Terrorism is a threat to Canada’s national security, one that Canadians and their government should discuss openly and rationally.
Last month, Edmonton was rocked by apparent terrorist attacks allegedly perpetrated by a Somali refugee. Police allege that Abdulahi Hasan Sharif used a car to ram a peace officer at a traffic checkpoint outside of Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 30. The officer, Const. Michael Chernyk, was thrown into the air before hitting the pavement.
Video footage of the incident shows the driver exiting the vehicle and pouncing on the fallen Chernyk, repeatedly stabbing him. Incredibly, Chernyk fought off his would-be assassin. No match for the injured Chernyk, the attacker fled on foot.
Police later caught up with Sharif at a traffic stop; the accused was driving a rented U-Haul. Sharif sped off with police in hot pursuit. During the chase, Sharif swerved into pedestrians, running down four people.
Police rammed Sharif’s vehicle, flipping it on its side. He was then taken into custody and charged with five counts of attempted murder — among other criminal offences. He has not yet been charged with terrorism offences.
However, there is little doubt that the Edmonton attacks were acts of terrorism. Not only is it highly suggestive that an Islamic State flag was found in Sharif’s car, the method of the attacks mimic those recommended by the Islamic State and are in keeping with vehicle and knife attacks carried out by terrorists in Europe and Israel.
The revelation that Sharif came to Canada after evading a deportation order in the United States has shocked and alarmed some Canadians, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pledge that Canada would review the country’s asylum system.
‘Building a safe and resilient Canada’
“Canada is fundamentally a safe and peaceful nation, but we are not naive about the security issues that dominate the world’s attention,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale wrote in the foreword to the “2016 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada: Building a Safe and Resilient Canada.”
Goodale correctly identifies “violent extremists who could be inspired to carry out an attack in Canada” as “the principal terrorist threat to Canada.”
According to the Public Safety minister, “the Government of Canada has continued to monitor and respond to the threat of extremist travellers, that is, individuals who are suspected of travelling abroad to engage in terrorism-related activity.” These “extremist travellers” include those who have gone overseas to fight in the jihad, as well as “those who return, and even those prevented from travelling.”
By the end of 2015, notes the Public Safety Canada report, the federal government knew of approximately 180 individuals “with a nexus to Canada who were abroad and who were suspected of engaging in terrorism-related activities.” And an additional 60 extremists known to the government had returned to Canada.
Background on terrorism in Canada
It is important to note that . Canada was rocked by the October Crisis of 1970. The separatist Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) launched a terrifying terror campaign in the Francophone-majority province, culminating in the abduction of provincial cabinet minister Pierre LaPorte and British High Commissioner James Cross. Cross was eventually released after negotiations and the kidnappers fled to Cuba. However, LaPorte was murdered by his FLQ abductors.
Shaken by LaPorte’s murder and determined to crush the FLQ, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau imposed the War Measures Act (later repealed by the Mulroney government), effectively suspending civil liberties. Soldiers and military vehicles patrolled the streets of Montreal. And hundreds of Quebecers were rounded up and held without charge.
The worst act of terrorism in Canadian history was the bombing of Air India Fight 182 in June 1985. Sikh terrorists blew up the jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean, killing 268 Canadians, 27 Brits and 24 Indian citizens.
However, the Public Safety Canada report makes no mention of those terrorist incidents. Instead the report begins the discussion by mentioning the October 2014 terrorist attacks by so-called lone wolves “who had been inspired by extremist ideologies and radicalized to the point of violence.”
The report recalls the attacks in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa, which “left two Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel dead.” And it also makes passing mention of the July 2016 terrorist incident in Strathroy, Ont., where authorities disrupted an imminent terrorist bombing plot by a Canadian-born man who had become radicalized by Islamist ideology.
“Violent extremist ideologies espoused by terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Qaida continue to appeal to certain individuals in Canada,” the Public Safety Canada report warns. “Some individuals have engaged in terrorism-related activities such as promoting violence online, radicalizing peers, recruiting and fundraising.”
Once radicalized by Islamist ideology, jihadists may be inspired to carry out low-tech attacks on their own using vehicles and knives — as may have been the case in Edmonton.
However, radicalized Muslims might also become instruments of death directed from afar by terrorist organizations. “Terrorist attacks can also be directed by a terrorist entity,” Public Safety Canada acknowledges. “The attacks directed by Daesh in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in March 2016 demonstrate how lethal directed attacks can be, especially in unsecured public spaces where large crowds gather.”
According to the Public Safety report, “Canada is working with its allies to support local and international initiatives to counter Daesh propaganda, thwart its recruitment efforts and reduce radicalization.” And Canada supposedly “supports communications activities to curb recruitment by Daesh and adherence to its ideology.” Public Safety Canada points to the work that the Coalition to defeat the Islamic State is doing “to provide populations in territory held by Daesh with information that challenges Daesh propaganda.”
