How safe are we?

In  the wake of the attacks in Paris in November 2015, which were merely the latest in what must seem to many Canadians as a never-ending series of murders and bombings, many are asking why and when this scourge will end.  Several have commented publicly – including at least one provincial premier – that we should reassess our goal of taking in refugees from a dangerous part of the world and reconsider an election campaign promise to pull out our support for air strikes against Islamic State.  Canadians are scared.  Can what happened in Paris happen here?  The constant flow of conflicting information is not helping.  What should we think about all this?

First and foremost, relax.  It is not as bad as some claim.  There is a lot of exaggeration and hype out there which is leading to unnecessary panic.  We are safe for the most part.  I will try to demonstrate why that is.

We have to remember that terrorism is an infrequent phenomenon – generally speaking.  Yes, there are attacks somewhere in the world almost every day, but any given country is at any given point safe.  That is particularly true for Canada where, in the past 30 years we have had two people die in acts of terrorism.  Car accidents and other everyday events take a lot more lives than do terrorists.

We also have to acknowledge that the agencies tasked with keeping us safe – CSIS, RCMP and other law enforcement  – are doing a remarkable job.  They catch many more criminals – including terrorists – than get through.  Yes, bad things do happen from time to time, but these events are the exception, not the rule.  We are fortunate to have such dedicated professionals among us.

Perhaps most importantly, what we have built here in Canada is an incredibly successful experiment in governance and society.  We may not fully understand how we did that, but whatever it is, let’s keep doing it.  We are a nation of immigrants and we need immigrants to keep this nation going, so let’s not give in to fear and ignorance when it comes to challenges such as the Syrian refugee question.

Terrorism is real and the threat to Canada is real.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this scourge will go away any time soon, so we will have to accept this.  But it is crucial to understand that the threat is not existential.  The few terrorists we have in this country do not threaten the fabric of Canada.  They pose no serious challenge to democracy, liberal secularism and the multicultural model.  If we lose sight of who we are and descend into the fear that terrorists want, then the bad guys have won.

So what can average Canadians do in the face of terrorism?  Well, we all must remain vigilant and report incidents that may be indicative of something in the planning stages (without calling in everything that is not normal – lots of things are not normal).  We can – and should – challenge the narrative that the terrorists are promoting: that Canada and the West are at war with Islam.  This is demonstrably false and should be undermined not just with words but with actions.  We all need to get a better grasp of what terrorism is and what it is not.  Luckily, there are a lot of good books out there that can help.  If I may, my recent book The Threat from Within is the first book to look at violent radicalisation in Canada and is based largely on Canadian data.  It walks the reader through what radicalisation is and how to detect the signs.  We can also seek out true experts and specialists who have a solid grasp of what all this means.

It is inevitable that a terrorist attack will occur in Canada at some point: whether or not it is on the scale of what happened in Paris remains to be seen.  But it is our reaction to that attack that is critical.  If we lash out against our neighbours and accuse them of somehow being complicit then we betray who we are as Canadians.

I am a proud Canadian and see this country as the best place to live – many around the world agree with me.  Let’s keep it that way.

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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