An outlook for terrorism in Canada in 2016

Those who have followed my blog in 2015 or have heard me speak at conferences know that I am not a fan of predictive modeling.  I  do not own a crystal ball and I don’t know anyone else who does – besides, those that do exist do so as ornaments, not windows on the future.  As that wonderfully insightful man, Yogi Berra, once said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”.

This blog is not, therefore, an attempt to forecast what will happen in 2016 but rather an educated guess, based on my experience as an analyst over many years and taking into consideration what is happening on the terrorism front around the world.  The following paragraphs are thus a reasonable set of scenarios that could come to pass in Canada in 2016.  We’ll see a year from now how I did.

First, we may see a major plot foiled by our counter-terrorism agencies sometime this year.  If the law of averages holds, we are almost due for a significant terrorist attack planned by Canadians radicalised in accordance with the AQ/IS grand narrative.  We saw our first big case in 2006 (the Toronto 18), followed by SAMOSSA (2010) and two plots in 2013 (VIA rail and Victoria).  The two attacks in 2014 – carried out by Martin Couture-Rouleau in Quebec and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Ottawa – were one-off lone actor events that are hard to detect and prevent.  So, we have gone two and a half years without something large and I would not be surprised if some small cell decides to try.  All the big plots were detected early and investigated thoroughly and I see no reason for this to change in 2016.

Secondly, the so-called “foreign fighter” problem will get both better and worse.  Other countries are already seeing a drop-off in the numbers of their citizens flocking to join IS and it is likely that this trend will continue.  Canada’s numbers will continue to be relatively small.  On the other hand, we will see an increase in returnees.  The majority will not pose a threat but some certainly will and it will be a challenge for CSIS, the RCMP and others to determine which ones they need to worry about.

Thirdly, we in Canada will likely see more trials of people charged with terrorism offences this year, the majority for attempting to leave to join a group abroad.  More cases mean more case law and more precedents,all of which help us in dealing with this problem.

Lastly, we may see a national, government-led counter radicalisation agency.  The Trudeau government has talked about creating a “Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Coordinator”, but much remains to be determined.  Whatever ends up being done, the new organisation should build on what is already happening in communities and in police-led initiatives such as the Redirect programme in Calgary.

So do not expect terrorism to disappear this year.  There are far too many groups and far too many adherents to keep the fires of extremism burning, regardless of whether IS is defeated or not in 2016.  But at the same time, the terrorist threat is not existential now and will not become so over the next 12 months.  We are blessed with capable agencies to keep us safe and Canadians do not have a lot to worry about.

As a result, we should all make one of our new year’s resolutions to stay calm and carry on, continuing to build this amazing social experiment we call Canada.

A very happy 2016 to all of you!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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