Archives: 04/2018

The Toronto “Van Incident” and Terrorism in Canada

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said that there is no evidence that yesterday’s “van incident,” where Alek Minassian murdered 10 people and injured 15 others on a busy sidewalk with a van, was a terrorist attack.  To count as a terrorist attack, Minassian’s motivations must have been political, religious, or social in nature beyond simply a desire to terrorize or murder others.  Minassian’s motives are so far unclear with much speculation regarding his social awkwardness and possible anti-women opinions but, so far, little surrounding his political or religious opinions.  This could change as police and investigators uncover new facts.

Many in media and government, prompted by Minassian’s mass murder, are commenting on terrorism in Canada but with little context.  By using the methods employed in my recent terrorism risk analysis for the United States, I’ve found that terrorism is rare in Canada.  Assuming that investigators will eventually find that Minassian’s mass-murder is not terrorism, as they currently claim, then the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack on Canadian soil over the last 25 years was about one in 60.4 million per year.  The annual chance of being injured in a terrorist attack on Canadian soil during that time was about one in 7.4 million per year.

Data and Methodology

This post examines 25 years of terrorism on Canadian soil from 1993 through April 23, 2018.  Fatalities and injuries in terrorist attacks are the most important measures of the cost of terrorism. The information sources are the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland, the RAND Corporation, and others.  I excluded three fatalities counted by the GTD as they were the terrorists themselves.  I further grouped the ideology of the deadly attackers into four broad ideologies: Islamists, Anti-Muslims, anti-government, and Unknown/Other. GTD descriptions of the attackers, news stories, and wikipedia were my guide in grouping the attacks by ideology. The grouping by ideology was easy as there were so few terrorist attacks in Canada from 1993 to the present.  The number of Canadian residents and non-terrorist murders in each year comes from Statistics Canada.

Terrorism Risk in Canada

Terrorists have murdered 14 people on Canadian soil from 1993 through April 23, 2018.  Islamists murdered 3 of the victims, an anti-government terrorist murdered 3, suspected terrorists of an unknown ideology murdered 2, and 6 were murdered by an anti-Muslim terrorist named Alexandre Bissonnette in a shooting at a Quebec mosque last year (Figure 1).  Of the 63 terrorist attacks in Canada during that time, according to a wide definition of the term “terrorist” in the GTD, only 7 resulted in a fatality.  In other words, 89 percent of terrorist attacks in Canada during the last 25 years killed nobody.

Figure 1

Murders in Canadian Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker, 1993-2018

 

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Although most of the recorded terrorist attacks targetted small groups in Canada, like Muslims or the police, it is useful to get a sense of the relative danger by looking at the annual chance of being murdered by a terrorist inspired by each ideology.  The annual chance of being murdered by an Islamist in a terrorist attack was the same as that of being murdered by an anti-government terrorist: about one in 281.7 million per year.  The annual chance of being murdered by a terrorist with an unknown ideology was about one in 422.5 million per year.  The greatest risk, but also still tiny, was being murdered by Alexandre Bissonnette in his Mosque attack last year at one in 140.8 million per year over the 25 years. 

There were 114 injuries in terrorist attacks on Canadian soil from 1993 through April 23, 2018 (Table 1).  Terrorists with unknown or other ideologies caused almost 68 percent of those injuries.  Alexandre Bissonnette, the anti-Muslim terrorist, was personally responsible for 17 percent of all injuries in terrorist attacks during this time in Canada.  Islamist terrorists were responsible for about 11 percent of injuries while anti-abortion and anti-government terrorists were responsible for 4 and 2 percent of all injuries, respectively. 

Table 1

Injuries in Canadian Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker, 1993-2018

  Injuries Annual Chance of Being Injured Percent of All Injuries
Unknown/Other

77

1 in 10,973,614

67.5%

Anti-Muslim

19

1 in 44,472,016

16.7%

Islamist

12

1 in 70,414,026

10.5%

Anti-abortion

4

1 in 211,242,077

3.5%

Anti-government

2

1 in 422,484,154

1.8%

Total

114

1 in 7,412,003

100%

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Comparison to Murder

Fatalities and injuries in terrorist attacks are rare so a relevant comparison to non-terrorist murder puts the terrorism danger into perspective.  There were about 14,807 murders in Canada from 1993 through April 23, 2018.  Because the number of murders is not reported for 2016-2018, I assumed that the number of murders for each of those years was the same as the number in 2015.  The annual chance of being murdered outside of a terrorist attack was about one in 57,000 per year from 1993 through 2018 – about 1,058 times greater than the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack.      

