Extremist violence is extremist violence, regardless of motive

We spend a lot of time worrying about terrorism in this country – disproportionately to the actual threat level in my honest opinion – and the flavour of terrorism that occupies most of our attention is Islamist extremism. This is of course for very good reasons since the vast, vast majority of plots, successful or failed, have been planned and/or perpetrated by homegrown Islamist extremists.  You need to put your finite resources where the threat is greatest after all.

Islamist extremism is not the only scourge we face however.  Many are predicting a rise in far right violent extremism, if it has not already arrived, and we cannot dismiss the possibility of increased far left extremism, tied either to the rise of the far right or to environmental issues.  Another area that is on the minds of some is that of indigenous violent extremism.

Notice that I wrote ‘violent extremism’, not ‘activism’ or ‘dissent’ or ‘protest’.  The latter three are all Charter-protected activities as they should be.  The only time at which they must be investigated and prevented is when they edge into acts of serious violence. We have thankfully seen very little serious violence by First Nations but, given the number of urgent issues facing these peoples and growing frustration at the governments’ (at several levels) lack of progress or even attention there is a very real possibility that a minority faction of actors may conclude that violence is a necessary response.

I would like to think that all Canadians want the appropriate authorities to stop violence before it occurs and not just react to it after the fact.  Those authorities are the usual suspects: CSIS, the RCMP and provincial/local law enforcement.  Not everyone seems to agree with this view.

Two people associated with Carleton University, Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan, have written a book ‘Policing Indigenous Movements’, in which they seem to take issue with the Canadian government’s response to the Idle No More movement a few years’ back.  They particularly appear to be concerned over ‘information sharing’ and a ‘petrified’ national security apparatus worried about ‘solidarity and mobilisation’. They also claim that those authorities did not want to allow threats to ‘various extractive industries ‘.

Mr. Crosby is a co-ordinator with a university research group and Mr. Monaghan is an assistant professor in criminology.  Neither appears to have any idea on how Canada’s security intelligence and law enforcement agencies work.

Firstly, on information sharing we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  When we create silos and do not pass on data we are blamed when bad things happen. When we do share intelligence with relevant parties we are accused of violating privacy.  Which one applies?  Sharing important information is the key to stopping violence and we must allow the appropriate agencies to do so, within proper channels and with proper protections.  Data that is not germane to our understanding of threat should not be retained.

Secondly, the authors seem to be miffed that the ‘security state’ (their term, not mine) is meeting to discuss the possibility of violence related to social movements such as Idle No More.  Are they suggesting these bodies wait until AFTER violence breaks out before acting?  If so, this is inane.  We expect CSIS, the RCMP et al to act BEFORE the bomb goes off, not show up to collect body parts in the wake of an incident.

We rightly allow activists and protesters to make their points.  They must be permitted to voice their opposition to whatever it is they don’t like but that protest must be within the law of the land and if it strays into the use of violence there must be a penalty to pay.  I understand the passions behind these individuals but we cannot allow them to use tactics that are illegal and undermine socially accepted normal behaviour.

Furthermore, CSIS, the RCMP and their partners are absolutely in their right to investigate the possibility/probability/certainty of politically or ideologically-motivated violence well in advance of its manifestation.  That is not a sign of the overbearing nature of the ‘security state’ but an efficient and effective way to prepare for necessary action to prevent that violence from transpiring. Preparations do not necessarily equate to action. If there is no need to put boots on the ground then they will not be deployed.  The possible raising of the alert to a higher level was a logical topic of discussion, not a harbinger of a disproportionate response.

I am still dismayed over the appalling lack of understanding why we have security intelligence and law enforcement agencies in this country.  While I have not read the book in question, the excerpts I did read in the CBC article do not infuse me with confidence that the authors get it.

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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