The federal government has a multidimensional counterterrorism strategy, involving civilian institutions and the military.
“The scope, scale and urgency of the threat of terrorism resulted in the creation of the National Security Joint Operations Centre in October 2014,” states the Public Safety Canada report. “Led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), its goal is to enhance the Government of Canada’s response to terrorism-related travel abroad and to mitigate the threat posed by ‘high-risk’ travellers.”
The centre brings together stakeholder agencies, including the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the RCMP. The stated purpose of the centre is “to facilitate near-real-time information exchanges” and to help “co-ordinate rapid interagency responses.”
The government views Canada’s participation in the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State as part of its counterterrorism strategy. “The Coalition was established in September 2014 and has over 60 member countries and organizations, including Canada,” the report notes.
Another component of the strategy is to combat terrorist financing. According to Public Safety Canada, “terrorist groups and sympathizers raise funds in Canada to support terrorist operations and may derive money from legitimate or illicit sources.” In addition, “terrorist financing means include diverting funds from charitable giving, obtaining private donations through door-to-door and online solicitation, and engaging in criminal activity.”
To weaken terrorists and reduce their capabilities, it is vital to cut off their funding. The Public Safety report asserts that agencies such as the Department of Finance, CSIS, the RCMP, and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) are depriving terrorists’ access to Canada’s financial system. And on the international stage, Canada is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Another part of Canada’s counterterrorism strategy is to stem the international flow of foreign fighters. Canada is part of the Coalition’s Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters. According to the report, “the working group helps countries to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2178 (about preventing the recruitment, organization, transporting and equipping of foreign terrorist fighters) and the “good practices” identified by the Global Counterterrorism Forum.”
To that end, Canada has allocated $1 million to Interpol “to enhance the capacity in the Middle East and North Africa region to stop extremist travellers” through the sharing of information.
Listing terrorist entities as such is another part of Canada’s counterterrorism strategy. “Canada’s primary listing mechanism is established under the Criminal Code,” notes the Public Safety report. For example, Canada listed the Islamic State-Sinai Province, and the Abdallah Azzam Brigades as terrorist organizations in 2015.
“As well, two sets of regulations under Canadian law — the United Nations al-Qaida and Taliban Regulations and the Regulations Implementing the United Nations Resolutions on the Suppression of Terrorism — fulfil Canada’s international obligations under UN resolutions.”
Two years ago, Canada co-sponsored a UN Security Council Resolution on terrorist sanctions. UNSC 2253 extended the world body’s al-Qaida sanctions framework to include the Islamic State.
Although the federal government is committed to combatting terrorism, it lacks a coherent and comprehensive strategy to counter Islamism, the transnational religiously motivated political ideology that has come to dominate many Muslim-majority countries and has inspired terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau frequently tells Canadians that “diversity is strength.” And yet he ignores the fact that the ethnically and religiously diverse Europe of the 21st century is beginning to more closely resemble an armed camp than a harmonious global village.
To counter Islamist ideology, Trudeau must do more than repeat his tired rhetoric. He actually needs to talk openly about terrorism and extremist ideologies. And he also needs to mount a compelling public defence of Canada.
For example, Trudeau could employ his great personal charm and popularity to draw Canadians to a series of televised town hall discussions to talk about those issues. The prime minister wouldn’t have to offer solutions to every problem; merely talking openly about the challenges of our violent age would reassure Canadians, thereby helping to make the country more resilient.
It is important to remember that Canada is not Europe. Unlike Europe, Canada is a country of immigrants built by newcomers and Indigenous Peoples. And Canada is not experiencing the massive influx of millions of migrants that is swamping Europe.
Until recently, immigration in this country was orderly and controlled, allowing Canada to welcome immigrants who would contribute to the economy and the greater society. However, the sudden influx of thousands of migrants crossing illegally into Canada from the United States undermines the integrity of the immigration system.
The fact is that a sovereign country must control its borders and territories if it is to remain sovereign and secure. In the era of transnational terrorism, it would be irresponsible of the federal government to allow the illegal border crossings to continue.
After the terrorist attacks on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001, Canada and the United States worked hand-in-glove for many years on border security initiatives. Both sides understood that hardening the border would hurt bilateral trade.
It is time for Canada and the United States to get serious about stemming the flow of illegal border crossings. To that end, Canadian and American cabinet officials should regularly meet to address border security and other immigration-related irritants. For example, Canada’s Public Safety minister and the head of the U.S. Homeland Security Department should hold quarterly meetings to discuss border security.
In the meantime, Goodale and Trudeau should press the Trump administration to curb illegal border crossings from the northern United States into southern Canada.
Follow Geoffrey P. Johnston on Twitter @GeoffyPJohnston.
The Kingston Whig-Standard 2017 ©