Conclusion

There is a small chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack in Canada over the last 25 years.  By comparison, the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack in the United States over that time was about 25 times greater than in Canada.  Similarly, the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack in Canada also appears to be lower than in Europe.  The chance of being murdered in a non-terrorist murder in Canada was over 1000 times greater.  Alek Minassian’s horrific mass murder does not appear to be a terrorist attack based on the information available at this time, but if it does turn out to be terrorism then it would be the deadliest attack on Canadian soil since December 6, 1989, when Marc Lepine murdered 14 and injured 14 others in an attack inspired by his anti-feminism.  The murder or death of innocent people is tragic no matter the circumstances and the perpetrator should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  Regardless, Canadians can at least take some comfort in the fact that the chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack in Canada is small in absolute terms, relative to the residents of other developed nations, and compared to the chance of being murdered in a non-terrorist homicide.     

 

 

 

 

New York Times Succumbs to The False Narrative Driving Opioid Policy-and Deaths

In an April 21 editorial, the New York Times succumbs to the false narrative reverberating in the media echo chamber that blames the opioid overdose crisis on doctors overprescribing opioids to their patients in pain. Even worse, the Times perpetuates a significant component of that narrative: the myth that such overprescribing can essentially be traced to nothing more than a single letter to the editor by researchers at Boston University in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980 touting the low addictive potential of opioids when prescribed in the medical setting. 

In fact, numerous studies before and after that now “infamous” letter continue to demonstrate the low addictive potential of medically prescribed opioids. For example, 2010 and 2012 Cochrane systematic analyses show chronic non-cancer pain patients on opioids have a roughly 1 percent addiction rate, and a January 2018 study by researchers at Harvard and Johns Hopkins of more than 568,000 “opioid naïve” patients over 8 years who were given opioids for acute postoperative pain showed a total “misuse” rate of 0.6 percent. In a 2016 New England Journal of Medicine article, Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated, “Addiction occurs in only a small percentage of patients exposed to opioids—even those with preexisting vulnerabilities.” Furthermore, researchers at the University of North Carolina followed 2.2 million North Carolina residents prescribed opioids in 2015 and found an overdose rate of just 0.022 percent—and 61 percent of those overdoses involved multiple other drugs.

The Times then offers the same restrictive strategy—only more so— that is doomed to fail because it is based upon a false premise. The editors even suggest that opioids should be restricted to terminal cancer patients. Look at where this approach has gotten us thus far.

The prescription of opioids to patients peaked in 2010, with high-dose prescriptions down 41 percent since that time. A report last week from IQVIA showed opioid prescriptions dropped 10 percent in the last year, and high-dose prescriptions dropped 16 percent. The Drug Enforcement Administration ordered a 25 percent reduction in opioid production in 2017 and another 20 percent reduction this year. And since 2010, OxyContin has only been available in an abuse-deterrent form and many other opioids are likewise being reformulated. 

Yet the overdose rate continues to climb, and the majority of overdoses are due to fentanyl and heroin while the overdose rate from prescription opioids has stabilized or even slightly receded. The great majority of overdoses involve multiple drugs. In New York City in 2016, 75 percent of overdoses were from heroin or fentanyl and 97 percent of overdoses involved multiple drugs—46 percent of the time it was cocaine.

The opioid overdose crisis has always been primarily a manifestation of nonmedical users accessing drugs in a dangerous black market caused by drug prohibition. 

Policymakers must disabuse themselves of the false narrative they continue to embrace. It is the driving force behind a policy that has returned us to the “opioiphobia” of the Nixon era. It is making patients needlessly suffer and increasing the death rate by driving nonmedical users to more dangerous and deadly alternatives.

 

 

 

Supreme Court Hard to Predict in Important Securities Case

Investment adviser Ray Lucia conducted some seminars that ran afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC fined him $300,000 and, more importantly, barred him from working in the field after an SEC administrator determined that he had misled prospective clients in a quasi-judicial proceeding that the SEC investigated, prosecuted, and adjudicated without any appreciable oversight. He made a federal case out of the rather apparent separation-of-powers violation, which culminated in today’s Supreme Court argument in Lucia v. SEC. (For more background, see here.)

