The sting that bit back
To step into Cinema du Parc, where Manufacturing the Threat hit Canadian screens on 25 August, audiences had to stroll through Rue de Parc, a spot heavily impacted by homelessness in Montreal.
On the street, at the crossing of Rue de Park and Rue Milton, homeless people from various racial and religious backgrounds gathered outside hipster cafes and cosy restaurants, seeking solace in substances. Inside the cinema, Amy Miller's documentary delved into the story of two of these people from Canada's far-off West coast.
Manufacturing the Threat is a documentary that probes the unsettling world of operations conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The film sheds light on a 2013 incident known as "Project Souvenir", when an impoverished newly converted Muslim couple, Omar Nuttall and Ana Korody, were manipulated by undercover agents into plotting a terrorist attack.
The operation took place in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, which marked a significant change in the perceived enemy of the Western world. Since the attacks, the global landscape, including Canada, has shifted its focus from the Cold War and communism to what has been called the threat of Islamism.
On 1 July 2013, police apprehended the couple after they planted fake bombs on the British Columbia Parliament Grounds in Victoria in a scheme orchestrated by secret agents. In public, however, the RCMP presented it as a successful operation against Islamist extremism in Canada.
Nuttall vehemently rejects this narrative, emphasising during the documentary that the operation was "an inside false-flag job perpetrated by the Canadian government". The couple was nonetheless found guilty of conspiring to commit murder and planting explosives for a terrorist organisation.
It took their lawyer three years to convince the legal system that the couple, grappling with addiction and poverty, were victims of entrapment and provocation by the RCMP.
Shockwave through Canadian society
Watching the movie proved to be a shocking experience for many Canadians. On the first night of the movie's public screening in Montreal, an audience member from the Middle East called the Canadian police operation "inhuman and illegal", drawing parallels between dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and the entrapment of the Canadian Muslim couple.
"I'm speechless. I'm from the Middle East and know how things work there. But it seems what's happening here reflects what's happening elsewhere, in Syria, Iraq, or Israel," she added.
During the Q&A that followed the screening, another audience member told Miller: "You've got me worried and scared to death. I never knew the government could be so deceptive and corrupt."
To Miller, the shock her movie caused was no surprise. As she explained to Qantara.de, her movie challenges "the myth that Canada is a benevolent country, the peacekeeper and that it's always the big bad USA" that engages in unjust actions.
"It's been part of the mythmaking that Canada is the global good guy, which is a false belief, a false reality, but part of the cultural identity. Canadians are taught to hold that belief and many take pride in it," she added.
Alexandre Popovic, the author of the book "Produire la Menace" which inspired the movie, also insisted during the Q&A that the "political police" targets minorities in Canada. "We call it democracy, but there is surveillance. Those people who are paid to surveil us, they have tools, they have the power, they have the law behind them, but let's not forget one little thing: they are a very tiny minority [in society]; we are the majority. We can stop all this," he stressed.
Police and radicalisation
Looking at the case of Nuttall and Korody, the movie reveals undercover footage recorded by RCMP officers inside their cars during conversations with the couple and in the hotel rooms they rented.
Marco Fortier, a well-known Canadian writer and journalist, highlighted the immense power of using this footage. "The great strength of the documentary, lasting almost an hour and a half, is that it is largely based on images captured by hidden police ... [with these images] we witness the descent into hell of the couple, trapped by police officers who were looking for culprits at all costs," he wrote in a review for the French outlet Le Devoir.
With this footage, Miller reveals how undercover police initially approached the couple by providing them with Islamic religious teachings. Simultaneously, they urged the vulnerable couple not to visit Islamic centres, in an attempt to maintain control over them.
Manufacturing the Threat uncovers how the newly converted Muslims were entrapped in a meticulously planned operation that began by offering money and Islamic education. The couple eventually found themselves under tremendous pressure to devise a feasible terrorist attack plan.
Conversations captured in the footage reveal Nuttall and Korody's fear of being killed by undercover officers were they to reject demands to plan a terrorist attack. That is when Nuttall resorts to proposing various far-fetched ideas, all of which are dismissed by their religious guide.
Finally, they settle on Nuttall's plan to use pressure cookers to plant bombs, similar to the Boston Marathon incident in the same year. The agents then rented a hotel room for the couple and provided them with a black Islamic State flag and a video camera to record their IS pledge of allegiance.
In the movie, Ana, clearly suffering from PTSD with a restless leg visible in all her interviews, explained slowly and quietly how relieved she was when the police raided their hotel room and arrested them. It was as if a nightmare had finally ended.
Describing Nuttall and Korody's life after their 2016 release from prison and the impact their experiences have had on them, Miller says, "They are very broken. Their lives are confined to a one-bedroom apartment. They rarely interact with others."
Despite cooperating during the documentary's creation, the couple chose not to watch the final cut, preferring to keep their distance from the 2013 experience.
This couple's withdrawal from life has come at a high cost to the Canadian government, with a 2016 report revealing that the RCMP spent 911,000 Canadian dollars on overtime work for at least 200 officers during the five months of the undercover operation.
Now residing in Surrey, British Columbia, Korody rarely ventures beyond a nearby gas station, 700 metres from their apartment. Both suffer from anxiety and PTSD.
"If there was any possibility that they were capable of any terrorist act, that has been completely broken out of them," said Miller. "They are broken in every way – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional."
"I hope they get justice with their lawsuit and that something positive comes out of what they had to live through," she added.
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