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Combatting Homegrown Violent Extremism

Oct 23, 2014
Satyamoorthy Kabilan
National Security and Strategic Foresight

Within a single week, we have witnessed the tragic loss of two members of the Canadian Armed Forces on Canadian soil; first in a hit-and-run incident in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu near Montréal, and yesterday in a shooting at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Our thoughts are with the victims’ families, friends, and colleagues.

These acts of violence, which have been perpetrated by Canadian citizens, highlight the challenge that we face from homegrown violent extremists. The tragic events in Ottawa on October 22 indicate that this remains a significant threat to Canada.

There has been some discussion over the current alert level in Canada as well as the security measures in place across the country in light of this shooting. However, it seems that these individuals may have acted alone, which, unfortunately, makes it very difficult to detect and disrupt . Having an increased alert level might not have prevented this tragedy from occurring.

Although many individuals may be exposed to material containing radical or extremist views, our research, as well as that of others, has indicated that we still do not know what triggers a very small proportion of these individuals to resort to violent actions, at home or abroad. While the security services and law enforcement agencies may be able to indentify at-risk groups or individuals who are exposed to these materials, the sheer effort required to track and closely monitor every one of these individuals would be overwhelming. Moreover, even if you could track them all, viewing of this material is not a criminal offence.

To date, Canadian intelligence services and law enforcement agencies have done a commendable job in preventing a number of attacks. However, it is almost impossible to completely eliminate the risk posed by violent extremists if we are to maintain the values we hold dear as a society and as a nation.

So where do we go from here?

As mentioned in a previous blog, building communities that are resilient to violent extremism is one possible approach. These types of inclusive communities have the capacity to counter the messages of radicalization and the ability to work cooperatively with the authorities when needed. We have seen examples of this where groups have stood up against extremist messaging, as witnessed in Calgary earlier this year for example. We also saw this type of cooperation when community members assisted authorities in thwarting a plot to derail a VIA passenger train. Our values as Canadians provide us with the foundations for building and maintaining these resilient communities.

Secondly, we need to challenge the narratives being spread by violent extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Their disturbingly astute use of new channels, such as social media, has allowed them to push their views to the top of the queue. They have also posted messages that encourage the targeting of military personnel in their home nations. This cannot be left unchallenged, and we need to be able to fight these groups at their own game on social media. If we do not, then their messages will continue to be the dominant reference point that vulnerable parts of our population are exposed to.

At the end of the day, these individuals seek to terrorize us as a society and as a nation. We cannot let that happen. The tragic events that we witnessed this week have been rare and the work of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies will continue to help minimize the risk. What each and every one of us can do is continue to go about our lives as we always would, regardless of the actions of these extremists.

As a number of our leaders have pointed out, we will not be swayed by these cowardly acts of violence and we will hold true to our values as proud and free Canadians in a democratic, inclusive, and tolerant nation. We will always remember those who have given their lives to maintain our values as Canadians, and we can honour their memories by staying true to them. Let us remain undeterred in the face of these senseless acts of violence.

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