The central issue in the case is whether the SEC’s administrative law judges (ALJs) are “officers of the United States” such that they have to be appointed by and ultimately accountable to the president. That question in turn turns on how much discretion they have and whether their rulings change parties’ legal rights—or, given certain precedent, how you would write a rule that distinguishes officers from mere employees. 

After argument, Lucia remains hard to predict. A couple of justices (Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor) seemed dubious that the operations of a significant part of the government could be jeopardized based on what seemed to them to be legalistic technicalities. A couple of others (John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch) seemed to recognize the constitutional problem with the way administrative law judges are appointed but wonder how to write the opinion and apply the proper remedy. The rest seemed genuinely puzzled as to what to do with this case, and weren’t fully satisfied with any of the arguments presented.

None of the justices seemed particularly interested in the “removal power” aspect of the case, which the United States raised in its brief and Cato also covered in our brief. But all were troubled by the potential ramifications of ruling one way or another, because so many federal decisions could potentially be affected.

However this ends up, the case shows two things: (1) the importance of appointing judges and justices who take constitutional structure seriously, because that’s the ultimate guarantor of liberty, and (2) the incredible and unaccountable sprawl of the administrative state. 

A decision is expected by the end of June.

Wisconsin’s Butter Scheme Is Udderly Cheesy

Minerva Dairy, based in Ohio, is America’s oldest family-owned cheese and butter dairy. It has been producing artisanal, slow-churned butter in small batches since 1935. They have gotten along by selling via their website and regional distributers in several states. This model has worked fine everywhere except Wisconsin, which requires butter manufacturers to jump through a series of cumbersome and expensive hoops to sell butter inside the state.

Of course, Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, with many large dairy producers who naturally want to limit their competition. At the behest of these large producers, the state requires every batch of butter sold in the state to be “graded” by a specifically state-licensed grader—all of whom live in Wisconsin, except for a handful in neighboring Illinois—who must taste-test every single batch. Because Minerva’s butter is produced in multiple small batches over the course of each day, the law would effectively require the dairy to keep a licensed tester on-site at all times, which is cost-prohibitive. The state admits that the grading scheme has nothing to do with public health or nutrition, but claims that its grades—based largely on taste—inform consumers.

The fact that Wisconsin is trying to shape the taste of butter isn’t even the most absurd part of this case. The criteria used to grade the butter are a ludicrous mad-lib of meaningless jargon not even the state’s experts understand. The law purports to identify such flavor characteristics as “flat,” “ragged-boring,” and “utensil.” (All commonplace terms spoken by consumers in dairy aisles across the nation, certainly.) This terminology hearkens to a freshman—not even sophomore—term paper on the semiotics of postmodern agrarian literature. To claim that a grade calculated with reference to meaningless nonsense serves the purpose of informing anyone illustrates the danger inherent in judges’ dutifully deferring to government rationales for silly laws that burden people who are just trying to make an honest living.

Our friends at the Pacific Legal Foundation represent Minerva in a lawsuit that challenges the butter-grading law on grounds that it burdens interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause, and also hurts small dairies’ Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the laws. Minerva lost at the district court when the judge applied a toothless “rational basis” test to the law in question, giving little weight to the serious concerns described above. Must the judiciary rubber-stamp every legislative folly?

Because laws that abrogate constitutional rights warrant meaningful judicial oversight, Cato filed an amicus brief in Minerva Dairy v. Brancel to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Wisconsin’s law directly burdens the right to participate in the state’s butter market, and thus their economic liberty, for no sane or rational reason. There are simply no benefits to consumers that come from forcing producers like Minerva to pay considerable sums to have an irrational process deposit a random letter on product packaging. It curdles the mind to argue otherwise.

USA Today: Local Police Acquiring Less Military Gear from Feds

Over the weekend, USA Today reported that state and local law enforcement have acquired far less military equipment this year than they had at this point last year. This decline came in spite of President Trump’s executive order last August that removed some administrative hurdles to getting some of that equipment that had been implemented by the Obama Administration. The story contains a number of plausible explanations for the decline, including decreased demand from local departments and certain items not being available. There may be several factors at play in what appears to be a dramatic decrease in acquisition, but whatever the underlying reasons, the reduction is the latest evidence that much of the pro-police rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration are less about improving police efficacy than they are about promoting the administration’s hollow posturing.

