Is Canada soft on terrorism? No!

If there is one myth in the ever increasing world of ‘alternative facts’ (i.e. lies) that has otherworldly strength and perseverance it is the whopper that some of the 9/11 hijackers came through Canada.  This inaccurate account of recent history has been repeated by people who should have known better – e.g. former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton – and many in various US industries (government, media, opinion makers, grandstanders) who are clearly behind an agenda.  (No, none of the hijackers came through Canada.  End of story.)

And what is that agenda?  Simply put it is the belief that Canada is soft on terrorism, that the US cannot depend on its northern neighbour to help keep terrorists out of Fortress North America, and that the Canada-US border is unsafe, porous and needs to be strengthened.  Those convinced of all this will cite a real case, not the imagined 9/11 one, where a terrorist did seek to enter the US from Canada with the intent to carry out a terrorist attack.  I am referring of course to Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian who tried to get to Los Angeles International Airport with a bomb but was stopped thanks to good border agent work at the Port Angeles crossing in Washington state.

Except that this incident is the only one I am aware of over the past 20 years where the US was threatened by a Canadian who wanted to enter the US to do his dirty deed.  Let me underscore this point.  In my 15 years at CSIS (from 2001-2015) I came across precisely zero plots of this nature.  Nor did I see much intelligence on individuals even musing about the remotest possibility of such action.  This bears repeating because it is very important.  In the decade and a half since 9/11 there have been NO planned acts of terrorism on US soil dreamed up by Canadians.  NONE!

Now I realise that some people have a hard time with facts these days, but I implore anyone who disagrees with me to point to contrary evidence. You will indeed have a hard task before you.  But go ahead and try if you want.

The problem with this misguided view of Canadian security capabilities, as with all bad information, is that it leads to bad policy.  Calls for strengthening the Canada-US border to stop mythical waves of terrorists from traveling to the US is a waste of resources since the real threat to our ally to the south is primarily found in two areas:

a) homegrown US terrorists inspired by groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State

b) right wing, sovereign citizen, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant groups.

I am not claiming that all is perfect north of the 49th parallel.  We certainly have our challenges here and we have seen a few minor plots succeed. But we have foiled many more and our track record is pretty good.  Even the spectre of terrorist groups using Syrian refugee channels to infiltrate Canada is completely unfounded.  As the National Post’s Stewart Bell reported this week, some refugees were  indeed rejected by Canadian officials for reasons ranging from incomplete applications to uncertainty over their identities.  But only 5 (5!) were refused entry for national security reasons.  We must of course acknowledge that it is possible that a handful of refugees may be criminals or even terrorists, but the fact that 5 out of 25,000 were rejected on national security grounds should give us comfort as well as assure us that our screening system (CSIS, RCMP, CBSA, CIC) is working.

The Canadian and US people share much: a common language, a partly shared history and similar cultures.  And our governments work well together, and that includes the security intelligence and law enforcement sectors. Information is readily and easily sent back and forth and that helps to keep us all safe.

Spreading lies about the US’s soft northern border is not helpful.  It undermines the excellent cooperation and collaboration between our two nations and insults the professionalism and dedication of those committed to protecting us.  The ill-informed blather from the cheap seats needs to stop.


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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