Recent foiled plots indicate that Canada has not been exempt from the ongoing concern of global terrorism. In 2013 alone two plots have made headlines in Canadian news. Canadians were surprised in April when a plot to derail a Via rail passenger train leaving from Toronto to New York was foiled. In July, another plan was intercepted in Victoria and a young Canadian couple were arrested upon suspected links to terrorist groups and a plan to blow up the B.C. legislature. Yet research indicates that many Canadians seem apathetic towards global terrorist activity. This begs the question, is there cause for concern for Canadians?
Since 9/11 and the Global War on Terror began, al-Qaeda leaders in the Middle East have continued to encourage overseas jihad activities. Their message since 9/11 has very much been to ‘think globally but act locally’, which is visible in recent attacks throughout the Western world. Local homegrown terrorists gain inspiration from other attacks seen in the media. The recent foiled plot in Victoria, BC much resembled that of the Boston Bombings earlier this year, with the use of pressure cookers and homemade explosives. The RCMP asserted that the two Canadians arrested in this plot were indeed “self-radicalized” by al-Qaeda influence.
While these foiled plots show a positive outlook in the regard that CSIS is providing adequate security to protect us, it is becoming harder to detect homegrown terror plots that are not connected to international terrorism circles. Both of these plots have indicated the growing concern for “homegrown” terrorism within Canadian borders, something that many Canadians remain complacent about. A study on perception of terrorism in Canada was published in 2006, and the 1500 Canadian interviewed perceived a low to moderate threat to the population as a whole and an even lower threat to individuals. Comparing this to perception of terrorism from American citizens, Canadians are seemingly unconcerned.
Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) noted that the fragmenting of al-Qaeda has given CSIS more cause to worry about domestic terrorism in the last five years since affiliated terrorists have settled in Western countries where they call for recruits. In the past year alone, 60 plus Canadians have tried to join terrorist causes abroad and have been captured or killed on grounds of suspected terrorism in a handful of Middle Eastern countries.
Canada is not immune to terrorism, despite the fact that there is no history of a sustained political violence against or in Canada. This issue is extremely unpredictable however and with so much instability across the world, Canadians abroad, as well as at home, could be becoming more vulnerable. The proximity to the U.S could also be a cause to worry. Recently, intelligence services around the world have issued warnings regarding imminent terrorist activity against the United States, yet there is no warning as to where an attack could happen. Should an attack at an embassy in another country occur, there is possibility for Canadian causalities.
The Beyond the Border Agreement with the United States involves Canada in bilateral counterterrorism cooperation, seeking to take a uniform stand on terrorist activities in North America. The RCMP’s National Security Community Outreach program also promotes relationship building for countering radicalization and violent extremism in at-risk communities. This program is encompassed in Canada’s 2012 Counterterrorism Strategy, aiming to reduce the risk of individuals succumbing to extremism by promoting effective counter-narratives.
Continued cooperation from Muslim communities in Canada will also help to build trust and support while helping to uncovered prospective extremists. Political relations with other countries have strained relationships with Muslim communities in Canada in the past. In 2002, a Canadian born in Syria was arrested in the U.S. on terrorism charges due to inaccurate information provided by Canadian police. Maher Arar was deported back to Syria where he was tortured. Canadian police have since worked to re-build a relationship with Muslim communities and the continued effort has paid off with information from the Muslim community key for CSIS in the Via Rail plot.
While the threat of being injured or killed by a terrorist incident in Canada is still low, the recent incidences should prompt more vigilance from unworried Canadians. Canadians should use this as an opportunity to think and discuss the relationship between security, freedom and democracy, so as to ensure that security measures match expectation and values of Canadian citizens. The issue of domestic surveillance within Canadian borders should also be brought to the forefront of national conversation, especially with the current controversy surrounding the surveillance laws in the United States.
– Beth Mansell
featured photo: License ell brown, Creative Commons, Flickr