Recall that local police aren’t always jazzed about aggressive enforcement of federal immigration policy. Police who depend on the trust of the community to solve crimes and intervene in personal crises have been vocal about Trump’s impact on local crime enforcement. There are troubling signs that domestic violence and sexual assault are being underreported in Latino communities because of the distrust the administration is sowing between those communities and law enforcement. Over-the-top actions, such as raiding courthouses and seizing victims seeking protection and justice, erode public safety by enabling abusers and rapists to prey on their victims without fear of arrest or criminal charge. The cruel irony is that so much of this damage is done under the guise of restoring “law and order.”

Time will tell whether this decrease in military gear acquisition represents a genuine shift in local police priorities or is simply a lull that may end at the first sign of potential unrest in American cities. But some critics may take comfort that making it easier for police departments to attain new weapons of war didn’t automatically lead them to do it. Hopefully, the growing evidence that police militarization is detrimental to public safety and harmful to community relations is starting to sink in with local police, even if Washington isn’t listening. 

Criminal Conviction Rates in Texas in 2016

Cato published my recent Immigration Research and Policy Brief that relied on Texas state criminal data to compare the conviction rates of native-born Americans, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants. That Texas state data was of such high quality that I was even able to compare conviction rates by the type of crime. The result was that in 2015 the criminal conviction and arrest rates for illegal immigrants were below that of native-born Americans for virtually all crimes including homicide, sexual assault, and larceny. This is just further evidence that illegal immigrants are less crime-prone than native-born Americans. I had to limit my Brief to focus on convictions only in 2015, although I also had the Texas conviction data for 2016, because there were no estimates of the illegal immigrant population statewide for the latter year. 

Since Cato published my brief in February, the estimable Center for Migration Studies published an update of the estimated number of illegal immigrants in Texas for 2016. The following graphs and numbers are the conviction rates for native-born Americans, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants in the state of Texas in 2016. The conviction rate is the number of convictions per group (native, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) divided by the number of Texas residents in each group multiplied by 100,000. The final multiplication step produces the conviction rate per 100,000 residents in each subpopulation, which is how criminologists and the governments portray incarceration, crime, and conviction rates. This is the best way to portray relative crime rates as it controls the different size of the subpopulations.

The criminal conviction rate for native-born Americans in Texas was 2,116 per 100,000 natives in 2016 (Figure 1). The native-born criminal conviction rate was thus 2.4 times as high as the criminal conviction rate for illegal immigrants in that year and 7.2 times as high as that of legal immigrants. 

Does the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Have an Obligation to Rubberstamp Mike Pompeo?

Marc Thiessen, a columnist at the Washington Post, is highly upset that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may not approve President Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State:

For the first time in the history of the republic [since the committee started recording votes in 1925], it appears increasingly likely that a majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote against the president’s nominee for secretary of state. If this happens, it would be a black mark not on Mike Pompeo’s record, but on the reputation of this once-storied committee.

Thiessen seems to think that the role of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and by extension the United States Senate, is to approve a president’s nominees. But of course, the Constitution provides that “The President … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.” The Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution affirms that “the Senate has complete and final discretion in whether to accept or approve a nomination.” The Foreign Relations Committee is today considering whether to consent to this nomination. The Senate as a whole may choose to reject the negative recommendation and consent to the nomination. (See also the novel and movie Advise and Consent, on TCM this Friday.)

It’s not that members of the committee don’t have legitimate grounds on which to withhold consent. Sen. Rand Paul, a key player as he is likely to be the only Republican on the committee to oppose the nomination, says:

Director Pompeo has not learned the lessons of regime change and wants regime change in Iran….

President Trump sought to break with the foreign policy mistakes of the last two administrations. Yet now he picks for Secretary of State and CIA Director people who embody them, defend them, and, I’m afraid, will repeat them. I will not support their nominations.

One need not agree with that criticism to acknowledge that it’s a reasonable concern on which to reject a nominee.

Thiessen is a former speechwriter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush, which might give him an executive-branch view of Congress’s role. Before that, however, he served for six years as spokesman and senior policy advisor to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, whose willingness to use his position to block presidential nominees was well known. He mentions Helms’s support of President Clinton’s nomination of Madeleine Albright for Secretary of State, but omits the nominees Helms blocked or tried to block, such as Massachusetts governor William Weld and former senator Carol Moseley-Braun.

Thiessen concludes his excoriation of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a flourish: Assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, Pompeo “would be more than justified in determining that the State Department is best served by working closely with the appropriators and Senate leadership, and bypassing a committee that can’t make policy, can’t legislate and can’t lead.”

His real complaint, however, is not that the committee can’t lead. It is that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee won’t blindly follow.