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Should We Broaden Canada’s Priorities Around Terrorism?

Feb 06, 2017
Satyamoorthy Kabilan
National Security and Strategic Foresight

The attack on a mosque in Québec City on January 29 demonstrated once again that Canada is not immune to the threat of violent extremism. Reports currently indicate that this event is being investigated as a potential terrorist incident, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political figures already labelling it as such. There are also indications in the media that the suspect who has been charged with the attack may have far-right views, which he expressed on social media.

If this does turn out to be a terrorist incident perpetrated by an individual with far-right political views, we can hardly be surprised. While recent headlines around terrorism have been dominated by the activities of groups such as Daesh and al-Qaeda, we have long faced a threat from violent extremists who subscribe to a range of ideologies. Let us not forget that the worst incident of terrorism perpetrated against Canadians was the Air India 182 bombing, which was carried out by Sikh extremists.

In June 2015, The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for National Security (CNS) met in Québec City to discuss the broader threat of terrorism to Canada. Issues around violent extremists with a range of motivations—from religion to anti-government and far-right viewpoints—were identified as threats that should not be ignored. Just before this meeting, The New York Times published an article about the growing right-wing terror threat in the United States, and up until the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the number of deaths from right-wing extremist violence in the United States was higher than those that resulted from Islamist-linked terrorism, post 9/11.

In February 2016, I spoke at the annual CDA Institute conference in Ottawa on the issue of “Terrorism, Non-State Actors, and Faceless Conflict,” where I raised the issue of the broader threat of violent extremism to Canada outside of Islamist-linked terrorism. If we include the recent attack on the mosque in Québec City as a right-wing terrorist incident, Canada has suffered more domestic fatalities from right-wing violent extremism than from Islamist-linked terrorism since 2014. Some might argue that the actions of the Moncton shooter should also be classified as terrorism because of some of the political views he espoused, further increasing the number of terrorism-related fatalities in Canada that are not linked to religious extremism.

Despite these tragic recent incidents, the overall risk of terrorist attacks in Canada remains comparatively low. Part of the reason for this is the continued efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agencies across the country aimed at preventing terrorist plans from coming to fruition. These efforts seem to be focused primarily on dealing with Islamist-linked extremists, which have been deemed to be the most immediate terrorist threat to Canada. However, the shooting in Québec City may indicate that we cannot simply ignore other potential sources of violent extremism just because they are not constantly in the headlines. While it is important to focus on the immediate terrorist threats to Canada, we may well be leaving ourselves vulnerable if we fail to recognize the broader potential sources of violent extremist activity. Perhaps it is time to re-visit the discussion on where other sources of domestic extremism, such as right-wing terrorists, should fit within our overall priorities for combatting terrorism in Canada.

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