On root causes

Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, the NDP and the terrorism debate

<p>Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is applauded by fellow MPs rises in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Monday, April 15, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld</p>

Adrian Wyld/CP

Chris Selley wonders how the NDP went from Alexa McDonough’s response to 9/11 to Randall Garrison’s response to Justin Trudeau’s response to the Boston Marathon bombing.

John Geddes explains where Mr. Trudeau went wrong.

So how does Harper’s two-pronged critique apply, as he clearly intended, to Trudeau’s answer in the CBC interview? It’s a long and rather meandering reply. However, I don’t hear Trudeau rationalizing or excusing terror. He does clearly call for an exploration of root causes.

And that part of Trudeau’s answer strikes me as unsettling only because he introduces his interest in causes without first offering the three essential elements that the Prime Minister persuasively tells us must be there in a leader’s response—condemn, pursue, prosecute.

There is a certain meandering to Mr. Trudeau’s answer. Maybe more than was necessary or wise when basically nothing was known about the motives or individuals responsible for the attack. (Here again is a fuller compendium of Mr. Trudeau has said in regards to the Boston Marathon bombing.)

The Internet notes that Peter MacKay used the phrase “root causes” in relation to the Oslo attack by Anders Breivik (though I’m not sure “Peter MacKay said it” is the sort of precedent Mr. Trudeau would want to use as justification).

The basic debate goes back at least as far as September 2001. Here is every use of the phrase “root causes of terrorism” in the House since then. Here is Jason Kenney objecting to “root causes” on September 17, 2001 and here he is again the next day on the same subject.

Somewhat relatedly: In 2002, Jean Chretien seemed to link 9/11 to wealth disparity and Western arrogance. Nine years later, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Stephen Harper was asked about those comments and offered this assessment, in which he dismissed Mr. Chretien’s wealth versus poverty theory and focused on failed states.

Update 10:50pm. Post-script. It seems generally less controversial to invoke the “root causes of crime.” (Maybe because we’ve all decided we know what those are?) But in the case of terrorism the discussion becomes more fraught and complicated, all the more so in the immediate time period after an attack.