Canada is an attack on all of Canada. This is new, this is different, even from some of the F.L.Q. stuff. It’s different from Air India. We’re talking about stuff that’s on our soil, of a scale that we’ve heard people are planning, that is an atrocity, and anything approaching 9/11 scale, we would be facing exactly the same existential crisis that the Americans face. We would not be, you know, unshakeable in our stirring bravado. We would be facing a national crisis.

MANSBRIDGE: One at a time. Let Michael go first, Chantal.

BYERS: I actually think that because we’ve had the benefit of watching our American friends and neighbours struggle with the aftermath of 9/11 that our response would be more akin to the response of the British after July 7th, 2005, a serious response, a measured response, not a panicked response. This is a country, the people of which are pretty savvy. They know that the Americans overreacted to 9/11 and they wouldn’t let it happen here.