Does it take a village to stop terrorism?

Many see counter terrorism as a CSIS or RCMP role, but average Canadians also have a part to play.

Many see counter terrorism as a CSIS or RCMP role but average Canadians have a part too.

I attended a very interesting lecture by veteran Globe and Mail reporter Jeffrey Simpson in Ottawa in mid January. The topic was billed as ‘the year ahead in Canadian politics’ and Mr. Simpson did indeed provide unique insight into the challenges facing the Trudeau government. He also weighed in on the difficult task of running a minority government, hearkening back to the short-lived Joe Clark time in Parliament.

But it was Mr. Simpson’s comments on immigration that caught our attention. He noted that Canada has been taking in millions of new citizens over the past few decades and doing so fairly effectively. When compared to many of our Western allies Canada has emerged as a role model of sorts on how to open one’s doors and create a society where individuals from around the world – with their diverse languages, faiths and cultures – all contribute.

When compared to many of our Western allies, Canada has emerged as a role model of sorts on how to open one’s doors.

As Mr. Simpson noted we have seen a backlash to these levels of immigration by populists and racists, but this movement remains small, again in comparison to our neighbours and allies. Canadians still overwhelmingly support immigration: we appear to recognise the richness, both in economic and cultural terms, this brings to our land.

So three cheers for Canada and its embrace of other cultures!

All this good should not be interpreted, however, as a guarantee that there are not problems. Yes, despite the overwhelming success of multiculturalism and integration there are a few ‘bad apples’ and these do have a disproportionate effect on Canadians’ views.

One of the issues that has come to the fore is terrorism. It is nonetheless important to underscore that we are blessedly infrequently affected by violent extremism, again when measured against many of our allies. Still, there have been instances where first or second generation immigrants have radicalised to violence and carried out small scale attacks in our nation.

One could argue that Canadians should do what any good citizen does: report suspicious behaviour and activity to those authorities with the mandate to keep us safe.

What, then, is the role of communities in this regard? Surely this is a task for CSIS and the RCMP to investigate, no (full disclosure: I worked in security intelligence for 32 years, including 15 at CSIS)? What expectations are reasonable to place on the rest of us?

One could argue that Canadians should do what any good citizen does: report suspicious behaviour and activity to those authorities with the mandate to keep us safe. If you were to suspect a meth lab was operating in the apartment next to yours would you ignore it? We would hope not (the ‘I don’t want to get involved’ defence is untenable).

Have a listen to me chatting with Twitch streamer Destiny on a broad range of topics all tied to terrorism (Iran, Israel-Palestine, and many more!)

The same goes for terrorism

Years of investigations and research have demonstrated quite clearly that terrorism does not appear deus ex machina with no warning. Those radicalising to violence and planning attacks – whether they are doing so in Canada or abroad – always betray their intentions to some degree. There are behavioural signs that can be detected and these need to be taken note of, and reported to the relevant agencies if serious enough, not dismissed.

How many times have you read the reactions of friends and families in the aftermath of an attack where the initial claims of ‘we never saw this coming’ inevitably turn to ‘but we did see changes in behaviour that worried us’? Too often we would submit.

So yes, all Canadians, whether we are born here or come from other lands, have an obligation to help our protectors keep us safe. Putting our heads in the sand hoping it will all go away is not a solution. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child: it takes that same village to stop acts of violence (terrorism, gangs, domestic abuse…) from occurring.

The nation that is Canada is an amazing one and the envy of the world as Mr. Simpson said on several occasions during his talk. Let us collectively do what we can to keep it that way.

When Religion Kills: How Extremists Justify Violence Through Faith (2019)

Christian fundamentalists. Hindu nationalists. Islamic jihadists. Buddhist militants. Jewish extremists. Members of these and other religious groups have committed horrific acts of terrorist violence in recent decades. Phil Gurski explores violent extremism across a broad range of the world’s major religions.

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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