In this issue of the Cascade we cover the celebration of Métis day at UFV, which is also essentially a celebration of the life of Louis Riel, the most famous Métis – a man who was hanged by the Canadian government for treason, yet is celebrated by the Métis and many francophones today as a freedom fighter. It is interesting to note that if he were active today, Louis Riel would be labelled a terrorist. In fact, it often seems that a terrorist is simply a soldier without enough money to buy a uniform. While we currently honour the likes of Nelson Mandela or Ché Guevera, these men were also labelled as terrorists by the governments which they fought against.
So at what point does a terrorist become a freedom fighter? Perhaps when the cause which they fight for succeeds, or when the tide of public opinion eventually sways in favour of that cause through the benefit of hindsight.
This issue recently came to the forefront when a ship carrying Tamil refugees, the MV Sun, travelled to Vancouver this past summer. Immigration minister Vic Toews stated that the Canadian Navy had boarded the ship to search for “criminals and terrorists,” as the Tamil Tigers, a Tamil militant organization, are labelled as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government. People with associations to terrorist groups are not allowed entry to Canada as refugees, although this issue becomes cloudy when you consider that many Tamils have relatives who are Tamil Tigers, so what does “association” really mean?
I am not trying to defend all of the actions of the Tamil Tigers in their fight against the Sri Lankan government, but often “terrorist” groups have legitimate grievances against the government which they fight. If we just continue with the status-quo of labelling any oppressed people which takes up armed action against the government which oppresses them as “terrorists” then we will probably end up hanging the next Louis Riel all over again.