A dark day for counter terrorism in Canada

We expect a lot of those agencies tasked with keeping us safe.  We demand that they identify those who mean us harm, investigate the nature of the threat they pose and take appropriate action to disrupt their criminal acts.  When they fail to do so many are critical and want to know why they were unable to stop violence from happening.  Recall the angst over how Michael Zehaf Bibeau evaded scrutiny before his attack on Parliament Hill in October of 2014.

Now it turns out that when the good guys get the bad guys before they can kill and maim that too can be criticised.

A judge in Victoria has ruled that the RCMP acted improperly in its investigation of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, two terrorists convicted last year of a plot to plant bombs outside the BC Legislature in Victoria on Canada Day in 2013, and in fact entrapped them.  The pair are now free.

This is a judicial abomination (full disclosure: I worked at CSIS when the two were planning their attacks and provided expert testimony during the trial).  In an era where we are seeing terrorist attacks daily carried out by Islamist extremists, Judge Catherine Bruce has decided that what she interprets as unfair police tactics trump national security.

This judgment betrays fundamental ignorance of how radicalisation to violence unfolds and how our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies have developed legal tools to prevent terrorism.  It also demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the mindset that Mr. Nuttall and Ms Korody had embraced, an ideology that led them to build and deploy explosive devices that could have killed and wounded hundreds.  Their devices were timed to go off in the afternoon on July in a venue packed with huge crowds of Canadians celebrating our independence.  You do the math.

Neither CSIS nor RCMP planted these thoughts in the heads of Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody.  They were already there and the police worked with what they had.   That is how investigations are done.

Most importantly, the ruling appears to undermine the use of human sources in a counter terrorism investigation.  This tool is the sine qua non of CSIS and the RCMP and any decision that impacts on how it is to be deployed makes these agencies less capable.  Any future reluctance to recruit and run agents will make us less safe.

Many have argued that the couple, recovering drug addicts, were incapable of making the decision to engage in terrorism and that both had mental health “issues”.  The problem is that drug addiction/mental “issues”and violent radicalisation are not mutually exclusive.  Just look what has been happening in Europe of late to see evidence of this.

The RCMP ran an amazing investigation that prevented terrorism from happening and should be congratulated, not excoriated.  For those who felt that the terrorist husband and wife would not have planned their attack in the absence of an RCMP agent, this is engaging in what-if scenarios that should not be the basis for court judgments.  No one can state with any level of confidence that nothing would have happened had the Mounties not gotten involved.  The couple could just have easily hooked up with a radicaliser/facilitator that was not known to, or controlled by, the police.

I have no idea whether Mr.Nuttall and Ms Korody will ever re-offend or re-engage in terrorist activity in the future: perhaps they will get their lives in order and become respectable citizens.  If not, expect an “I told you so” to be issued.

At the end of the day it is hard to fathom why this decision has been rendered.  In the best case scenario things settle down and we can move on.  In the worst case scenario our national security agencies have been hamstrung and will be less able to protect us.  Let us hope it is the former.


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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