Why my Canada is a safe country on its 150th birthday

As I sit looking at a torrential downpour out my kitchen window on this Saturday morning July 1 I am nevertheless quietly happy to reflect on what it means to me to be a Canadian on my nation’s 150th anniversary.  For many today the weather here in Ottawa is reflective of a sour mood.  Many are not celebrating anything today, especially those of our First Nations who are insulted that some see this land as ‘only’ 150 years old when they have been here for thousands of years.  There is also much to answer for and much to set right: residential schools, appalling conditions in First Nation communities, the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women…  If I were a member of a First Nation I am not sure how I would feel either.

No, I am not First Nations member.  I am a third generation Canadian of Ukrainian-Polish heritage.  And while I have no known ties to the ancestral homeland of my grandparents – I am 100% Canadian through and through – I do think about what is going on ‘over there’, especially in Ukraine, and thank God I live here.  We are a prosperous, welcoming and safe country, for reasons both of our own making and serendipitous.  Canada on July 1, 2017 is a relatively secure land: while the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) puts the national threat level at medium – the halfway point on a five-level scale – it has not moved in a long time and is unlikely to do so any time soon.

Why do I believe this?  While I know that, just as in the stock market, past performance is not an indicator of future success, the absence of successful terrorist attacks in Canada to date does not guarantee we won’t have any more, the situation is nonetheless stable and under control.  Yes, there are potential threat actors and some worrisome trends that could get worse but overall Canadians should be happy with what we have built.

First a little history.  Since Confederation Canada has been targeted rarely by terrorism.  Yes, the Fenians were a problem 150 years ago and we did have the Air India attack in 1985, but recent years have been very safe.  Since 9/11 we have witnessed only two (ok, maybe four if you count the Aaron Driver incident in Strathroy, Ontario and the stabbing at an army recruitment centre in north Toronto) successful attacks and those two occurred within two days of each other in October 2014 (Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau) and resulted in just two deaths.  True, we have had a bunch of thwarted attacks as well thanks to CSIS and the RCMP.  To this we must add January’s attack on a mosque in Quebec City, which may or may not qualify as a terrorist incident.

To sum up, two deaths in 16 years (eight if you include the mosque shootings).  That, in my books, is a pretty darn good record if we compare it with what is happening in Europe, the US and throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  There are concerns still out there.  Islamist extremism remains the number one worry and we will have to deal with returning foreign fighters, as I outlined in my book Western Foreign Fighters.  To this we must add a spike in racist intolerance and the rise of groups such as the Sons of Odin and the ‘3-percenters‘ and although I would not rank this threat as high as that emanating from the Islamist extremists it does bear watching.  There may even be latent Sikh extremism in Canada.  To all this we must not ignore the possibility that a few from within First Nations may see their frustrations boil to the point that they see violence as a viable response to their grievances.

To counter all this we have a very good security service (CSIS), a very good federal police service (RCMP) and very good local security partners at the provincial/territorial and municipal levels.  We have a government that is getting the need to do counter extremism and I for one am cautiously optimistic at the new office created in this regard out of Public Safety Canada.  And we have a lot of interest in pitching in among academics and community leaders.  All in all a very good picture.

Our safe and secure land is a consequence of both our circumstances – surrounded by three oceans and relatively stable southern neighbour (the US) – and our own doing (immigration policy, multiculturalism and overall ‘Canadianness’).  And while there is always room for improvement we as Canadians should be proud of what we have achieved on the national security front.

So I raise a glass (actually a cup of tea) to my home and native (and safe!) land on its 150th birthday.  Here’s to many more!

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.

Leave a Reply