Canadian Government Whistling Past the Jihadi Graveyard

Why can’t Canada label jihadi terrorism accurately as its allies do? What is it afraid of? No matter what you call it, it is the #1 terrorist threat globally

This piece first appeared in The Epoch Times Canada on February 23, 2024.

What can citizens in a democracy reasonably expect from their governments (which they elect on a regular basis to do their bidding and whose salaries they pay through their tax dollars)?  I would submit that at a minimum they can expect a great deal of honesty and transparency.

Unlike dictatorships such as Iran, the People’s Republic of China, and Russia, which invent things whenever they want and tell their “electorates” all kinds of lies, Canada is run by democratically elected officials whose job it is to spend our money wisely, keep us abreast of developments, and accurately convey to us on a regular basis what we need to worry about.

This last point refers to the threats we face, whether these come from domestic or foreign terrorists, interference and influence by outside actors, or attempts to undermine our democracy. On this front, the current bunch in Ottawa is doing an abysmal job.

Take a recent story in the Ottawa Citizen. The RCMP put out a press release on Feb. 16 that an Ottawa youth already facing several charges for an alleged plot against the Jewish community is now accused of conspiracy to commit murder through involvement with a terrorist group, adding that a second youth was arrested and charged as a co-conspirator. In keeping with the usual practice in Canada, the youths’ names are not disclosed.

And yet it is very odd that the Mounties did not name the terrorist group involved. Why not?  For this allegation to be true, the actual terrorist group must be known to them, otherwise why make a statement of this nature? We in Canada have something called a “listed terrorist entities” program managed by Public Safety Canada (with input from CSIS: I worked on listings in the early 2000s after 9/11). Hence, the alleged young terrorists must have been acting on behalf of one of the currently 77 organizations (or individuals).

Within that list, 54 (70 percent) are jihadist or Islamist extremist in nature. This is commensurate to some extent with global trends where jihadis have overwhelmingly dominated the terrorism landscape for decades. In the name of what group, then, did the two young offenders allegedly plan their acts? A right-wing one? Possibly. If I were a betting man, however, I would wager it was a jihadi one, especially in light of the increased threat against Jewish communities after last year’s Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the latter’s response in Gaza. In the complete absence of information from the RCMP or the government, it is simply impossible to know. For what it’s worth, unnamed sources say the group is the ISIS terrorist organization.

Nevertheless, what is possible to discern is this government’s inattention to and even dismissal of jihadi terrorism. Not only does it refuse to use the term—preferring to call this “religiously motivated violent extremism” (RMVE)—as if the Mennonites should keep us up at night—but it tries to convince Canadians that the real issue is not jihadi terrorism but Islamophobia (which, yes, does exist but results in far fewer incidents than actual Islamist terrorism).

It is unclear to me why this is the case. As a counter-terrorism analyst at CSIS for 15 years I was part of a team that collected intelligence to prevent acts of violence, and we were working flat out to monitor Canadian jihadis, both here and abroad. (And we called it by its proper name, Islamist terrorism, not RMVE.) Times have changed and CSIS has had to devote more resources to the far-right threat—but curiously not the far-left or indigenous ones, according to my source. We want CSIS to be ahead of, not behind, the investigative curve and the far-right has changed in recent years. But if there is anyone who thinks that the jihadi threat has miraculously disappeared from our land I respectfully advise a dose of reality for them.

And we are not the only ones who want to pretend the jihadis are yesterday’s worry. A report on the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy found that government has been concentrating too much on the far-right and not enough on Islamist extremism. Typically, the author of that paper, William Shawcross, was accused of stoking “Islamophobia.”

This would be comical if it were not serious. Our government, and it appears the UK one as well, are putting political correctness before security and public safety. In an effort not to “offend” anyone they are ignoring facts and putting us all at risk. I also suspect, but cannot prove, that the Canadian government is pressuring CSIS and the RCMP not to investigate jihadi threats too much (we already saw instances where the heads of both agencies had to kowtow to demands admitting “systemic racism” in their ranks).

We can walk and chew gum simultaneously. Our protectors, if given adequate resources, can investigate all the threats that are out there and not turn a blind eye to some that officials are “uncomfortable” with. Let them do their jobs, please.

As for the public, we indeed have a right to know, within limits. Tell us the group behind the alleged Ottawa plot. It will not affect the prosecution or risk the release of the identities of the young offenders.

The jihadi threat is still No. 1 and is not going away, alas. Gaza, the Sahel, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the list goes on and on. Pretending something does not exist does not help.

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.